A group of two dozen young women at Whitehall High School received a lesson last Friday in empowerment and self defense.
The students, all seniors, took a break from their normal routine to participate in a Rape Aggression Defense course (R.A.D. for short) offered by the Washington County Sheriff’s Department.
The program was the first of its type offered by the Sheriff’s Department and participants spent nine hours over the course of two days (a second session was scheduled to be held today) learning how to react during an assault.
“The program is intended to instill confidence in their physical abilities to fight back if they are in danger or feel threatened,” said Officer Kristen Hardy, community outreach coordinator for the Sheriff’s Department and one of three certified R.A.D. instructors attached to the county’s law enforcement agency.
The program, which is just the latest in a growing list of community service initiatives implemented by Sheriff Jeffrey Murphy since taking office last year, is an internationally recognized self-defense program created in 1989. Over the course of the last two-and-a-half decades more than 900,000 people have completed the program.
Hardy and Kayla Taras were both certified as R.A.D. instructors in January. Jaime Huntington, a graduate of Whitehall and a part-time officer with the Whitehall Police Department completed his training last September.
Last Friday was the first time the trio had taught the course locally.
“We thought we would initially target the schools first,” Hardy said. “This is a very beneficial age group. A lot of these girls are going away to college and they haven’t been subjected to some of the things they may see or encounter on a college campus.”
According to the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, at least one in four college women will be the victim of a sexual assault while they are in school and there is more than 35 incidents of sexual assault per 1,000 female students on campus.
Hardy said the goal of R.A.D. is to teach young women how to avoid those situations and how to react in the event such a situation is unavoidable.
“We’re hoping to instill a confidence in their physical abilities to fight back and protect themselves,” Hardy said.
The course will eventually be offered free to women of any age and girls as old as 14. Hardy said the course may eventually be offered to the elderly as well as to men and would include aerosol and keychain defense training.
“It’s a great form of community interaction,” Hardy said.
On Friday, instructors spent the morning showing a Power Point presentation aimed at teaching students how to reduce their risks of becoming a victim. During the afternoon, students gathered in the wrestling room in the Sr. High wing of the high school and learned basic tactical maneuvers.
The women learned how to block and throw sweep kicks, groin kicks, elbows and punches, all while emphatically shouting “no.” They even had the opportunity to try their new moves on a dummy the students affectionately named “Bob.”
“It’s been very productive. The girls were very shy and timid at the beginning but they really got into it and you could see the confidence they gained,” Taras said.
Principal Kelly McHugh, who stopped by near the end of Friday’s session, noticed the change.
“You can feel the empowerment and confidence in the room,” she said.
The students were scheduled to learn a few additional skills and review everything they had learned later this afternoon before the course was completed. But for most of the students, the lessons had already been learned.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Peyton Bessette. “I definitely feel more empowered.”