Class teaches women to take care of themselves

In her defense

Posted: Sunday, August 13, 2006


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  Participants in the RAD class huddle around O'Hara as others practice skills taught during the class. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Millie Carlson goes face to face with Brigham Young University police Sgt. Randy O'Hara during a Rape Aggression Defense course at the Aspen Hotel last week. O'Hara and seven other instructors taught the four-day course to about three dozen women.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Impressed with what she saw while visiting her daughter at Brigham Young University in Utah, Kath Carlson recently asked a group of Utah officers to come to the Kenai Peninsula and offer Alaskan woman a few lessons on how to handle men.

“OK, let’s learn to hit somebody,” said Brigham Young University Police Department Sgt. Randy O’Hara, as he instructed a group of approximately 40 woman on self-defense in Soldotna on Thursday.

O’Hara, an instructor for Rape Aggression Defense Systems, a program that teaches women’s self-defense, and six other RAD instructors donated their resources and time to fly to Alaska and spent four days this week teaching women how to protect themselves.

“They’re donating their own time because they think it’s so important,” said Kath’s daughter, Millie Carlson, who first took the RAD class as a student at BYU.


Instructor Randy O'Hara uses a toy gun during a discussion about the merits of various approaches to self-defense.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

In between taking turns kicking and punching the padded Utah instructors Thursday, Millie couldn’t seem to say enough about how wonderful they had been.

Other students said they were grateful to have the opportunity to take the course and expressed their gratitude with snap kicks and fist strikes while their instructors braced for their blows.

O’Hara said he and the other instructors’ sometimes seemingly masochistic involvement in the program is propelled by a tremendous problem plaguing today’s woman.

O’Hara said he became involved with RAD after he was assigned to investigate sex crimes as an officer in Salt Lake City.


Carlson, right, and Kayleen Hansen high-five another participant in the class after she defended herself against an instructor during the class.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

His experience as a sex crimes investigator illuminated the magnitude of the sexual assault risks women face and the need for women to know how to protect themselves, he said.

“It’s unfortunate, in this day and age, that our women have to be on the defensive all the time,” he said.

And while all the nation’s women are at risk of becoming a sexual assault victim, that risk is particularly acute for women living in Alaska.

In 2004, the Federal Bureau of Investigation recorded 32.2 rapes per 100,000 people nationwide. The number of rapes the FBI recorded in Alaska in 2004 was more than double the national average, numbering 85.1 rapes per 100,000 people.

So when he was asked to come to Alaska this summer to teach a women’s self-defense course and found there had never been such a class offered in Alaska before, O’Hara said he was shocked.

“There’s martial arts classes, but that doesn’t do what this class does,” Kath said.


Participants in the RAD class huddle around O'Hara as others practice skills taught during the class.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Between practicing knee strikes to the groin and hammer strikes to the nose of their imaginary attackers on Thursday, the RAD students also learned how to recognize risks and reduce vulnerability to attacks.

“I’m so trusting and completely unaware of what to look for,” said Kathy McConahy, as she explained some of the reasons why she signed up for the class.

McConahy, who was taking the class with her daughter-in-law, Chas McConahy, said they both work at Gottschalks, where the store’s mostly female staff returns to cars parked in a poorly lit lot behind the store when it closes.

Kathy McConahy, who is a department manager at the store, said there have been two attempted rapes behind the store. While Kathy, Chase and other employees try ensure that no one has to enter the parking lot alone when it’s dark, that’s not always possible, Kathy said.

“They need to put lighting in there and maybe have more police patrols,” Chas said. “It’s kind of obvious why there were two attempted rapes back there. It’s literally an alley. You could scream at the top of your lungs and nobody would hear you.”


Megan Hansen and Millie Carlson strike defensive postures with other women on the first day of the four-day RAD class. The course cumulated with a test that required the students to fend off three different types of attacks.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

While rape and sexual assaults can occur at any time of day, they do occur slightly more frequently in the evening and at night.

According to U.S. Bureau of Justice 2004 statistics, 62.9 percent of rapes and sexual assaults occurred between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. and 34.3 percent occurred between 6 p.m. and midnight.

A major component of the RAD class is teaching students how to avoid a sexual assault by reducing a perpetrator’s opportunity to commit such an act.

For instance, instructors recommended that woman never leave their drinks unattended which, consequently, could allow potential perpetrators the chance to dope it with a date rape drug.

When preventative measures fail and women are faced with an attack, the RAD self-defense class teaches woman to deliver powerful blows that can quickly down an attacker and allow them to escape — particularly when attempting to escape a male attacker.

“Let’s talk about targets, vulnerable locations on a man,” O’Hara said as he paced a large, unfurnished meeting room in Soldotna’s Aspen Hotel before a circle of women Thursday. “There are thousands.”

O’Hara directed the class’s attention to a poster on a wall illustrating a figure of a man and all of his vulnerable locations, such as the Adam’s apple, the eyes and, of course, the groin.

“Even if it’s just a glancing blow it’s going to hurt,” O’Hara said.

Strikes targeting the groin include moves that can be used at close range, such as the double knee strike, as well as moves that can be used before an attacker has a chance to get his hands on his victim, such as the snap kick.

“If you’re going to do one, might as well might as well do two,” O’Hara said while instructing the class on how to execute a knee strike.


RAD instructors Aaron Rhoades and Randy O'Hara demonstrate a defensive stance during the first day's lessons.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

“Remember, that second one comes from down south,” he said encouraging women to make the second knee strike to a man’s groin even more powerful than the first.

Even when being attacked from behind in a “bear hug” attack ,women were taught to take advantage of this vulnerable location.

“You’re going to reach down, grab his groin, twist and pull it like a lawn mower,” O’Hara said, while extending his arm from behind him forward in a quick and forceful pulling action that made even some of the room’s women wince.

Many of class’s techniques focused on this central vulnerable location, and the class also taught woman to employ techniques targeting every soft spot on a man to halt an attack.

Lessons emphasized quality over quantity, teaching woman to make moves that are quick and powerful.

“You’re going to get two, maybe three strikes on this guy,” said O’Hara. “You don’t want to waste them.”

Instructors told women their goal when being attacked is to down the attacker and escape as quickly as possible.

“If you got him down for the count do you want to stay there and beat him up?” O’Hara asked. “No. You want to get out of there.”

Women should make a mental note of escape routes wherever they go, so they are prepared to escape an attack at any time.

While fending off an attack women should use a powerful strike targeting a vulnerable location.

If a woman strikes a powerful blow, but to a location where it will not be effective, she will only waste her own energy in trying to defend herself, O’Hara said.

When women are making a strike using their arm, their hand should travel in a straight line toward the target to maximize power, said Eric Ahlborn, one of the RAD instructors.

Women should avoid using the “roundhouse” punch, he said, while swinging his arm in a big arch before landing on an imaginary target.

Although at first glance some of the class’s techniques may sound advanced, they were designed to be used by young and old women.

The program’s founder, Lawrence N. Nadeau, developed the techniques taught in the class by asking his mother to test the self-defense maneuvers and only used those she could use effectively, O’Hara said.

In the Soldotna class, ages ranged from women young enough to attend high school to women who were old enough to be grandmothers.

“You’re never too old and you never know what’s going to happen,” said Betty Lowery, who said she did not want to reveal her age, but said she believed she was the class’s oldest student.

Lowery said her husband was adamant that she take the class. And Lowery wasn’t the only woman to receive a little encouragement from her male counterpart.

Chase said her husband, who works on an oil field and is sometimes gone for long periods of time, strongly encouraged her and her mother to take the class so he can rest a little easier when he cannot be nearby to protect them.

Although the RAD class offered this week was a one-time deal, Kath Carlson said she plans to take RAD instructional classes and hopes to offer a regularly scheduled self-defense class for women next year. As a mother of six daughters — one of whom sometimes travels internationally alone — Carlson said she has a strong interest in promoting women’s self-defense skills.

Women at risk of rape

According to Federal Bureau of Investigation 2004 statistics —

· Rapes per 100,000 people nationwide: 32.2

· Rapes per 100,000 people in Alaska: 85.1

According to U.S. Bureau of Justice 2004 statistics —

· Rapes and sexual assaults that occur between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.: 62.9 percent

· Rapes and sexual assaults that occur between 6 p.m. and midnight: 34.4 percent

Defend yourself:

· Learn the vulnerable locations on a man’s body and how to strike effectively.

· Don’t leave your drink unattended, make mental notes of escape routes and try not to walk alone in dangerous situations.

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