Rec department plans to expand rape-defense program

The program has been offered at the University since 2000.

A recent grant to the University police will allow the department of recreational sports to expand its rape defense program.

The $2,000 grant from TCF Financial Corp. paid for two University police officers’ five-day Rape Aggression Defense System instructor training, offered by R.A.D. Systems, in November.

“It’s important to teach other women that they have the power to get through it and that there are other options besides complying,” said Lara Severson, one of the officers who received training.

The training is part of an international self-defense program, which started in 1989, that uses educational and physical components, according to R.A.D. Systems, the company that offers the training.

It has been offered at the University since 2000, said Lisa Lemler, a fitness program manager in the recreational sports department.

Beth Asfahl, assistant recreational sports director, and Lemler have taught the five-week class since its first days at the University.

“The class emphasizes risk reduction, awareness and prevention,” Lemler said.

Asfahl said the majority of participants are female students, but the class is also offered to female faculty and staff members.

Each program session includes weekly two-hour classes and costs $10. The maximum class enrollment is 20 people, and sessions have been consistently more than 75 percent full for the last two years, Asfahl said.

Several University students said they were unaware the program exists but that they would be interested in taking it.

University student Kelsey McNichols said that she was cautioned of the risk of rape before coming to college.

“It’s when you see the big campus that you realize the threat is real,” she said.

Smaller versions of the class are also offered to sororities, departments and residence halls. These condensed versions of the program usually last one to three hours, Asfahl said.

With the addition of two more instructors, the recreational sports department plans to offer at least two sessions per semester and one in the summer, Asfahl said.

Severson joined Asfahl and Lemler in teaching the current session, which began Feb. 15. Ryan Riesselman, the other trained officer, will act as a male aggressor as part of an optional simulated attack at the end of the session.

In such a simulation, the woman is put in protective gear and placed in an attack situation, Lemler said.

Asfahl said men have been interested in taking similar self-defense classes.

“There is a need, but we are not going to fill the need at this time,” she said.

Similar programs available to men are through Boynton Health Service and the Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education, Asfahl said.

Shirley Everson, U Card Office director, originally informed University police of the funding availability.

Through its contract with the U Card Office, TCF Financial Corp. has set aside annual funding to support the University community, Everson said.

University police Sgt. Erik Stenemann submitted the grant proposal for approval.

The University police receive a large number of requests for defense and crime-prevention programs, Stenemann said.

Severson and Riesselman were trained as defensive-tactics instructors before their involvement with the Rape Aggression Defense System.

Severson has been working for the department for three years and volunteered to receive the training. She said she approached Riesselman, a six-year department veteran, about the training.

Dan Allen, senior associate director of recreational sports, said, “We have a very involved, very dedicated staff. If we can help one person with training, help one woman down the road, it makes it all worthwhile.”

Registration is being accepted for the next program session, scheduled to begin March 28.

– Freelance editor Steven Snyder welcomes comments at [email protected]