- Schofield Barracks/Wheeler Army Airfield
Self-Defense Classes Empower Soldiers And Raise Awareness Around Sexual Harassment
Story by SPC Erica Earl on 04/05/2018
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Washington For five years, Spc. Theresa Petters was a victim of domestic violence. She developed severe anxiety from the abuse she suffered at home.
The mistreatment followed Petters to work, where her husband would call constantly to monitor her at all times. She was afraid to tell coworkers just how bad the situation was.
Petters said her husband kept tabs on her everywhere she went and fielded all her phone calls. Situations would often escalate and her husband would hit and choke her, she said.
Even after finding the courage and strength to leave her husband, Petters said her confidence was shaken and destroyed.
When Petters, a Soldier with the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, 46th Aviation Support Battalion on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, saw the opportunity to take a self-defense course for women on post, she knew this was a chance to reclaim her self-assurance.
"I wish for no one to have an experience where they have to use self-defense skills to survive," Petters said. "But I feel more secure, and if something happens to me again, I have the confidence that I will be able to plan how to react."
Five self-defense workshops are scheduled for the month of April for Soldiers and their family members to learn effective techniques to defend themselves against an aggressor.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, a month dedicated to raising awareness around the seriousness of sexual assault and the impact it has on individual, families and units. It is also a time to raise awareness around the commitment to recognize and stop situations that can escalate to sexual assault.
The Rape Aggression Defense program, called RAD, is a non-military program that trains instructors to teach a specific self-defense system, specifically designed to protect against sexual assault. This will be the seventh year JBLM has hosted RAD classes.
These free two-day classes are currently taught by certified instructors Scott Acosta, the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention victim advocate for the 62nd Medical Brigade on JBLM, Lance Posner, the joint base SHARP victim advocate for the garrison SHARP office and Lisa Barron, the SHARP victim advocate for the 404th Army Field Support Brigade.
Acosta said the program, divided into all-women and all-men classes, is designed for a variety of people, including those who have experienced trauma, want to learn about self-defense to feel less vulnerable and want to increase their self-esteem.
He said it is especially helpful in empowering women.
"Women are not weak, despite what social programming has taught them," Acosta said.
Acosta said RAD is not a martial arts class. It is as much about escaping and deterring an attacker as it is fighting one.
Acosta looked like a giant lobster when teaching an all-women's course, earlier this year. His padded suit and helmet were bright red and made the 230-pound man appear even larger and more intimidating. The suit is for protection against blows as the students learn to escape from an attacker.
"I want you to give me everything you've got, ladies," he said. "I am not going to be the nice guy anymore you've known so far. Don't hold back or have mercy. You need to know how to do this properly."
In addition to teaching different series of punches, kicks, blocks and escape tactics in a classroom setting, the program includes a simulation portion for the students to put together everything they learned.
Acosta described the simulation as intentional sensory overload.
For the simulation, Acosta dims the lights in the gym and sets up a strobe. , and Aa soundtrack of music and city sounds blares in the background. Acosta said this is to simulate a city at night or a busy bar or nightclub.
Each participant gets their own one-on-one encounter in which they practice fighting off and evading an aggressor. Acosta puts each student through a different scenario from which they must escape, such as an attack from behind at an imaginary ATM.
"They get to be in the middle of their own action movie, learning they can be their own hero," Acosta said.
The simulation is an optional part of the course. "It is an intense part that may overwhelm some participants," Acosta said.
Student Stacey Barnes went first, enthusiastically throwing jabs at Acosta and escaping his grip. She spent every break in the class practicing the combative moves before the simulation.
Barnes, a contracted security officer with Pierce County and a Department of Defense civilian employee working for regional administrative support for the Communications-Electronics Command on JBLM, has been through the RAD program twice, in addition to other self-defense classes.
In her two years on the job as a security officer, people have been verbally aggressive toward Barnes. She said she wants the confidence of knowing she could defend herself if things turned physical.
"Every time, I prove to myself what I really can do," Barnes said. "Just because women are often targeted doesn't mean we don't have the strength and the force to speak up and do something."
Holly Cook, a work-from-home seamstress and mother to three daughters, also took the course to feel empowered.
As an Army spouse, Cook said she wants to break the stigma that women, particularly housewives, are "defenseless."
"My fear is that when my husband is at work or deployed, people know I'm home alone," Cook said. "I want to feel comfortable knowing that I have a better chance with the skillset taught if a situation did happen. I want to be able to show my daughters how to protect themselves."
Larry Nadeau, a law enforcement officer at Virginia State University, founded the RAD program in 1989. Acosta said Nadeau founded the program, originally just for women, after observing a high number of sexual assault cases and attacks against female students at Virginia State University and campuses across the country.
Acosta learned about RAD in Hawaii, where he was working as a victim advocate at Schofield Barracks and handling as many as 73 sexual harassment and assault cases per month.
"I wanted a way to intervene more," Acosta said. "I wanted to be able to share some of my skills to help others, especially those who felt vulnerable and like they didn't have a voice."
Acosta has 30 years of experience in competitive kickboxing and karate. In 2012, he became one of 14 certified RAD instructors on the island of Oahu and has continued to teach since.
"The best part of every class is when someone comes in and they're quiet and timid and passive, but they walk out visibly proud and more outgoing," Acosta said. "You can see the change in their faces."
On JBLM, RAD classes are offered once per quarter, or when requested by a unit. The course is open to all active duty Soldiers and their family members over the age of 13.
Classes for women are scheduled for April 10-11, 14-15, 19-20 and 23-24 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Training Center gymnasium on post.
A class for men is scheduled for April 26-27 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the at the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Training Center gymnasium on post.
This will be the first time a RAD course specifically for men has been offered on JBLM.
Classes for the elderly and those with disabilities are offered at other RAD locations around the country, to include college campuses and events hosted by local law enforcement.
To sign up for RAD classes on JBLM, visit jblmafcs.checkappointments.com.
For a full list of RAD locations and more information about the program, visit rad-systems.com.
If you or anyone you know is suffering domestic violence or abuse or sexual harassment assault, call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, Military OneSource at 1-800-342-9647 or the DOD Safe Helpline at 1-877-995-5247.
To report and get help recovering from incidents of sexual assault or harassment on JBLM, contact your unit's victim advocates or the SHARP helpline at 253-389-8469.