On Tuesday, March 27, Cambridge Police issued a citizen alert after two victims were assaulted in separate unarmed street robberies. This message was forwarded to the MIT community by the MIT Police, and included safety tips and ways individuals can protect themselves in threatening situations.
With its inception in 1989, the Rape Aggression Defense Systems (RAD) program has trained more than 300,000 women across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Korea and Switzerland. The MIT Police Department has offered the RAD program at MIT since 1990.
According to the official RAD Systems website, "The RAD System is a comprehensive, women-only course that begins with awareness, prevention, risk reduction and risk avoidance, while progressing on to the basics of hands-on defense training." The program caters to women who do not have previous self-defense experience, although those who have had some training are also welcome.
The RAD program at MIT has experienced an increase in demand over the past few years — there is even a waitlist of 65 women who are eager to participate. A partnership with Residential Life Programs (RLP), through Residential Life Associate Mellisa Thompson of McCormick Hall, has contributed to the program's recent success.
"Almost two years ago, [MIT Police] Sgt. Cheryl Vossmer [a RAD instructor] came into McCormick Hall for our annual Street Wise Safety event for first-year residents," Thompson says. "We had an outpouring of interest from women wanting to attend a self-defense class that Cheryl mentioned during her presentation."
Vossmer is the only instructor who has been with the RAD program since it began at MIT. She currently teaches classes with Willard "Billy" Boulter, who has been serving MIT Special Services for 14 years and instructing RAD classes for the past seven years.
At the most recent RAD session, held the weekend of March 23, Vossmer and Boulter demonstrated strikes and defensive positions, educated students in risk reduction and avoidance, and empowered women by helping them feel safe in their environments. The class was split into four-hour sessions across three days as Vossmer and Boulter both physically and mentally prepared students. The last day, known as simulation day, allowed women to practice their techniques in a more practical setting.
"I had a feeling it would be mostly theory and not much hands-on practice," says senior Cynthia Wang. "I was proven wrong from the first day. Cheryl and the team did a fantastic job teaching all of us basic, easy-to-remember, yet highly effective moves to protect ourselves against attackers."
"Going in [to the class], I was like most other girls: Always praying that such 'rare' tragedies would never happen to me," says senior Amy Zhang. "Now, I am putting my safety in my own hands."
One difficulty that the RAD instructors continue to face is the expense of running the course. "It's expensive for us to run the program since we don't charge for it," Vossmer says. RAD courses at other institutions generally charge a $25 registration fee, but the course is currently offered at MIT free of charge.
"Budgetary issues are tough," Boulter says, "gear and suits are expensive, but we are committed to the program." It costs $190 to properly dress one participant during simulation day with a helmet, as well as hand, elbow and kneepads. The aggressor suit, which receives the most damage during the classes, costs MIT Police $1,300 every time they have to replace it.
Boulter and Vossmer look forward to continuing the program with the support and participation of the MIT community. "We've had a hard time getting the word out," Boulter says. "Other students tell their friends, so we rely on word-of-mouth."
"We look forward to continuing to teach the RAD program," says Vossmer, "but, more importantly, we want the participants to know that the MIT Police are a good resource."
For more information about the RAD program or to make a financial contribution, contact Sgt. Cheryl Vossmer at email@example.com. The next scheduled RAD class will begin on Tuesday, April 10, at 5:15 p.m. Other sessions will be held on April 12, April 17, April 18, April 24, April 26 and May 1. To register for these classes, email Sgt. Cheryl Vossmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.