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Belchertown police teach women self-defense, hand to hand

R.A.D. Systems course teaches women how to avoid, deal with attackers

  • Diane Conners, left, of Ludlow, and Chelsey Reep, of Belchertown, wear pro-tective gear during the final session of a self-defense course for women Jan. 23 at Belchertown Recreation Department. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Chelsey Reep, right, of Belchertown, waits to take part in a scenario where she is attacked during the final session of a self-defense course for women Jan. 23 at Belchertown Recreation Department. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



Staff Writer
Thursday, February 01, 2018

BELCHERTOWN — Jan. 23 marked the beginning of a safer, more confident life for eight local women, thanks to the Belchertown Police Department.

That night, the department graduated its second class from a self-defense course offered free to area residents.

“The course helps build skills, awareness and confidence, then puts it all together into a real-life scenario in the end,” said Belchertown Police Officer Jordyn Bradway, a course instructor. “People come in here with no idea what to expect, and by the second or third class you can really see the difference.”

Taught by Belchertown Police officers Bradway and Christopher Mayo, the Rape Aggression Defense Systems course – R.A.D. for short – met for four three-hour sessions split between the Belchertown Police Department and the adjacent Recreation Department. With an emphasis on preventing abduction, women learn different kicks, jabs and strategic twists to break an attacker’s grip as part of the curriculum.

“You want to use the mechanics of your body to get them off of you,” Mayo told the class. “And remember, we’re not fighting force with force.”

For their final lesson on Tuesday night, eight women took turns fighting their way through four different attacker simulations. Instructors suited up in full-body protective suits while participants put on red padded helmets, knee pads, elbow pads, and gloves.

Chelsey Reep, a 25-year-old preschool teacher from Belchertown, works in Worcester. After her car was broken into, she started thinking about her own personal safety. She was wait-listed for last year’s R.A.D. course; this month, she got in. She said Bradway and Mayo’s good humor and patience made the class worthwhile.

“They make the class very fun,” Reep said. “I don’t think about it as a class. I think about it more like going to the gym, like a fitness class.”

She offered advice to any women interested in taking the course.

“There’s nothing really to be afraid about,” she said. “I was really anxious when I came in and didn’t know what to expect, but it’s a totally relaxed, judgment-free zone and you can be yourself and they help you through it.”

Officer Neil Lozier also assisted with the attack simulation on the final day.

“We’re not teaching a defense class. We’re teaching life skills,” Lozier said. “Most of the class is avoidance, just because, that’s the thing, there’s always predators.”

Diane Connors, 47, from Ludlow has taken multiple women’s self-defense courses and recommends the R.A.D. course to her family and friends.

“I’ve taken other classes but I really like this one because it’s hands-on training,” Connors said.

“One thing they teach too is to not put yourself in predicaments,” Connors said. “If you don’t feel comfortable getting on an elevator with someone, don’t get on it.”

Reep said the course lessens her anxiety when she’s alone or around large groups of people, but that does not mean she’s unguarded.

“It makes me less anxious but at the same time more aware, like, when I go to start my car in the morning I’m looking around,” Reep said.

According to the R.A.D. website, more than 900,000 women have taken a course since the program began in 1989. The organization’s mission is to build a network of instructors who can then teach others how to be safe. “In doing this, we challenge society to evolve into an existence where violence is not an acceptable part of daily life,” says the website.

Communication is key. Women in the R.A.D. course are taught to use their voices and yell “No!” as they go through the motions, and to report cases of assault to the police.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimated as a result of its 2016 National Crime Victimization Survey that fewer than half (42 percent) of all violent victimizations (including rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated and simple assault) were reported to police.

“Even just to use your voice, it’s kind of embarrassing,” Connors said. “Women are used to being quiet and timid and not aggressive, so you’ve kind of got to throw that all aside.”

For many students, the final attacker simulation can be nerve-wracking.

“There’s an element of uncomfortability, but the instructors are really great and they help you work through that,” Connors said.

The course is open to women from Belchertown and the surrounding communities. Bradway says the department plans to offer it again in the spring. Other courses offered by the department include R.A.D. for Seniors, R.A.D. Kids, R.A.D. Aerosol Defense and R.A.D. Keychain Defense. In the past, the police department also helped with the final R.A.D. training simulation for Belchertown High School students taking the course.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@gazettenet.com