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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Faces of the U: Fighting back

By Ana Breton

You’re at a party. It’s midnight, and you’re having a good time.

The guy you have been checking out comes over and tells you how good you look tonight.

He puts his hands around your shoulder and for a minute, you enjoy the attention and slyly smile.

Then his caring expression changes to one of power and greed. His arm tightens around your neck, squeezing you like a plastic straw. Then two of his friends show up and pin you down.

You feel your spine hit the bottom of the hardwood floor. You see a door in the distance, but you literally cannot move.

What do you do?

Friendly introductions

Twelve women were in a similar situation several Wednesdays ago when men attacked them in the same room, one by one, within three hours.

The men who pounced on these women were officers from the U Police Department, and the attacking simulation was part of the Rape Aggression Defense class, a six-week course that teaches women realistic tactics to escape violent situations.

The women came from various points of life: One was a senior at Layton High School and another was a 64-year-old woman from Mozambique.

The class began with introductions, a quick hello and a mini biography, kind of like the first day of school-except in this school, they learn how to save their lives.

Shannon Elliott introduced herself as an 18-year-old senior from Layton High School who was taking the class because “boys are stupid.”

Her mother, Dianna Elliott, who also took the class, knew her daughter’s reason had a deeper meaning.

The Hill Air Force Base employee said her daughter had been in a similar situation several months ago when three boys threw her to the ground and pinned her down during a party.

Shannon Elliott said they were just trying to tickle her, but her mother knows it could have been worse.

Just say no

During the classes, the women learned self-defense moves: knee strikes, kicks and moves specifically designed to help women escape situations that might potentially lead to sexual abuse- something that happens to one out of every three women in Utah.

With every move, the women were taught to say a loud, affirmative no intended to frighten their attacker and keep their breathing at a steady pace.

In the beginning, the 12 women were antsy, giggling after every half-voiced no. Sgt. Lynn Rohland, U Police Department crime prevention officer, had to reaffirm that this was going to save their lives.

“Saying no is actually a tool that will empower you,” said Rohland, who has taught RAD classes for six years. “Women are usually very nice, and it’s not something they are prone to say.”

The women were also taught how to escape if they were ever choked or grabbed from behind. During each simulation, women would briefly comment on how their friends had been “choked like that” or “raped in that position.”

The demonstrations were taught as if the attacker had no weapon because most cases of rape do not involve one.

Why? Sexual assault is punishable by one to 15 years in prison. Aggravated sexual assault or rape with a weapon is punishable by no fewer than six, 10 or 15 years, and may be for life.

Another demonstration had the women pinning each other down as if the attack had happened in bed.

“We’ve never been this close before,” Kay Reed said about pinning her fellow employees down.

Reed, a dental hygienist, signed up for the class with two of her friends and fellow employees Lynette Thorton and Kathy Baker. The three work at a local dentist’s office and have had negative experiences with one of their patients.

Baker, who works as a receptionist, said a once man hugged her but wouldn’t let go, so she pushed him away and told him he had crossed the line.

“I hope I never have to be that close to him again,” Baker said.

Twenty to 30 seconds

During their second-to-last class, the women were given three simulations designed to test what the women would do if they were really attacked.

While the women waited outside their classroom in the Huntsman Center, one by one the participants suited up in protective gear-boxing gloves, helmet and knee and elbow pads-and were told their objective.

During the first test, the women had to walk to the other side of the room and come back as if they were walking in a park during the day.

Halfway to their destination, the women were attacked by one of the four police officers in full gear wearing about 40 pounds of bright red pads.

The second simulation had the women act as if they were walking toward an ATM machine to withdraw money, but once again, they were grabbed and choked by their attackers.

Isabel Morais knew this situation all too well. She was walking to work in her native Mozambique when three men mugged her.

“They grabbed my purse and ran,” Morais said. “I hope I feel stronger if they attack me ever again.”

During the final and most complex simulation, women were brought in and told they were at a party. The padded officers complimented the participants who had their eyes closed to simulate a dimly lit room and attacked at an unexpected moment.

The women struggled as they were bear-hugged and pulled to the ground while attempting to say no.

The average time before the women became tired and the shouts of no dwindled to what sounded more like a forced whisper was 20 to 30 seconds.

“It was very draining,” Thorton said. “I didn’t know if I could go on when I was on the ground-it takes everything out of you.”

But she kept going, keeping her 17-year-old daughter who was raped last year in mind as her motivation.

When the incident happened, Thorton remembers asking her daughter why she didn’t scream or kick-something she has since changed her mind about.

“I honestly could not believe that she couldn’t get away,” Thorton said. “But it’s much harder than it seems.”

By being attacked during the simulation, participants had a “real-life” look at what past victims have faced.

“That way, you won’t say, ‘Why didn’t you try to kick?’ because you know what it’s like,” Rohland said.

Women who pass the class become RAD certified and can take the class for free throughout their lifetime.

“I feel more empowered now,” Reed said. “I don’t want to be a victim, but if I (am), at least I know I was prepared and had a chance.”

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