‘Girls’ on guard

Published 9:24 am Thursday, April 17, 2014

Members of Buchanan’s Girls Be Positive participated in a RAD self-defense class last weekend. (Submitted photo)

Members of Buchanan’s Girls Be Positive participated in a RAD self-defense class last weekend. (Submitted photo)

Sheriff’s Dept. hosts self-defense classes for women

This year, hundreds of area graduates will leave home and live on their own for the first time. As parents prepare to send their daughters off into the world, Berrien County officers suggest they add self-defense training to their list of things to do

This weekend, Berrien County Deputy Kelly Laesch helped a number of Buchanan females accomplish that goal.

A facilitator for Berrien County’s Rape, Aggression, Defense (RAD) program, Laesch spent her weekend training members of Buchanan’s Girls Be Positive group how to protect themselves from potential assailants.

“Everybody needs personal safety even though they may not think so. We’re always wondering, ‘Are we being safe for ourselves, for our family?’” Laesch said. “If your kids are going out to college, we highly recommend that you find those classes. It just gives so many skills and techniques they wouldn’t know.”

Berrien County’s RAD program is one of hundreds like it across the country, but the local program differs from most other RAD organizations.

“Our program is a free service in the sheriff’s department. In Kalamazoo they do it and it’s around $200 per person. It’s a great thing that Sheriff Bailey says no, we’re not charging. We need to do this,” Laesch said.

Laesch is assisted by three other people in her efforts to train women of all ages how to prevent sexual assault and rape. Colleen Rutter, a Marine division administrative assistant, and reserve deputies Tom Dumminger and Mike Gronke help facilitate various portions of the three-day class.

“RAD is a 12-hour certification course. The first night they do all bookwork and they learn about personal safety,” Laesch said. “Monday we do four hours, Tuesday we do four hours, and then we take a break on Wednesday because it’s very physical. And then on Thursday you practice everything you learned.”

Laesch said women who take the RAD classes are trained physically and mentally how to counteract potential attackers, and Thursday students are tested.

“We call it fight night. It’s a simulation where two men dress up in red man suits and they do different scenarios, like walking up to your car when you’re carrying groceries, or walking home at night,” Laesch said. “They’re all padded up and we do different scenarios, and then they come out and they’ll taunt or say things. Sometimes they’ll grab you.”

Students are expected to react to the fake attackers using the lessons they learned during the first two nights of training.

“A lot of people freeze when a stressful situation happens. We say, ‘You have a voice on you. Use it.’ Even if all you can do is say, ‘Get back,’” Laesch said.

Laesch said she hosts classes for women of all ages all over Berrien County, and the free program is open to any group interested. Participants must be females 18 or older, but some teenagers are allowed with parental consent.

“When I did the RAD class this weekend with Buchanan High School, it was freshmen through seniors and they had 15 girls. They were so timid when I was explaining some possible scenarios and asking, ‘What would you do?’ And they had no idea,” Laesch said. “By the end of every time we do a class, it gets them a lot more confident. They feel like they can handle the situation.”

Groups interested must have at least 10 people and a space to hold classes in. Laesch said most municipalities have locations that are available to patrons.

Those interested in hosting a RAD program can contact Laesch at (269) 983-7141.