Girl Power: Women Of All Ages Learn Moves to Save Their Lives

‘RAD’ Self-Defense Translates to Self-Confidence

Three years after being attacked in a Tysons Corner parking garage, 43-year-old Kathleen Dempsey of Falls Church was able to regain her confidence thanks to the City of Falls Church Police Department-sponsored Rape Aggression Defense (R.A.D.) program. RAD

‘RAD’ Self-Defense Translates to Self-Confidence


Three years after being attacked in a Tysons Corner parking garage, 43-year-old Kathleen Dempsey of Falls Church was able to regain her confidence thanks to the City of Falls Church Police Department-sponsored Rape Aggression Defense (R.A.D.) program.


(Photo: News-Press)

Though Dempsey escaped the assault that took place 13 years ago unharmed, her comfort level for venturing out solo had taken a sobering hit. But when her friend suggested she try R.A.D. in 2000. And so she did — seven times so far. Now, Dempsey volunteers for the program, helping to coordinate the course which teaches women the same empowerment she was taught.

The nationally-known program, locally offered by police departments and college campuses across the U.S., teaches females of all ages practical awareness tactics applicable to their daily routine, as well as how to effectively react to an attack with proven self-defense techniques.

While some regions charge participants a fee to enroll in the program, the F.C. Police Department offers the course free of charge as a service to all area females over the age of 12. It consists of four three-hour sessions, the last of which gives participants a chance to put their new skills to the test in one-on-one attack scenarios with the aggressors played by F.C. police officers.

“One of the reasons I kept coming back was because the program continued to help me overcome my fears,” said Dempsey.

Like Dempsey, 28-year-old Arlington native Hillary Butler can’t get enough of R.A.D., admittedly attending “seven or eight times” over the years it’s been offered by the City. More than self-defense moves, Butler said the course helps shape her frame of mind, adding that she learns something important about herself every time she goes.

“I have come such a long way and it’s not only because of the practice; it’s because of the guidance and instruction I get from the officers,” said Butler.

Corporal Joe Carter of F.C. Police — who spearheads the program with the help of four other R.A.D.-certified officers from Falls Church City, Prince William County and George Mason University (GMU) — said the course’s comprehensiveness makes sure not to overlook the simplicities of self-defense, like remembering to breathe.

“If a victim stops breathing during an attack, they won’t be able to think in order to react,” said Carter.

Deputy Stephanie Jones of the Prince William County Sheriff’s Department, who’s been an active R.A.D. leader for eight years, said that most importantly, the program teaches females self-esteem and triggers a realization of their own strength.

Newcomer Yolande Miller, 50, attended R.A.D. for the first time last month after reading an announcement about it in the News-Press. Tagging along with Miller was her 14-year-old daughter and two of her teenage girlfriends.

“I tend to be quite a sissy and a chicken, but I came out of R.A.D. feeling empowered, stronger mentally and physically, smarter about being more careful, more strategic about what I can and cannot do, and certainly what I should do in case of an assault,” said Miller, who applauded the officers for being “terrific trainers” with the ability to be “rigorous, demanding, but understanding and caring at the same time.”

Echoing Miller’s sentiment, Dempsey is amazed by how the officers fit R.A.D. into their already-hectic work schedules solely on a volunteer basis, yet still manage to deliver a top-notch, and sometimes life-saving, service.

“These police officers are certainly paying it forward,” said Dempsey, going on to note that she’s received countless thank-you letters expressing gratitude for her and the officer’s commitment. Some women have even made an effort to follow-up, attesting to the fact R.A.D. saved them from actual life-threatening situations.

“One woman wrote in who had taken the class before and was then attacked in D.C. She said she knew exactly what to do, that it all came flooding back to her,” said Dempsey.

For those who haven’t participated in R.A.D., Sergeant Calvin Chandler of the GMU Police Department slammed the myth that it’s safer for women to be on their cell phones with a loved one when walking alone to their car. He advised females when by themselves to stay as alert as possible, with more than just their eyes peeled.

“If you’re on your cell phone, then you’re not aware. Then, if something does happen, it’s very probable you’re going to drop that cell phone and be without it when you need it most,” said 37-year-old Chandler, who plays the role of an aggressor for Falls Church’s R.A.D. program.

He went on to say another rule of thumb for women should be to park their cars in the best-lit area available.

Though not old enough to drive, Miller’s daughter and her friends took what they learned to heart, saying that even teenage girls can benefit from R.A.D.

“With no prompting on my part, they all said they wanted to take the training again. They’re excited and determined to become better at defending themselves,” said Miller.

The age range and type of participants “runs the gamut,” according to Dempsey. F.C. Police Officer Sharee Janda, 30, elaborated, saying that she’s trained “mothers, daughters, women in their 60s, 70s and even previous assault victims.” But no matter how society classifies them, women who enter the course leave it experiencing growth.

“Even these girls who come in acting extremely timid, come fight night, they really get into it and you can see how far they’ve come,” said Janda, who’s been a R.A.D. leader for five years.

Janda and Chandler were partners during their R.A.D. training, where she was able to wrap her head around just how intimidating R.A.D.’s large male aggressors can seem.

“I tell these girls, ‘If I can fight and win against him [Chandler], who is probably twice my size, then so can they’,” said Janda.

The next R.A.D. program is scheduled for fall 2009.