In the last few months, the Athens and Ohio University police departments have taken a significant number of rape and sexual-assault reports. For many people, the need to feel safe and protected can lead to an interest in martial arts or other systems of physical defense. 

Some recurring classes that are being taught in Athens, however, focus on more than just physical defense. Classes such as the Rape Aggression Defense course offered by the Ohio University PD to university affiliates, or the personal safety and prevention classes being taught at Arts West in the coming months focus on psychologically and physically empowering (mainly) women to prevent assault.

Cheryl Cesta, a self-defense teacher of Athens Dakini Bando, teaches gender-neutral “healing and harmonizing” classes for adults every Monday at Arts West. On the third Monday of October, Cesta held the first in a series of classes that instead focus on “empowerment self-defense” instruction. The first class, held Oct. 15, was for adults; the next one, which will take place Nov. 19, is for teens of all genders; and a third class, to be held Dec. 17, will cater to children and their parents and caregivers. The fee is $5 to $10 per class, with no advanced registration required, though veterans, active military and their loved ones may attend free of charge.

Cesta, who has been a certified Empowerment Self-Defense Teacher through the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation for 30 years, said that when she teaches self-defense, she focuses on five main areas: awareness, intuition, verbal expression, immediate resistance and physical defense. 

The primary weapons Cesta taught the small group of women who attended her class Oct. 15 involved manipulating one’s body language to appear prepared for an attack, properly communicating consent (or lack thereof), and practicing actions to jolt and escape an attacker. “They are not looking for a fair fight,” Cesta told the group. “They want a victim.” She also advised the women to trust their gut feeling when they sense something is wrong, and to “take an action” any time they feel uncomfortable in a situation.

Participants practiced forcefully saying “no,” and discussed techniques for strongly conveying a message. Cesta also taught a “yell and run” technique, and told the group that a scream (which might be commonly heard on Court Street late at night) is different from a yell.

“We call it the self-defense yell,” Cesta said, and the small circle of women proceeded to practice the guttural noise together.

Finally, the group learned how to target weak points on an attacker’s body. Cesta emphasized the importance of defense techniques that don’t involve a “secondary weapon” such as a knife or pepper spray, as those weapons easily can be forgotten at home or swiped by an attacker. Plus, one must be psychologically prepared to use a weapon. 

“Your body is your weapon, and you always have that with you,” Cesta said.

Physical resistance, Cesta said, should be a last resort. “There’s so much we can do before the fact,” she said. 

 

ACCORDING TO OUPD OFFICER Brandon King, the Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) course offered to women in the OU community has a similar approach. The goal of the RAD program is “to provide attendees with information, tactics and considerations which we believe may be useful for various types of abductive encounters perpetrated against women,” said King, who primarily manages the OUPD RAD and self-defense classes, in an email last week. 

“...The information provided educates the participants in risk awareness, risk reduction, risk recognition and risk avoidance strategies. This helps in mentally preparing a person,” King said. Basic self-defense techniques, which are acquired through repetition, also are taught during the course, King added.

RAD is a physical defense instruction program, established in 1989, that is currently being taught at colleges, universities and other institutions across the country, according to the RAD systems main website. “R.A.D. Systems balances the needs of women to acquire self-defense education in a relatively short period of time, with the life-long commitment required for physical skill mastery... By providing short-term training opportunities in a progressive building-block format,” the website states. 

King said he’s been working at the university for just over 17 years, and that the RAD courses have been offered at OU since before he started. He could not, however, say just how long the university has offered the program. “Jennifer Davies (OUPD communications officer) has been certified as a RAD Instructor since 1998, and she informed me that the program was strong even before her time,” King said.

The course is free of charge to women in the OU community, King said, including transgender women. “If a participant is living as a woman and has the appearance of a woman, she is in the position to be targeted for the same victimization as a woman,” King said in another email, referring to the RAD headquarters’ policy. “... (T)herefore regardless of whether they have made or intends (sic) to make a clinical transition or not, they will likely be attacked in this manner and should be permitted to attend the program.”

Although King said there’s “generally a large interest in the program,” the interest may be greater this semester given the recent string of sexual-assault reports. Twenty-one sexual assaults have been reported to the Athens and OU police departments since OU’s fall semester began on Aug. 27. That includes 11 rapes and three sexual imposition crimes reported to the APD and seven rapes reported to OUPD, The NEWS previously reported, according to incident reports created by those police agencies since that time.

“We could correlate a larger interest with the climate,” King said in the email. “This is the first semester we have hosted two RAD sessions due to what is being reported.”

Cesta said part of the reason she decided to host protection and prevention workshops, in addition to her usual healing and harmonizing classes (which focus on breathing, yoga and other meditative practices), is because of an increased interest from others.

“I had a lot of requests for prevention” classes recently, Cesta said. She’s taught classes at OU and other institutions in the Athens area in the past, she said, but much of the grant funding that was once available to support self-defense training has “just fizzled.”

Cesta said that she now mostly focuses on teaching self-care strategies. She said she would be happy, however, to host more prevention and self-defense courses if invited to do so. For more information on the courses she offers, contact Cesta at cherylcesta@gmail.com or 740-594-7452.

The first RAD course of the semester finished last week (Oct. 21), and the next (which will run for four weeks) began yesterday (Sunday) and is already filled. OUPD also offers two-hour self-defense courses for people in the OU community, King said. For more information on the RAD and other self-defense classes offered by OUPD, contact King at kingb@ohio.edu or 740-593-1911.

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