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FROM AN EARLY age, the importance of women being able to defend themselves against would-be attackers is stressed. With news coverage of violence against women, stranger danger talks with parents, and the self-defence courses offered in high schools, young girls are taught they need to know how to protect themselves.

The U of O is no exception. Protection Services is offering a women-only self-defence class on campus called Rape Aggression Defence (RAD).
The course is part of the RAD Systems Basic Physical Defence program founded by former U.S. Marine Larry Nadeau in 1989, and has trained over 500 women on North American campuses since its inception in 2003. Martin Grégoire, U of O instructor and the course’s coordinator, believes RAD is a good fit for our campus.

“We were out looking for self-defence programs and found that International Association Campus Law Enforcement Administrators endorsed [the RAD program],” he explains. “Since we are part of that group, we looked into it and found it to be very user-friendly and well organized.”

Vicki Chartrand, sessional criminology lecturer at the U of O, addresses the importance of self-defence courses like RAD.

“These initiatives … acknowledge and address violence against women, [and they] are important not only because they offer a means to counter violence, but they also keep people aware,” she explains. “The [RAD’s focus] on the act of ‘rape’ and aggression acknowledges that violence can be extreme in addition to psychological, financial, and spiritual forms of violence.”

Quinn Blue, coordinator at the Women’s Resource Centre, is skeptical about the name of the course.

“Calling a class something like a ‘Rape Aggression Defence’ class can play into victim blaming by placing the responsibility on people to defend themselves against rape,” Blue explains. “Self-defence courses can be a really great way for people to feel safer and gain confidence … but the particular framing of it is kind of problematic.”

The concern over the name of the course isn’t the only issue being brought up about the course. Participants might be surprised to learn that five of the six certified instructors are males.

Julie Stark, specialized self-defence instructor teaching in Waterloo, says having male instructors can detract from the participants’ learning experience.

“Females are, at least initially, more open about their past experiences when they are in a female-only environment,” she says. “When a male instructor enters the room and begins to speak or teach, there is a definite shift in emotion or attitude. It is still a very positive environment, but there is a subtle difference.”

Although he acknowledges the challenges associated with male instructors, Grégoire insists participants have not had any difficulties.

“We have had past victims attend our classes and only received positive feedback in our evaluations,” he explains. “The male instructors only practise with each other and never with the participants.”

A U of O student registered for an upcoming session, who asked to remain anonymous, says while she might not feel comfortable discussing her own assault with a male, she does have mixed feelings about the instructors.

“Seeing as I will have no personal connection to these males, it may be easier to open up to them than I think,” she states.

Not only are most of the instructors male, but according to Grégoire, only law enforcement representatives can become certified RAD instructors, which Blue believes to be a point of concern.

“[Law enforcement backgrounds] can be problematic given the several instances where, in Ottawa specifically, police have actually been involved in violence against women.”

Blue also notes the simulated attacks, performed in the self-defence classes, can be harmful to a past victim of violence.

“[They’re] horribly triggering for anyone who’s ever experienced violence, especially if people end up being unable to effectively fight off this simulated attack. That sometimes has the opposite effect, of making them feel less safe.”

Protection Services warns participants about the course acting as a potential trigger and offers to direct participants to a range of on-campus support services.

Although the RAD course seems like a step in the right direction in eradicating sexual assault, Chartrand notes teaching women self-defence isn’t be only solution to preventing it.

“While these initiatives are important in the interim, [people can] always benefit from other initiatives that also make men accountable for their own violence,” she explains. “Violence is more than a problem for women and it is important to work in a variety of ways and develop new resources to end violence against women.”

The next RAD course runs March 2–3 and is free for registered students of the U of O. For more info students can visit

Kiera Obbard


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