Academic institutions throughout the country recognize September as National Campus Safety Awareness Month, also known as the Red Zone, every year.
The Lehigh University Police Department is offering classes for the 2023-2024 academic year in the Rape Aggression Defense Program, which is dedicated to improving the safety of women through hands-on defense training.
According to the American Psychological Association, the link between the increased frequency of social gatherings and sexual assault poses a risk to the safety of young female college students.
Jason Schiffer, assistant vice president of campus safety and chief of police, said the Red Zone begins when students first arrive on campus, and this is when they are the most vulnerable.
He said adapting to a college environment for the first time and readjusting to college life after being home is difficult, and he wants these critical topics to be at the forefront of peoples’ minds.
According to the Lehigh University Police Department’s website, the Rape Aggression Defense System is a program of realistic self-defense tactics and techniques just for women.
The program is a comprehensive course that begins with awareness, prevention, risk reduction and avoidance, while progressing to the basics of hands-on defense training.
C.R. Stokes, community engagement officer for Lehigh police, said it is a national program and the largest self-defense network of its kind for women.
“It’s important that there are programs in the world like this one to educate the people and keep them safe,” Stokes said. “With active shooter threats and all the other terrible things happening out there, safety is a priority.”
He said the classes serve the students, helping them build the confidence and control they need to defend themselves and report cases of assault without being dependent on the protection of others.
According to the 2022 Campus Crime Report, there were five cases of rape, five cases of fondling and two cases of dating violence reported on campus in 2021.
Schiffer said while the data doesn’t often tell the whole story, it acts as a guide to understanding crime on campus.
According to the Clery Crime and Fire Log, an incident of sexual assault was reported at an on-campus residence hall on Sept. 2. This case is still under investigation.
“We know that most people in the U.S. who are sexually assaulted are women,” Stokes said. “So it’s important that we have some type of educational system out there to keep them safe and give them a stronger sense of security.”
Schiffer said Lehigh police has been offering Rape Aggression Defense classes for years, long before he came to Lehigh, but much like the police profession, most of the instructors were men. He said they are now in a position where they have more women instructors than male instructors.
“We are now pretty confident that we can provide these classes and ensure that there is at least one female instructor present,” Schiffer said. “I felt that was very important when these young female students are being taught all about self-defense and defensive tactics.”
Jaime Leauber, community engagement officer for Lehigh police, said everyone should have the opportunity to learn how to protect themselves.
The course is structured by being split into three, four-hour days for a total of 12 hours of self-defense training.
She said typically about half of the moves are covered on the first day, the second day finishes up the rest of the moves and builds on the previous ones, and the third day involves a brief review and active scenarios.
A large aspect of the classes is how participants are able to physically engage with an actor posing as an assailant.
Schiffer said this is the best way to learn how to react in a dangerous situation when there is adrenaline and uncertainty involved.
“The aggressor” comes out in an aggressor suit and the participants apply the skills they were taught in their training to defend off the attacker in a life-like situation. Stokes said the participant’s main goal is to escape.
“One thing about (Rape Aggression Defense) is that they don’t make people do anything they don’t want to do,” Stokes said. “You’re in charge of your participation and how much energy you put into it.”
Lehigh Police is working toward making the course a credited class in the future, Leauber said. Although it’s an idea in its beginning stage, the department believes students will be more inclined to participate since the class would then be offered over a longer period of time in smaller segments.
Syrmalenia Kotronaki, ‘25G, said she always wanted to take a self-defense class and is happy this kind of training is being offered by Lehigh police.
“I’m an international student, and I have experienced a lot of different parts of the world — some safer than others — so I feel the need to prepare myself for those less safe places,” Kotronaki said.
She said she was surprised to see how well the techniques such as kicking and punting actually worked.
Kotronaki said more women should be inclined to participate in the classes so they can learn how to better protect themselves. She thinks self-defense classes should be mandatory for first-year students.
Schiffer said they offer Rape Aggression Defense courses for men, as well, and while they are still somewhat of a self-defense course, the curriculum is different.
“Part of it is about teaching men not to be that person who would put people in compromising situations or would commit any types of assaults,” Schiffer said.
Leauber emphasized how much of an honor it is to teach women how to protect themselves.
“The best part is seeing how timid they are when they first come in and then, on the last day, seeing them apply everything they learned,” Leauber said.
The second session of this year’s R.A.D. classes is scheduled for Oct. 10, 11, and 12. The third session is scheduled for Jan.15-19. To register for a session or learn more, visit police.lehigh.edu/content/rad-self-defense-training.