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Missing the point on rape-prevention efforts 

When it comes to politically charged public debate, the conversation can go from zero to crazy quicker than you can say "Second Amendment." And this is exactly what happened last month as the state Legislature turned to four House bills to limit access to guns.

One of those bills, which has since passed the House, would ban handguns on college campuses, regardless of whether an individual possesses a concealed-carry permit. A contentious bill in its own right, the controversy grew when Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, stood before the House and supported it this way: "And you don't know if you feel like you're gonna be raped, or if you feel like someone's been following you around or if you feel like you're in trouble and when you may actually not be, that you pop out that gun and you pop, pop a round at somebody."

Salazar's comments fueled gun-rights advocates, who were already enraged.

And into the conversation was introduced the completely unrelated subject of rape prevention, as taught by the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. A list of strategies and techniques, offered by the school, to escape an assault include: "Tell your attacker that you have a disease or are menstruating," and "Vomiting or urinating may also convince the attacker to leave you alone."

These tips were not created by UCCS. As the college explains on its public-safety website (which has since removed the offending recommendations), they were provided as "supplemental material" to the international rape-prevention training seminar called R.A.D. (Rape Aggression Defense). Locally, UCCS and Colorado College both offer the program.

"Unfortunately, they took one aspect of everything we teach," says UCCS Chief of Police Jim Spice, "and sort of fixated on that."

Fighting back

The R.A.D. program is far more extensive than just the last-ditch options upon which people seized. The 12-hour course offers women training in myriad options that they have, but might not recognize.

"There's so much more to it than just peeing on yourself," says Korbie Perkins, a detective in the Glendale Police Department and the Colorado state director of R.A.D. "You can't just stand there and pee on yourself and expect them to run away."

The class stresses awareness of your surroundings, and the avoidance of dangerous situations. As Perkins notes, a woman is more likely to be sexually assaulted during her first six weeks of her freshman year of college than at any other time in her life. So avoiding drugs or alcohol in social settings, staying with a friend, and not drinking out of strange cups are taught as strategies.

From there, they examine defensive resistance techniques, such as yelling, blowing a whistle, or running away.

R.A.D. also explores compliance strategies. "Compliant resistance" includes the strategies that became so notorious, including vomiting on oneself, hyperventilating, urinating, or claiming to have a disease. Express compliance is a strategy of buying time, acting as if you will comply until an opportunity arises to escape or attack.

Finally, there's complete compliance, a strategy for when all else has failed. It focuses on what the victim can do to gather details about the environment and assailant that might be useful later to law enforcement.

"Every single situation is different. If you don't have a weapon and there's a gun on you, or a knife to your throat, and you don't feel like you can over-power him or kick and punch," says Spice, "complete compliance could be an option."

However, teaching physical defense is R.A.D.'s main focus: kicking, punching, escaping from bear-hugs and so on.

"The last class we did, I had two gals in there, one was 16 and one was 18, and they were both survivors, they had both been sexually assaulted," Perkins says. "The one told me, flat-out, 'If I had known, I could have gotten away.'"

R.A.D. is a good starter, but she suggests that women can try martial arts or boxing. "Take something," she says, "that prepares you."

A bigger picture

Spice says UCCS tries to offer R.A.D. twice a semester, and once during the summer. The class is open, for free, to all females in the Colorado Springs community. UCCS used to offer R.A.D. classes for men that focused on healthy sexual behavior, but they stopped holding them years ago due to lack of attendance.

R.A.D. has been offered similarly at CC, but Heather Horton, director of the school's Wellness Resource Center, says she also does other work with the community regarding proper sexual interactions.

"We do a lot of work around what healthy relationships look like, and what healthy sexual relationships look like," Horton says. "When students arrive on our campus as new students," she says, "we do some of that education around our policies and processes and an introduction to our bystander intervention."

The program BADASS (Being Aware, Deciding to Act, and Saying Something) teaches students to recognize disrespectful or dangerous behavior, and to intercede when needed.

As Horton notes, more than 80 percent of sexual assaults are committed by a known person, and in a dating situation.

"The likelihood that one would be carrying a weapon like that in that situation, and would be able to feel like they could pull out a weapon in that situation is just unrealistic," she says. "And when the conversation goes in that direction, I think that it does a disservice to the prevention efforts that people are really making."

chet@csindy.com

  • Heated gun debate skewed the representation of colleges' public-safety programming.

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