Sexual assault defence class not a knock-out punch: Carleton student groups

By Meghan Potkins

Posters like this one are in Carleton University bathrooms. They advertise classes that teach women to defend against attacks. Photo: Paul Moore

Aim for the eyes, throat, nose or groin. Const. Alicia Poole with Carleton’s department of university safety demonstrates how to throw a punch.

“You’ve got to keep your arm straight out. Punch straight through and make sure everything stays solid because you don’t want your wrist to be floppy… keep your thumb out [of your fist]. You don’t want to break your thumb.”

Poole spent Saturday demonstrating physical defense techniques to female staff, students and members of the public as part of the Rape Aggression Defense Systems program on the Carleton University campus. The program uses a combination of classroom instruction and simulations of real-life attacks.

Known by practitioners as RAD, the workshops saw a record number of participants this fall. The Carleton University has hosted two workshops so far this year and is planning three more.

But the program has not been well received by everyone in the university community. Some student groups are calling on the university to do more than train students in self-defense.

The Coalition for a Carleton Sexual Assault Centre, the Womyn’s Centre and the Graduate Students’ Association at Carleton have been lobbying the university administration to establish a sexual assault centre since a female student was violently sexually assaulted on campus in August 2007.

Supporters of the creation of a sexual assault centre point to similar programs at McGill and the University of Alberta, and to a 2008 referendum where 80 per cent of Carleton students voted in favour of establishing a sexual assault centre.

Kandace Price of Womyn’s Centre called the RAD program a “band-aid solution”.

“Maybe some women may go to [RAD] and feel very much empowered and feel that this has helped them, but there are women who have black belts and still get assaulted,” said Price.

Price pointed out that the program’s simulations of real-life attacks usually portray the assailant as a stranger, when the perpetrator is a person known to the victim in 80 per cent of assault cases.

“Maybe if you are assaulted by a stranger [these techniques] might work,” Price said. “But if you’re assaulted by someone you know…you are not really expecting it. It’s out of nowhere…not planned out like the simulated assault that they’ll give you at RAD.”

“There is a lot more connected to sexual violence than just [being] physically strong enough to get that person off of you,” she added.

University officials did not respond to requests for an interview Tuesday.

In past statements, Carleton’s administration has suggested that they won’t fund the centre because of a lack of campus space and liability concerns.

But there are signs that the university administration may reconsider its position. Carleton’s equity services department announced it will host a presentation on the prevention of abuse on Dec. 2, where the possibility of a sexual assault centre will be discussed.

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