SOLDOTNA - Impressed with what she saw while visiting her daughter at Brigham Young University in Utah, Kath Carlson recently asked a group of Utah officers to come to the Kenai Peninsula and offer Alaskan woman a few lessons on how to handle men.
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"OK, let's learn to hit somebody," said Brigham Young University Police Department Sgt. Randy O'Hara, as he instructed a group of approximately 40 woman on self-defense in Soldotna on Aug. 3.
O'Hara, an instructor for Rape Aggression Defense Systems, a program that teaches women's self-defense, and six other RAD instructors donated their resources and time to fly to Alaska and spent four days last week teaching women how to protect themselves.
"They're donating their own time because they think it's so important," said Kath's daughter, Millie Carlson, who first took the RAD class as a student at BYU.
In between taking turns kicking and punching the padded Utah instructors, Millie couldn't seem to say enough about how wonderful they had been.
Other students said they were grateful to have the opportunity to take the course and expressed their gratitude with snap kicks and fist strikes while their instructors braced for their blows.
O'Hara said he and the other instructors' sometimes seemingly masochistic involvement in the program is propelled by a tremendous problem plaguing today's woman.
O'Hara said he became involved with RAD after he was assigned to investigate sex crimes as an officer in Salt Lake City.
His experience as a sex crimes investigator illuminated the magnitude of the sexual assault risks women face and the need for women to know how to protect themselves, he said.
"It's unfortunate, in this day and age, that our women have to be on the defensive all the time," he said.
And while all the nation's women are at risk of becoming a sexual assault victim, that risk is particularly acute for women living in Alaska.
In 2004, the Federal Bureau of Investigation recorded 32.2 rapes per 100,000 people nationwide. The number of rapes the FBI recorded in Alaska in 2004 was more than double the national average, numbering 85.1 rapes per 100,000 people.
So when he was asked to come to Alaska this summer to teach a women's self-defense course and found there had never been such a class offered in Alaska before, O'Hara said he was shocked.
"There's martial arts classes, but that doesn't do what this class does," Kath said.
Between practicing knee strikes to the groin and hammer strikes to the nose of their imaginary attackers on Thursday, the RAD students also learned how to recognize risks and reduce vulnerability to attacks.
"I'm so trusting and completely unaware of what to look for," said Kathy McConahy, as she explained some of the reasons why she signed up for the class.
A major component of the RAD class is teaching students how to avoid a sexual assault by reducing a perpetrator's opportunity to commit such an act.
For instance, instructors recommended that woman never leave their drinks unattended which, consequently, could allow potential perpetrators the chance to dope it with a date rape drug.
When preventative measures fail and women are faced with an attack, the RAD self-defense class teaches woman to deliver powerful blows that can quickly down an attacker and allow them to escape - particularly when attempting to escape a male attacker.
O'Hara directed the class's attention to a poster on a wall illustrating a figure of a man and all of his vulnerable locations, such as the Adam's apple, the eyes and, of course, the groin.
"Even if it's just a glancing blow it's going to hurt," O'Hara said.
Strikes targeting the groin include moves that can be used at close range, such as the double knee strike, as well as moves that can be used before an attacker has a chance to get his hands on his victim, such as the snap kick.
In the Soldotna class, ages ranged from women young enough to attend high school to women who were old enough to be grandmothers.
"You're never too old and you never know what's going to happen," said Betty Lowery.
Although the RAD class offered this week was a one-time deal, Kath Carlson said she plans to take RAD instructional classes and hopes to offer a regularly scheduled self-defense class for women next year.