Elkhart County Sheriff's Office

RAD Helping Women Be Aware, Be Prepared, and Bring It for Over 20 Years

RAD Helping Women Be Aware, Be Prepared, and Bring It for Over 20 Years


Law enforcement agencies aren’t typically known for being committed to women’s empowerment, but the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) isn’t just any law enforcement agency.

ECSO has been offering Rape Aggression Defense classes free of charge since 1998.

More than 6,000 women have participated in the program since it began. They come from all walks of life and vary from 11-year-old girls to senior citizens who are almost 90. They sometimes come to the class as survivors of rape, molestation, and domestic violence. They may also be women who have never experienced personal violence but yearn to feel empowered and learn how to avoid an assault.

In the twelve-hour workshop, participants are taught to be aware, be prepared, and, if necessary, how to bring it.

Be Aware

Most women don't have the luxury of having a full-time bodyguard, but everyday life means going places alone.  Being aware of potential vulnerabilities reduces risk, including focusing on when you're at home, out with friends, shopping, and going to work.  

Sometimes, women make life choices that aren't in their best safety interest. For example, two elderly women who took RAD revealed they would routinely shop at Walmart every Friday at 11:30 p.m. because it was less crowded. Through the class, their perspective shifted and they realized fewer people meant less security and help if someone approached them. They learned to change their perspective to see potential dangers and began plotting out their shopping now to reduce their risk.

Be Prepared

Most women are not conditioned for battle. They haven't played contact sports and they don't know how to balance and position themselves for an up-close assault. RAD helps women learn how to use both their bodies and their surroundings in order to not go into flight or freeze responses when in danger. During the duration of the workshop, participants begin to feel comfortable with protecting themselves and see they have other options besides submitting.

Past participants have shared the impact of the class on their lives. One participant disclosed she had been raped seven times by her husband. Other women have shared past abuse for the first time during the workshop. They share these stories because they now feel prepared to protect themselves.

RAD is not a place to learn martial arts. Women are not taught how to go head-to-head with an aggressor but instead how to strike and escape.

Bring It

There are times when plotting the safest course still leads to trouble. RAD women not only learn strikes, kicks, ground defense, wrist grabs, and how to use the most force possible; they also practice it.

"We don't meet a body part, we go through it," said Norma Alber, RAD instructor. "We are teaching hands-on defense training. If we're putting a hand to a nose, it's to send the nose out the back of someone's head. It's to do damage. Because we only have one opportunity."

Techniques are adjusted and customized for every participant regardless of size, mobility, and background. For example, the 14-year-old soccer player's legs were her most lethal tool, and the 80-year-old's cane became a weapon of defense.

During the final session, the women run through simulations. ECSO male officers don the role of aggressor. These simulations are kept as real as possible. Participants are required to use full force with the goal to strike and escape.

Some participants will come to class with stories of trying wrist holds on their boyfriends or husbands. They will say, "it didn't work," in which the instructor will ask, "did you follow it up with a head bump and a nose strike?" The answer is always, "no! I don't want to hurt him."

However, RAD teaches women to look for options and use any tool possible during an attack.  The workshop does not teach women to go head-to-head with an aggressor because once a man's adrenaline kicks in, they become much stronger. Therefore, women are taught to pick an opportunity, strike at the most vulnerable location, and get out.

ECSO staff take this training very seriously. They see the value in offering such a class in the most accessible way possible. Which is why for over 20 years, it's been offered both free and at various locations.

For every one of the six annual classes, as many as four ECSO staff work overtime to provide the workshop. Even before becoming Sheriff, Jeff Siegel championed RAD.

"Every year, Sheriff Siegel, even when he was my Captain, would find the resources to offer this class. He never put limits on it. His commitment to empowering women has been clear since the beginning. He has never limited it to Elkhart County women, but has given support and latitude to train any woman who joins the class," explains Alber.

On the whole, RAD is just one example of how seriously ECSO takes its vision of serving the community through service, integrity, respect, and resourcefulness.

"The Elkhart County Sheriff's Office has been committed to the RAD program for over 20 years. This program not only empowers women and kids to defend themselves but also brings officers together with the community they serve. As a result, positive long term relationships are being built," comments Siegel.

Any woman interested in participating in the next class offered can contact Ginny Shaw, detective bureau secretary, at VShaw@elkhartcountysheriff.com to be placed on the waiting list.