Being a RAD Kid Wasn't So Rad

When I was a kid, my mom was an instructor for a program called Rape Aggression, Defense (RAD). radKIDS and RAD Women are mostly self defense programs, but they are also education programs that teach people how to assess the risk of a situation, to trust your intuition if you feel unsafe, and to make other people around you aware that you are in danger. My mother was a major advocate for the program and brought me and my brother along with her everywhere she taught, so in a way we got the advanced course. From the ripe age of 4, I learned that there are bad people in the world who want to do terrible things to you, and the best thing you can do is prepare for that eventuality. Let’s be clear on something: I think these programs are amazing and are doing fantastic work. However, being so heavily exposed to the program content has had a major effect on my worldview and how I live my life today.

The basis of these RAD programs is defensive technique. You spend a lot of time in the class on your feet, punching and kicking big red bags while the instructors correct your form. However, another big piece of the education process is learning why you have to defend yourself. The first day of class is spent sitting down and learning about all of the terrible ways that women and children have been attacked or abducted. The point is so you know what to watch out for in a dangerous situation but the effect, especially on kids, is fear. From a young age, I was intimately aware of things like the details of the Elizabeth Smart case and was understandably terrified.


Once a grew up a little bit, I just became more afraid. See, when I was little, my mom mostly focused on the kids' program because, well, she was worried about her kids, but once I got to be around 12, things changed. She got more involved in the RAD Women’s program and I tagged along to that, too. There I learned that, unlike the boys who stopped qualifying for the defense program after around 13, there was a special program just for women. I didn’t understand. Why don’t men need to take the course? Why didn’t my brother care about these meetings? Then it hit me. When I was a kid, the scary thing was adults. Now that I qualified as a woman, not all adults were scary anymore. Just men.

I. Was. Petrified. I learned there were many women like Elizabeth Smart. I learned not to go out by myself, especially at night. If I did go out, I should have at least one boy with me. Not a random boy, one I could trust. But be careful because you might trust a boy and he could still attack you. You won’t really know if he’ll hit you until you get married. If you are scared, tell the police. Through they might dismiss you as an over-exaggerator and you could die anyway. If you are walking alone and a man is walking towards you, cross the street. Don’t be obvious about it, that could piss him off and that is also scary. The more I learned, the more trapped and afraid I felt. I was overwhelmed and began to feel like no matter what I did to protect myself, it would never be enough.

I have never got over that feeling. I feel it every day. Of course, I am not scared of every man I come across and I know that the majority of people in the world are not out to get me. I know that for the most part, I am safe, but if I do live my life in avoidance of unsafety. When I walk on campus after the sun is down, I call my mom because you’re less likely to be attacked when on the phone. If I listen to music in public, it is never loud enough that I don’t know what's going on around me. I don’t run outside, I run at the gym. Hell, I don’t even go shopping past 7 PM. I don’t think that this disrupts my life, but it is interesting to see how different my attitude is even from other women who have had similar experiences.

I do not blame the RAD programs for my attitude. I don’t even blame my mom for dragging me to all her meetings. I am a product of the sheer amount of exposure I had to the horrific details of crimes perpetrated against women and children. RAD does very important work and their kids program is beautifully structured (RAD is Resisting Aggression Defensively for kids). They even have a RAD Men’s program which, for obvious reasons, does not teach defense, but offense. RAD Men teaches men to be allies, how to be on the lookout for women in unsafe situations and how to help them out of those situations without being a predator yourself. Teaching men, women, and children what is out there and how to defend themselves (and each other) is an extremely important task and despite how it affected me, I am so glad that education programs like this exist. They are trying to make the world a better place and teaching people how to deal with the current reality in the process. There is even a RAD course that is offered at the University of Utah through the Department of Public Safety.

If you are interested in learning more about the RAD program please go to or for RAD courses at the University of Utah, go to

Image Source: 123