Best line of defense

Step back with your dominant foot, put your hands up and yell “NO!”
Female UM students, faculty and community members at the Self-defense Awareness & Familiarization Exchange (SAFE) class at the University of Miami learned that the confidence to say no is an asset against sexual violence.
SAFE is a two hour course led by John Pepper, UMPD civilian employee, focusing on prevention, options and physical strategies as an introduction to the Rape Aggression Defense System (RAD) course.  RAD is much longer and focuses on realistic physical defense strategies and in-depth discussion.

At the University of Miami Coral Gables Campus only three forcible sex offenses were reported from 2006–2008. Two out of the three reported victims were assaulted by acquaintances, not strangers. These numbers do not reflect incidents that go unreported.

While SAFE and RAD are programs created by women for women, Pepper stresses the importance and relevance of a male instructor.“It’s best to have a male to see how techniques work in reality and to see that there are supportive men out there with a goal to educate women on their options,” Pepper said.
The women didn’t seem to mind. Participants like Kaylee Kildare, 28 wanted to share their stories and find a way to defend themselves.
“A co-worker has anger issues and a few weeks ago was pumping himself up to do something. I panicked,” Kildare said. “A guy will usually be stronger but you can be smarter with how you confront the situation.”
Both SAFE and RAD rely on the premise that defense is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. Pepper stresses the importance of awareness and empowerment to avoid potentially life threatening situations.
Pepper sets up an average of two RAD and two SAFE courses each semester, almost always filling the seats with eager participants. Student organizations may request for a private session. Additionally, students seeking instructor certification for SAFE or RAD may enroll in a course.
“Women are told to rely on everything but themselves. We try to educate women to feel confident about being on their own,” Pepper said.
Participants Guadalupe Ramirez and Ana Saputi joined the class after a friend sent them a link to the Web site.
“I live by myself so it’s nice to know how to defend myself,” Saputi said.
After the first half of class Ramirez already took away some valuable lessons.
“Now I’m aware that I was very distracted and I need to pay more attention,” she said.
After their break the women formed a circle as Pepper demonstrated self defense techniques starting with the right way to say no.
“I always thought when you said no in a regular way that was enough but it’s not,” Ramirez said.
Whether out of fear or curiosity, women like Kaydee, Ramirez and Saputi joined the program to prepare themselves and to walk out stronger and safer. Pepper hopes to empower each of his students with that ability.
“Students who stand out in my mind the most are those who had a significant personal transformation during the course of the RAD class; they arrived without trust in their personal abilities, and left with a new found confidence,” Pepper said.

Elena Schmidt may be contacted at

February 6, 2010


Elena Schmidt

Contributing News Writer

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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly on Thursdays during the regular academic year.