The Coastal Star

Health & Harmony: Taking personal safety into your own (manicured) hands

Officer Christine Braswell and Detective John Young of the Delray Beach Police Department demonstrate self-defense moves taught to women in the department’s free Rape Aggression Defense (R.A.D.) class. Sgt. Nicole Guerriero and Officer Andy Mintus round out the department’s self-defense education team. Kurtis Boggs/The Coastal Star

By Paula Detwiller

A Gulf Stream woman was having trouble with her physically abusive ex-husband, who would rough her up when he came over to get the kids. The woman decided to enroll in a free self-defense class offered by the Delray Beach Police Department.
“She took our class, and the next time her ex came over, she confronted him,” says Detective John Young, one of the instructors. “She could sense he was going to do something physical to her, like he had so many times in the past. So she used some of the physical techniques she learned in class against him. And it was effective.”
Young likes to hear student feedback like that. He and four other Delray Beach police officers are certified trainers of the R.A.D. (Rape Aggression Defense) system, developed in 1989 by a former U.S. Marine and now taught by police and safety officers across the country. The classes are designed exclusively for women. They emphasize awareness and avoidance first, physical contact second.
“The objective is to get away,” Young says. “We tell students constantly throughout the course, if your technique is effective — if you distracted or temporarily disabled your attacker — we don’t want you to stand there and try to pulverize the guy, because you may have had a lucky shot that was your chance to escape. And that might be your only lucky shot.”
Young says women of all ages should learn how to defend themselves, even those who live behind gates.
“There are crimes of opportunity. You have a nice house, somebody breaks in to steal your valuables, and there you are. They think to themselves, I can get money for this jewelry later, but I can also have a good time with this woman right now. She’s home all alone.”
While this type of attack is rare on the barrier island, it has happened.
And sometimes living with a gate or an alarm system can give a woman a false sense of security when she’s away from the neighborhood, says R.A.D. instructor and Delray Police Public Information Officer Nicole Guerriero. Learning how to spot potential trouble in public places and take protective measures is a key part of the training.
Despite common assumptions, you don’t have to be in good physical shape — or deny your femininity — to effectively defend yourself.
“We deal with reality,” says Guerriero. “The reality is, some women have arthritis, some are not very fit, and some have very long nails that they’re proud of. So we teach different techniques. You don’t have to throw a punch, you can do a palm strike, you can aim for the eyes with your long fingernails. You can even use your cane or your walker as a defensive weapon. We teach women to use what they have.”
The next R.A.D. course in Delray Beach starts March 13 and continues on March 20, 27 and April 3. It is free (a pleasant surprise in this era of municipal budget cutting). And if you complete the course, you may return to any future class at no cost. For location information and registration, call Detective John Young at (561) 243-7826.
Boca Raton Police Services and Florida Atlantic University campus police also offers free women’s self-defense classes.
FAU teaches the R.A.D. system in three four-hour sessions; the next class is scheduled for April 4, 11, and 18 from 6 to 10 p.m. Boca Raton teaches a two-hour Self-Defense Awareness and Familiarization Exchange (S.A.F.E.) course monthly; the next class is set for March 10 at 10 a.m. Register online with both organizations.

Paula Detwiller is a freelance writer and lifelong fitness junkie. Find her at

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