In 2012, there were 14 reported rapes in Jefferson City.
Not an extremely high number, but I'm sure we can all agree any number is too high. And 14 simply is the number of reported rapes.
The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network estimates only 46 out of every 100 rapes get reported to the police.
Kevin Kempker, Jefferson City crime prevention officer, said a majority of rapes go unreported, so any number of reported rapes in an area will always be far below the real number of rapes that occur.
In an effort to reduce my own likelihood of becoming a victim, I attended three sessions in the past two weeks of the Rape Aggression Defense, or R.A.D., class offered by the Jefferson City Police Department and the Cole County Sheriff's Office.
The 12-hour self-defense class is taught in three, four-hour sessions over a week and a half. It is free and open exclusively to women.
I was excited to take the class, as I have never taken any self-defense courses and I immediately saw the merit in taking one. I have lived alone for the past few years and, not long after first moving to Jefferson City, was repeatedly harassed by a stranger who enjoyed leaving notes on my front door at night.
Taking the class seemed like a good way to become more confident and self-assured if a similar situation should ever arise.
The instructors of the R.A.D. class, two women and two men, are adamant throughout the course that what is taught to us should not be shared in a public forum, as they do not want potential threats to be prepared for what we are taught to do when attacked, so I will not describe the methods, stances and techniques we were taught.
What I will say is how surprised I was at how many moves and techniques required very little force but commanded a great impact on an aggressor.
After the second night of class, I felt empowered. Strong. I felt like someone who could and would survive.
But I was nervous. The third, and final, session was where we would be tested through simulations and I had no idea if I would be able to put what I was taught to practical use.
The two male instructors put on full body suits and helmets, and became our aggressors. I and the other 18 women in the class, took turns putting on our padding and helmets, and were taken through three simulations where we were verbally and physically accosted.
"It's that reporter chick."
"I didn't like that article you wrote about me."
"Can you put me in the newspaper?"
The two would-be aggressors taunted me before making any physical moves that I would have to fight my way out of. And, kudos to them, for those taunts were very much something I could see happening in a threatening situation. As a reporter, I can cover sensitive topics and what I write can, and has, upset some people for one reason or another.
Even in simulation, it's tough to remember the first rule: Don't panic.
"Panicking does not help you," Kempker said in our first class.
Being grabbed from behind, my mind went blank. I didn't think about my training, I didn't think about my stance, I simply didn't think. It felt like I just began to flail about, hoping to make contact.
I also found it difficult to remember another seemingly simple rule: Yell. Verbalize. Catch the attention of those around you and alert them to the situation. Once I was grabbed, yelling was not something I thought about. I didn't scream and it took more effort than I could have imagined to manage the little bit of yelling I did do.
After about a minute (or at least that's what it felt like, more likely it was just a few seconds), I began to remember some of the techniques I was taught. I was able to break free of my aggressor and make my run for the exit, though a second aggressor is waiting to catch you before you do.
Naturally, in a real attack, your adrenaline is likely to be higher and I would imagine it's somewhat easier to know when you've landed a hit when your aggressor is not covered head to toe in padding and protective gear. Hopefully, I'll never have to find that out from experience.
I watched as the others went through the same simulations. For at least a few, I remember thinking how strong they looked. Some were incredibly fast, others very vocal. Each woman brought something uniquely their own to the fight, as strange as that may sound. Some used their punches, others used kicks. Many were brought to the ground immediately and had to fight their way back up and to the exit. And each woman, with ages ranging from 20 to 50, used their force and their strength to get out. There's something empowering about watching that and being a part of it.
Only one woman managed to knock the helmet right off Kempker's head though (sadly, it was not me).
Though the bulk of the class is focused on physical defense, the instructors emphasize that the most important aspect of self-defense is being aware and alert.
"Self-defense is 90 percent mental awareness," Kempker said.
Learning how to be more alert and recognize a suspicious person or a potentially threatening situation is the most important part of surviving. Physical defense always should be a last resort.
But no technique, no method is 100 percent accurate. Nothing we are taught will protect us 100 percent of the time or guarantee we will get out of a threatening situation unscathed.
Kempker said you can do everything right, but it may not stop you from being victimized. The key is learning to depend on yourself.
And after completing the course, I do feel I am better prepared for any type of threatening situation, from an unwanted advance from a drunk guy to having a chance at defending myself against someone who really wants to hurt me. And though it is no guarantee that I won't become a victim, it is comforting to know that perhaps I stand a better chance against someone who wants to make me one.
Going through the R.A.D. instruction has made me want to take more classes like it and continue learning how to best defend myself in any given situation. And I know there are many other women who want this type of training.
Kempker said self-defense classes for women have been the most requested classes of the department, though they didn't begin offering them until earlier this year. The next R.A.D. class offered by the JCPD and the Cole County Sheriff's Office starts at the end of August and it's already half full.
"The demand, I knew, was there all along," Kempker said.
I encourage anyone to look into taking R.A.D. or any other self-defense class at least once. You'd be surprised how quickly you can learn it and how simple it can be to execute.
R.A.D. instructor and Cole County Cpl. Lynsey Sartain said R.A.D. was developed for all women, regardless of age. She said the founder of the program, Lawrence N. Nadeau, used his mother as a model when she was in her 70s or 80s, to ensure any woman could take the class and use what it teaches.
"Women are not weak," Sartain said. "It's just really important to empower women to keep them safe."
After completing the class, I don't feel weak. I feel like I can survive, and it's a good feeling to have.