Rape Aggression and Defense on campus

by Sarah Foster, Lauren Giudice and Katey Psencik

IMG_3952Jacqueline Tellez, a freshman in the College of Natural Sciences, takes a few punches at Detective Brian Dillenberger in the Rape Aggression and Self-Defense (RAD) class hosted by the University of Texas Police Department. 


The peak ages of rape victims are between 16 and 24 years old. This puts the 50,000 students on the University of Texas campus at risk to become victims or survivors of sexual assault.

“Rapes of college students tend to be nonstranger rapes that occur off campus, at night and in party environments,” said M. Eric Warr, UT sociology professor and criminology expert.

Warr said that a more common problem than rape on college campuses is stalking, which affects about one in six women during their college years.

“Most stalking does not end in violence, but violence is often preceded by stalking. Police departments at large universities are accustomed to dealing with stalkers,” Warr said.

Voices Against Violence is a program within UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center that works to raise awareness of stalking, relationship and sexual violence. Prevention and outreach specialist Erin Burrows say the three issues are all connected and that Voices Against Violence works with students who have experience some or all of these issues, either before coming to UT or while they were students.image

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“The root of all three is power and control,” Burrows said. “That can sound really abstract, but what it really means is one person making a choice to have power over someone else without their consent.”

Burrows said that Voices Against Violence has worked hard to determine definitions of violence and consent for the university.

“The definition of sexual assault or sexual violence is sexual contact without consent, so our definition of sexual violence depends on a definition of consent,” Burrows said.

Voices Against Violence worked with the university’s Title 9 coordinator and legal affairs at the university to add a definition of consent into UT’s sexual assault policy.

The policy reads that “consent means assent in fact, whether express or apparent, by all of the involved parties to engage in the same sexual activity at the same time.”

Burrows explained that assent is a legal term meaning, “to agree to something after thoughtful consideration.”

The University of Texas Police Department reported three rapes and 55 cases of sexual assault in 2012. However, UTPD said that most cases go unreported. Burrows said this is frequently because of fear.

“I think, anecdotally and from the research, we know that most people do not come forward to tell their stories because they are afraid that they will not be believed,” Burrows said. “We’re trying to have conversations about violence so that, for folks who have experienced violence, it’s easier to walk through the door and tell someone what’s happened to them.”

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The Rape Aggression Defense System course taught by UTPD is another resource the university offers for countering sexual assault on campus. RAD is a 12-hour basic physical defense class offered at no charge to university faculty, students and staff.

Officer Kevin Carollo on UTPD’s night patrol said the class teaches basic, easy-to-learn concepts that are aimed to buy women more time to get help in rape and assault situations.

“The main point of RAD’s system is to get to a point where you can escape,” Carollo said. “We’re not going to teach people to be UFC fighters but we’re going to show them something to maybe get that distance that they need to call 9-1-1 for help.”

Burrows also said that getting help is an important part of any rape or assault situation.

“For someone who does feel unsafe in their relationship…especially someone who is afraid to get out of that relationship, afraid to break up, I highly recommend that they consider reaching out for support. There are resources here on this campus, there are resources in Austin, and there are also resources nationally,” Burrows said, citing Voices Against Violence as well as the National Domestic Abuse Hotline, which is based in Austin.

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RAD provides practical tips for getting out of rape or assault situations, but Carollo said that there are certain things women can do to try to avoid such situations.

“A lot of times, on college campuses, people are on their smart phones, have their earbuds in, just aren’t aware of general things going on,” Carollo said. “Sometimes it’s good to be able to know where you are. I’m sure any class, any girl growing up has heard the same thing. Watch walking alone in the dark, don’t go out late at night – that’s all part of basic rape culture. Taking a self defense class, staying with friends, letting people know where you’re going to be.”

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Burrow said Voices Against Violence takes a more theoretical approach to fighting rape culture.

“The experience of violence is always someone else’s choice. We don’t choose to experience harm,” Burrows said. “What we can do is watch out for each other, we can talk with our friends. We can talk with our family. We can raise awareness about this issue. We can commit to being healthier in our relationships. We can make a commitment to practicing consent. We can make a commitment to watching out for red flags and acting on them, a commitment to effective communication and also a commitment to taking care of ourselves. I think those are all very realistic things that really start to build up resilience to experiencing violence.”

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