TCNJ students practice facing attackers in rape aggression defense program
on March 07, 2013 at 7:00 AM, updated March 07, 2013 at 7:02 AM
EWING — Dressed in red protective gear, Bill Bastedo looked like a giant Michelin man, or a kung fu warrior.
He was neither. Bastedo, a retired police officer, was playing human punching bag for a group of women at The College of New Jersey. He took plenty of kicks and punches, happily: The students were learning how to protect themselves and take control of dangerous attackers, he said.
“It’s very rewarding for both the students and the instructors,” Bastedo said.
The students at the class last Sunday included college sophomore Jen Sharo, who said the prospect that she could be assaulted some day had driven her to join the the college’s rape aggression defense program.
“I wanted to know that I’ll be able to defend myself if I had to,” she said, after fighting off Bastedo during class. “I feel so much better today. He’s a big guy… It makes me feel like I can actually do it.”
One by one, the students put on protective pads and took turns facing Bastedo in three scenarios. Each time, the students used their newfound skills to escape Bastedo to cheers from their fellow classmates.
“You panic for a second,” TCNJ senior Danielle Cassidy said. “But then you remember all your training and that just because he’s bigger then me doesn’t mean he’s bigger than my spirit. That’s what I kept telling myself.”
The course has been offered at The College of New Jersey since 2009 but has been generating a buzz lately thanks to changes such as a new instructor, a new class time and some word-of-mouth marketing. TCNJ campus police officer Jim Lopez, who started teaching the 12-hour course in October, said he jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the program when the position became available.
“One of the things I like to do is I like to help, I like to teach,” he said. “I see that this is something I can do on my part to help students evolve and become better people.”
The program, a basic self-defense course for women, takes place over four 3-hour Sunday classes. It is open to anyone but students get priority, Lopez said.
The class begins with Lopez showing students basic skills and then helps them improve, aiming to teach them something they never learned before, he said.
Lopez was minimally involved in the program for years, he said. When he became the teacher, he jumped in by telling everyone he saw about the course, he said.
“Part of my job as campus police officer is I constantly walk the halls like a school resource officer,” he said. “So I always bring up the course.”
Lopez has been averaging 10 students per class, he said, and was recently asked by a sorority to run a one-day class for its members.
“By word of mouth, students are starting to learn about this program more,” he said “Now they’re more interested.”
Lopez, who on Sunday was teaching the last session of the most recent class, said he sees his students gain “a lot of self-confidence” during the course.
“The students themselves tell me, when they first start this class, that they’re a little bit nervous,” he said. “They’re a little bit nervous about today’s last and final exercise. But come the final exercise, they realize that they have it in themselves to do it.”
The final class is designed to be as close to the real experience of an assault as possible, Lopez said. Students suited up with pads on Sunday and went through a series of real-life scenarios to test their new skills.
To make the experience all the more realistic, Lopez brought in Bastedo, who the students had never seen before, to play the role of assailant.
Bastedo, a recently retired West Windsor police officer, said he earned his rape aggression defense or RAD certification through his current employer, Princeton HealthCare System, which runs some programs at Princeton University.
“The hospital has me go over to the university to run simulations or teach,” he said.
“They’re trying to team up with The College of New Jersey and help out with RAD also.”
Bastedo said he puts on the “red man suit” and plays the aggressor occasionally to help students use their skills and prepare for a potential future attack.
TCNJ’s campus is relatively safe, but students may encounter a situation elsewhere where they need their new skills, at home home or while traveling in unfamiliar places, Lopez said. “It’s good to be safe wherever you are,” he said.
He said he hopes to expand the program beyond the entry-level course offered at the college, bringing in other officers and starting courses for children and senior citizens.
Lopez’s students praised his dedication to the course and the confidence he helped them develop in handling tough situations. Sophomore Vicki Yang said past experiences have shown her the importance of knowing how to defend yourself.
“I got mugged before,” she said. “Now I feel much more protected. Now I’m ready to go.”
Contact Christina Izzo at firstname.lastname@example.org or (609) 989-5688.