N.M. National Guard teaches rape prevention

N.M. National Guard teaches rape prevention By Sue Major Holmes – The Associated Press Posted : Saturday Feb 13, 2010

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico National Guard Staff Sgt. Marcus Foran is all in favor of women gouging eyes, breaking fingers, kicking a jaw or groin, ripping fatty tissue with the fingernails he calls “God-given weapons” — anything to hurt a would-be rapist long enough to get away. “It’s better to do something like that and be violent than to be raped,” said Foran, chief instructor for a rape awareness and prevention program the New Mexico Guard is offering around the state.

At one such class, Foran — burly, with a shaven head and a tattooed ankle — acknowledges he’s not likely to be assaulted. But in demonstrations on how to foil an attacker, co-instructor Sgt. Ashley Azzalina, 5-foot-3, 125 pounds, consistently breaks away from him. Foran pairs off students to practice moves on the blue-mat covered floor, telling them, “You’re not going to be a Ninja when you leave here,” but he tells them that they can fight back. The women respond enthusiastically. There’s the soft thud of bodies hitting the mats and startled looks as the women discover how to flip an attacker astride them. They grin at the realization they could break the finger on the hand they just pried loose from their body.

They encourage each other in learning to pull ears, twist and tear tender skin and kick hard where it hurts — all to gain a few precious seconds to get up and run. “I want you to escape,” Foran said. “There’s no sense into getting into a fight with someone who’s bigger than you.” New Mexico’s Guard program is unique in offering rape awareness classes to women in the general public, according to the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C. The New Mexico Guard opened its program to the community in December. Now it has a statewide schedule extending through July. On a recent Saturday, 25 students from a tiny 13-year-old to mature women — Foran’s largest class ever — ran the gamut. About half were women in their late teens and early 20s heading to Air Force basic training.

Foran crouched on the mat, reading out statistics from a laptop: one in every six women will be attacked in their lifetime. Most victims know the rapist; most won’t report the assault. Foran, however, implores women to go to the police if they’re raped. “It’s not your fault; it’s not,” he tells them. “It’s never your fault.” He teaches a technique called grab, twist, pull — and doesn’t leave it to the imagination what they should grab, twist and pull. “It’s difficult to be politically correct when teaching this class,” said Foran, who’d rather his own daughters — now too young to date — “tear some guy’s ear off and bring it home and say, ‘Dad, this guy attacked me’ than come home and say, ‘Dad, I was raped.’ “ But not everyone is comfortable with teaching women to fight back.

Amy Whitfield, community education and outreach manager for the Albuquerque-based Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico, said that center does not participate in self-defense programs. “Trauma does this thing to you and you don’t necessarily pick how you’re going to react. If you give these self-defense classes and they react some other way, it might be even more traumatizing,” she said. There’s also a philosopical difference — rapists need to be held accountable “for the crime they are committing rather than tell women to go to self-defense classes, walk with Mace,” Whitfield said. Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network in Washington, D.C., said there’s no absolute answer about fighting back. “If they’re comfortable using these techniques and they use a judgment in that situation that this could help them get away, then great,” he said. “But the priority is to get out of there alive.” Foran would rather women avoid a problem in the first place. His strongest advice: If something doesn’t feel right, go with your instincts. Walk back inside the shopping center and ask an employee or security guard to walk you to your car; catch up with a crowd so you’re not alone. “It’s better to feel silly … than become a victim,” he said. He warns women to keep their drink in hand at a party to keep it from being spiked: “If you put it down, consider it gone.” He urges women to walk confidently, look around, watch for someone who doesn’t fit, anyone who gets too close. If a man crowds them, Foran suggests telling him — loudly — to back off in no uncertain terms. “One of two things will happen,” he said. “They’ll go home and tell their wife or girlfriend some crazy lady yelled at them in the parking lot or it’ll move them outside of that mindset” to attack. If a rapist forces a woman into her car and orders her to drive, she should do just that — into a pole, a building, a barrier, anything to wreck the car. “It’s just a car,” Foran said. “Compare that to your life.”

originally published in: Military Times

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