Don't mess with these kids: Pilot self-defense program teaches children how to protect themselves

By: JO C. GOODE, Staff Writer

CUMBERLAND - When a stranger approached Rachel Savoie and asked if she could help him find his lost puppy, the petite 9-year-old knew exactly what to do.

As the man walked closer to Rachel, she backed up before he had a chance to touch her, then fled yelling "no" - and away from potential danger.

The same stranger grabbed 7-year-old Bethany St. Jean. She escaped after landing some well-placed punches and screaming at the top of her lungs to draw attention to her plight.

It's the stuff that evokes nightmares: crimes of abduction or abuse perpetrated against children.

But now, with the help of a new program just introduced to the town last week and sponsored by the Cumberland Police Department, 12 local children have new knowledge and tools to help them stay safe.

Called "radKIDS Personal Empowerment Safety Education," children learn hands-on self-defense techniques that teach them to run, shout, punch and kick, anything they need to do to get away from an abductor.
The acronym stands for resist aggression defensively.

The new program kicked off last week at the Cumberland Public Library. Cumberland Police Capt. Christine Crocker, who heads the department's adult self-defense program, said the 10-hour course trains kids in a number of areas including the difference between "good touch" and "bad touch," to the kinds of tricks that would-be abductors use to lure children and gain their trust.

"They learn that a bad guy may ask for help to find a lost dog or that a stranger could tell the child that their parent sent them to pick them up from school. If someone grabs them they're taught to deliver a strike, run to safety and call 911," Crocker said.

The children, ranging in ages of 5 to 11 years old, learned how to give police a description of their potential abductors, what to do if attacked by a dog and taught real self-defense techniques.

"Back away if someone tries to grab you. We learned you have to pay attention so if there is a guy who tells you to go with him, not to," Rachel said.

School Resource Officer Jackie Hooper and D.A.R.E. Officer Kevin Kolek were recently certified as radKIDS instructors.

"Does anyone have a right to hurt you?" shouts Hooper.

"No," the kids scream back.

"Why? Because you are special," Hooper says.

Friday was the last day of training and Kolik leads a 20-minute session where the kids practiced the defensive radKIDS stance and moves like the shin kick and the reverse elbow strike.

"This is not to be used against your brother or sister," Kolik reminds the children.

Then it was time for the final part of the program called the simulation, where a "bad guy" dressed in a bright red padded suit attempts to abduct them. Donned in special helmets, kneepads and elbow pads the kids lined up for their turn.

The "bad guy" was really Pawtucket D.A.R.E. Officer Everett LaMountain who tries to entice each child to come closer, like telling 6-year-old Brad St. Jean that he likes the dinosaur shirt he's wearing.

"This guy is a stranger, he's getting in your space," Hooper said, "You yell 'no.' Don't even let him touch you."
The young boy hesitates, and LaMountain grabs him. But with a few swift kicks to the shin, Brad is able to get away.

"This is an important program," Kolik said, "People think this isn't going to happen to them. It doesn't have to be a stranger; it can be someone they know. It's not a self-defense course, it's personal empowerment for the kids."

Now that the pilot class is finished, with most of the participants children of Cumberland Police officers, Crocker said they want to conduct the next class within the month as an after school program.

"But ultimately we want to work with school administrators and make this part of the school curriculum," Crocker said.


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