Self-defense program eyed for kids

By: Lauren Burgoon, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — It takes the latest fashions and the hippest lingo to be a rad kid, but it takes much more to be a radKID.

Municipal and school officials are working together to bring radKIDS, a national safety and personal empowerment program, to Washington's schoolchildren. Turning Washington's youth into kids who can "resist aggression defensively" will take a communitywide effort that is already under way.

If all the pieces fall into place, a radKIDS pilot program will be in place by the summer and dozens of kids will be trained to protect themselves against abduction, sexual assault and bullying.

"We need to give kids the power to keep them from getting hurt," said Township Council President Sonja Walter, who is heading Washington's effort to instill the program here. "We should be telling kids, 'If you're in trouble, here's what you can do to help yourselves.'"

Many kids — and adults — freeze in the face of danger. The nation watched dumbfounded in 2004 at the surveillance video footage of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia as she was calmly led away by a stranger in Florida. She later was raped and murdered.

Viewers questioned why Carlie allowed a stranger to lead her away, but the girl's reaction is all too common, radKIDS Executive Director Stephen Daley said, and can lead to a tragic end for kids snatched by abductors. The goal of radKIDS is to rewire children's instincts so they respond instantly and correctly to dangerous situations.

"Fear can overpower us and make us freeze. When we finally react, sometimes it's too late," Mr. Daley said from radKIDS' headquarters in Massachusetts. "RadKIDS helps take the fear away so kids can respond from power rather than fear."

Washington's push to start a local radKIDS program stems from the recent discussion about pedophile-free zones around schools and parks. Many residents left unprotected by the ordinance demanded more action to prevent kidnappings and sexual assaults on children. People on both sides of the issue agreed that education, not legislation, will ultimately protect children from predators.

A typical radKIDS course lasts eight to 10 hours. Trained instructors talk about inappropriate touching, tricks kidnappers use, defense moves to use and home, school and vehicle safety. Many courses include an interactive portion where the children practice their new skills on well-padded instructors.
"We teach them to physically resist. This isn't a program that teaches them to fight. It's about stopping someone from hurting them," Mr. Daley said. "We don't just tell them what to do, we teach them and show them."

RadKIDS boasts of more than 2,000 trained instructors nationwide and 75,000 pupils. Twenty-five of those children went on to fend off attackers and 500 stopped sexual assaults, according to Mr. Daley.

"In three of the cases, the guys got their hands on the kids. In each case, the guy lost," he added.

The statistics sound promising, but it requires a lot of effort to bring radKIDS to towns. Washington is on the way with cooperation between school and town officials to use the School Age Fun and Enrichment's (S.A.F.E.) summer camp as a radKIDS pilot program this summer.
Money and volunteers are little harder to come by.

Equipment and 30 hours of training for up to 20 instructors runs $10,000. Volunteer instructors also can be trained two at a time for $1,000, plus $4,000 for equipment. That will limit the program's reach since classes run on a 10 to one ratio of students to instructors.
The Police Department is sending two officers for training under either scenario and town officials are working to secure funding from the Mercer County prosecutor's office.

Beyond that, Washington needs to figure out what will work best for the community, Ms. WaterWalter said. Running a successful program requires volunteers, but local programs can suffer or fail to move beyond the planning stages if volunteers are not truly committed.

The ultimate goal, Ms. Walter said, is to bring radKIDS beyond the S.A.F.E. pilot program to every classroom. If expanded, every student from preschool to sixth grade could experience radKIDS through physical education classes.

Mr. Daley said radKIDS is ready to help Washington and other towns nationwide launch successful programs. "If you know it can give kids a show and is a positive way to help them, why aren't all towns doing it?" he said.


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