Empowerment beyond the terrifying, soul crushing, self-diminishing reality that is sexual assault

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Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.

I come from a household with protective parents. I had strict rules growing up and couldn’t break them if I didn’t want to face consequences. Because of that, I didn’t get the full “teenage” experience. I couldn’t drink, smoke, or party. My parents enforced safety and said partaking in such actions would potentially put my health at risk.

Their argument is valid, and I respect it, but it had a very prominent downside. I was not prepared for college.

I was thrown for a loop in just my first semester of college at my first-choice school, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) in Manchester.

I was quite shook going from being smothered to having complete control over my life.

I went to my first party during Halloween weekend my freshman year. My friend invited me to her friend’s dorm for a Halloween-themed party. It was on the fourth floor of the residential building I lived in at the time.

I was excited. I never had the chance to attend a party before due to my parents’ rules, so I was curiously exhilarated to discover what it would entail.

Well, it entailed a lot of alcohol, like you could probably guess about a college party. The smell of alcohol consumed me when I walked in. There was beer, vodka and types of alcohol and I can’t even tell you.

There was a pong table, solo cups and various flasks people were chugging alcohol from. There was not one sober person at the party; everyone was plastered.

For someone who had never gone to a party before, I was overwhelmed from all the alcohol consumption. I found a spot in a corner and talked with my friend. That was until a guy came over and started talking to me.

I didn’t know this guy, but he seemed friendly enough so I continued talking to him. Things were going well until he asked me to go back to his place.

I knew in my gut I shouldn’t go with him, but I chose to give him the benefit of the doubt. He seemed polite from our brief conversation, so I figured why not? Little did I know I would be the next victim of sexual assault.

I was taken advantage of. He originally said we would watch a movie when we got to his room and I believed him. I was naive. I cried for help when he got on top of me, but no one heard, and he didn’t stop when I told him to.

My body was frozen. My mouth was dry and my heart was beating a mile a minute. It felt like my heart was going to explode out of my chest. I eventually gathered enough strength to push him off me. I grabbed my belongings and bawled as I ran out of his room.

I spent the entire next day in the hospital getting a rape kit done. I almost fainted when I got back to campus because I was given so many antibiotics and shots. I had tunnel vision and almost collapsed in the middle of the dining hall when I returned to campus.

I felt defenseless, shameful and guilty, and that all hope was lost for me.

It’s been two years since the assault and I still feel all these things. I walk around campus wondering where I would be if I had the guts to just say ‘no’ when the guy asked me to go to his place. I also wonder if the guy who did this to me would be expelled from the school if certain toxic people didn’t convince me to drop the charges. Lastly, I wonder what could’ve happened if those people actually believed me when I said I was assaulted.

I have been looking into ways to build my self-confidence since then. I tried therapy, medication and frequent exercise. They helped, but I still felt hopeless. They didn’t give me the confidence boost I needed. So, I decided to look elsewhere.

I’ve heard many positive remarks about self-defense classes. So, last Tuesday, March 26, I signed up for a women’s safety clinic at the Manchester Police Station. The two-hour long clinic was comprised of two components – a safety lecture and a self-defense class.

Catherine LaChance participated in a free Free Women’s Safety Clinic hosted by Manchester Police Department. Photo/Jaime Mailloux

Taking the class made me feel more empowered than I ever have in my life.

During the self-defense component of the clinic, we ran through various self-defense techniques including throws, kicks, palm strikes and wrist grabs. It was led by Christina Dow, the co-owner of The Training Station, a mixed martial arts and defense facility located on Elm Street in Manchester.

She taught myself and the 100 other participating women why it’s so important to know how to defend yourself.

“In this day in age, things are going to happen and you need to learn how to fight through them,” she said. “You need to be aware. You don’t ever have to be put in a situation where you need to fight out of it, but if you do, knowing the right thing to do will help you.”

Awareness is key in self-defense and I definitely gained it during the clinic. I feel like if I was more aware of what was going on at the party two years ago, I never would’ve gone with the boy.

Taking the self-defense classes was exhilarating. I felt empowered. I didn’t feel like a victim, but rather a fighter who can confront potential danger.

As a college student, it is even more important to enroll in self-defense classes.

College students like myself are more likely to be victims of sexual assault. Jocelyn Hollander, author of “Why do Women Take Self-Defense Classes?” analyzed data from the National Victim Center and found that nearly a quarter of all sexual assaults happen to women between the ages of 18 and 24, the overwhelming demographic of college students. There is also evidence that proves self-defense training reduces the risk of future assaults while increasing the effectiveness of their responses if attacked.

SNHU released its annual Clery Report in September 2018. The Clery Report is a legal document requiring all colleges and universities to report crime statistics on their campuses. Between 2015 and 2017, there were 13 reported cases of rape and 13 cases of fondling, the inappropriate touching of someone’s private body parts for sexual gratification, for a total of 26 reported cases of sexual assault on SNHU’s campus.

At Manchester’s other major university, Saint Anselm, the Clery Report stated there were 16 reported rapes and 10 reported cases of fondling between 2015 and 2017. Saint Anselm, as well, had a total of 26 reported sexual assault cases during the same time frame.

Keep in mind that these are just the reported cases. There are many other instances of sexual assault. They just aren’t reported.

Many universities are incorporating Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) Classes, including Saint Anselm and SNHU, to bring more awareness to sexual assault. RAD classes are comprehensive courses for women that teach realistic self-defense tactics and techniques. At universities, RAD classes are scheduled through the Public Safety Department several times throughout the academic year.

Most local law enforcement agencies, like police departments, host RAD classes as well.

While at the class at the Manchester Police Station, Officer Nathan Lindstad discussed personal safety, home security, domestic violence, ATM security, automobile safety and personal security devices. I found his lecture brought awareness to danger at unexpected locations.

One of the things he emphasized that spoke volumes to me was knowing when to listen to the voice inside your head. When the voice inside your head is telling you not to do something, you need to listen to it. It’s your gut telling you if you proceed further into a situation, you may put yourself at risk of danger.

I had this voice two years ago when I made the poor decision of going to that boy’s dorm room. If I had listened to it, I never would’ve experienced the terrifying, soul crushing, self-diminishing reality that is sexual assault.

If you ever have that gut feeling telling you that you shouldn’t be doing something, listen to it and don’t do the action. It’s there for a reason and not listening to it will put you in a world of trouble, like I was.

The self-defense class significantly increased my confidence and empowerment as a woman. Since my sexual assault, I have felt fearful, but knowing there are helpful resources like self-defense classes makes me feel more at ease.

My parents may have been right to protect me against these dangers, but I needed to learn them on my own in order to grow. I am now more aware and responsible when it comes to the college atmosphere.

I am going to continue taking self-defense classes to better myself and cope with my assault. If you want to sign up for a self-defense class, do it. Just make sure you take multiple, because one class won’t teach you everything you need to know about self-defense.

Catherine LaChance is a junior at SNHU majoring in Communication and minoring in Psychology. She is the Lead Copy Editor for SNHU’s newspaper, the Penmen Press, and a children’s tennis coach at Longmeadow Country Club in Longmeadow, MA.

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