Beyond Stranger Danger
Officer Rivera, Grace O’Halloran ’16, the dummy, and María Minuesa ’18.
As most juniors and seniors know, college tours quickly blend together and become indistinguishable. One of the similarities is the tour guides who claim that they’ve never felt unsafe on campus, not even walking alone at 2:30 AM. They have “allegedly” never used the BlueLight system or even considered calling campus security. Despite these idealistic presentations of college life, statistics point otherwise. A recent study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed that one in four women experience sexual assault in college. Until recently, many colleges have misreported cases of sexual assault on campus, filing them as “medical emergencies” rather than sex crimes. In the last two years, prestigious universities like Yale have been fined upwards of $165,000 for failing to accurately report sexual crimes on campus.
After watching the critically-acclaimed documentary, The Hunting Ground, an exposé of sexual assault on college campuses, my parents were adamant that I have a sense of awareness and the ability to protect myself next year. They later saw on the SLS website that the New Canaan Police Department and Grace Farms were partnering to host a free Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Prevention class. The class is geared towards incoming college girls, but open to women of all ages. The five-week long class aims to teach young women about the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses and how to protect themselves through situational awareness, legal competence, and physical defense methods. I was content to attend what I thought was a one-time presentation. When I heard it was an hour and a half, twice a week, for five weeks, I was less eager. I expected a course reminiscent of Drivers’ Ed: a dry, outdated Powerpoint touting “no means no” through rote memorization.
As soon as I walked into the first class, I realized that I was mistaken. The class takes a dynamic, comprehensive, soup-to-nuts approach to teaching self-defense. Officer David Rivera, who spearheads the program, introduced himself and spoke about the course, the only one of its kind in the state. While New Canaan is considered to be among the safest, most insulated towns in the nation, the town deals with domestic violence and abuse at high rates. Last year, Police Chief Leon Krolikowsi dubbed it “New Canaan’s violent crime”. Officer Rivera explained that while the NCPD deals with domestic abuse frequently, little was being done to proactively prevent it.
“We as officers saw that we weren’t doing anything to really prevent these crimes from happening. We were very reactionary to these types of crimes. If there were robberies occurring, we would flood the area and try to prevent them as much as possible…same thing with burglaries, narcotics sales, but in terms of DV [domestic violence] and sexual assaults…nothing was being done to prevent them.” It was with this thinking that the NCPD decided to take a more progressive approach to prevention. “We came together and thought, ‘we have to do something’. As police officers, I think it’s our job to ensure the safety of all, and if we weren’t doing anything [to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault], we’re not doing our job. So we came together and decided to do this program to help prevent these kinds of situations from occurring”.
The class goes far beyond Powerpoints. NCPD Officers Rivera, Gibson, Callinan, and Caponera teach in conjunction with The Center (for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education), The Domestic Violence Crisis Center (DVCC), and New Canaan’s Kempo Academy. The Center and the DVCC offer insight into the technicalities of dealing with sexual assault and domestic violence: how to recognize it, report it, and reduce the risk of it occurring. A survivor of multiple sexual assaults spoke to the class, sharing her painful experiences; the uneasy gut feelings she felt beforehand, the instincts that kicked in, and the split-second choices she made that allowed her to survive.
After four weeks of attending the class, I not only have an understanding of the prevalence and different manifestations of sexual assault and domestic violence, but feel far more confident in my ability to protect myself. I feel more assured knowing quick safety tips, like how to break someone’s hold of your wrists or how to appear less vulnerable while walking through a parking lot at night (key in hand, phone away, with other people). I’ve gained a greater sense of confidence in how I might deal with any alarming situation as a college freshman, and throughout my life.
Fred Pickering, Assistant Director of Safety at Grace Farms, announced that the program will be offered again in April. The four week course will begin April 19th, meeting Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:00 to 7:30 pm. See the Grace Farms website for more information and to register.
— Grace O’Halloran, Staff Writer