For women on Baton Rouge’s college campuses wondering how best to handle risky situations, Rape Aggression Defense program instructor Kathy Saichuk encourages them to ask themselves a crucial question: “What if?”

“What if someone tried to abduct you?” said Saichuk. “You really need to think about what you would do. Constantly play that game with yourself.”

Saichuk, assistant director for wellness and health promotion at Louisiana State University, led a women-only instructional workshop on self-defense Saturday that was targeted to students, faculty and staff from LSU, Southern University and the Baton Rouge Community College.

The Rape Aggression Defense program, an alliance between the LSU Police Department and Student Health Center, for more than 20 years has been teaching people at LSU and the Baton Rouge community how to defend themselves in dangerous situations.

But there’s been an uptick in interest recently given the #MeToo movement and some incidents on LSU’s campus, as reflected by the close to 40 women who participated Saturday as part of the program’s three days of lectures, physical drills and simulations.

LSUPD Lieutenant Jeffrey Lemoine said this weekend’s class is one of the largest the program has hosted in recent memory. He has been training women in the self-defense program for 16 years.

“Now, especially with the #MeToo movement, there’s a lot more emphasis on defending yourself from sexual assault and any sexual misappropriation,” said Lemoine.

The self-defense program can help women be prepared in the event they find themselves in a threatening situation. 

In the past two months alone, LSUPD has reported three incidents involving sex offenses on campus. A little over a week ago a female student was carjacked at gunpoint at a complex near LSU.

The Lighthouse Program, which provides interpersonal violence prevention and advocacy for the LSU community, also reports an uptick in reported cases of sexual misconduct.

“Last year we almost doubled in 2017 with the amount of students that we saw,” said Susan Bareis, director of the Lighthouse Program and assistant director for wellness and health promotion.

The women participating in this weekend’s program spent Friday night learning how to be aware of their surroundings to minimize risks. At the Nelson Memorial Building on Saturday, it was all about getting physical.

Decked out in a rainbow of athletic wear in a large circle, students followed Saichuk in a series of stretches. Then the drills began.

“Warning contact!” shouted Saichuk. The class snapped to a crouch with right feet back, knees loose and hands held up to shield their faces.

“Stay back!” the class responded. “Defensive stance!” said Saichuk. This time the students sunk deeper into their stances and curled dominant hands into fists. “No!” the class said on cue.

After they practiced their stances several times as a group, the class fanned out into three sections to try blocking with a partner. Each instructor held up a pad for them to hit one at a time. As the students started to get the hang of the block, the instructors began to rotate in a circle to increase the difficulty of the move.

Students clapped wildly after each participant finished the technique and returned to the line for another round.

LSU freshman Jennifer Dedo, 19, said that drills like these are worth it.

“I definitely feel stronger,” Dedo said. “You watch videos on YouTube, or you do your own practicing in your room, but you don’t actually get the feel of hitting a bag until you get to a class like this.”

Rana Fahmy, 22, agreed. Fahmy is an international student from the United Arab Emirates attending LSU this semester.

“It makes me feel safer that I know in the back of my head that there’s something that I can do apart from yelling and running,” said Fahmy.

As the class continued, the students’ voices gradually grew stronger, louder and more confident.

For Lemoine, watching students evolve in their skills and self-assurance has been the most rewarding part of his work as an instructor.

“It is always one of the things I’m most struck by,” said Lemoine. “To see that person that comes in with their head down, and to see that person walk out of the door at the end of the third day with their head high and their shoulders back – they look like they have the world by the tail. They’re going to carry this with them for the rest of their lives.”