Wayne State University Police Department investigator Elisha Evans guides students through a simulated attack during a Rape Aggression Defense class, while WSU Police Lt. Dave Scott documents the experience.

Wayne State University Police Department investigator Elisha Evans guides students through a simulated attack during a Rape Aggression Defense class, while WSU Police Lt. Dave Scott documents the experience.

File photo by Deb Jacques


Schools prep learners to thwart sexual attackers, active shooters

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published August 21, 2018

 Madison McClellan, of Royal Oak, gets self-defense training from Evans at the Boys and Girls Club of Troy in 2015.

Madison McClellan, of Royal Oak, gets self-defense training from Evans at the Boys and Girls Club of Troy in 2015.

File photo by Deb Jacques

 Maddie Bill, of Royal Oak, right, learns the proper way to yell and startle an attacker.

Maddie Bill, of Royal Oak, right, learns the proper way to yell and startle an attacker.

File photo by Deb Jacques

METRO DETROIT — It’s the part of back-to-school prep that no one wants to talk about.

Safety in the classroom and around local campuses has always been a priority for educators. But in the age of active shooters and rampant sexual assault reports, the task of keeping students out of harm’s way can seem daunting for school and law enforcement personnel. 

But that certainly doesn’t stop them from trying.

Lt. Dave Scott, who is part of the Wayne State University Police Department crime prevention section, said the university has been training students and faculty in attack mitigation for decades. The Rape Aggression Defense program has graduated nearly 2,000 women since 1995. 

“Our youngest RAD grad was 10 when she came through, and our oldest to date is 74 years old. And recently we graduated our first legally blind participant,” Scott said. “It’s not about what you can’t do, we say. It’s about what you didn’t know you could do.”

WSU’s most recent RAD course, available to the public, teaches participants risk reduction and avoidance strategies. It’s so much more than keeping pepper spray at the ready during nighttime walks, Scott said, because attacks often occur at times when victims believe they are in a safe space.

“Most sexual assaults do not involve some stranger jumping out of the bushes. It’s someone you know, someone you believe you can trust, and they primarily happen in the home,” he said.

Scott said part of the program is showing participants the “10 personal weapons they have at all times” and how to use them. But he wouldn’t reveal in print what those maneuvers are.

“We only allow women in the class. No boyfriends or husbands. We don’t allow the classes to be filmed, and we ask (students) not to go home and show their boyfriends or husbands,” he explained. “We don’t want those guys using this knowledge against them, and it’s happened before.”

After the RAD program wraps up, Scott’s department will host an active shooter response workshop for students living in WSU’s housing system. Like at schools around the country, staff will advise students on what to do in an active shooter situation, including how to respond to a sniper incident like the mass murders that occurred on the Las Vegas strip last October, and also how civilians should respond to law enforcement during such an incident, when it’s hard for officers to tell amidst the chaos who is a victim and who is the assailant. 

“We also talk about this new threat we’re seeing out there, which is motor vehicle mow-down attacks,” Scott said. “These homegrown, violent extremists become what they call ‘self-radicalized’ based on what they’ve found on the computer, and they ram into groups of people with their car. It’s happening mostly in Europe and Canada, but we’ve had a few incidents in the U.S.”

WSU hosts active shooter classes off campus as well, for companies like DTE Energy. In fact, the courses are in such high demand around town that the department can’t keep up.

The same goes for Officer Cory Donberger, of the Bloomfield Township Police Department. He conducts active shooter response training for the Bloomfield Hills Schools district, and he shares the program’s “run, hide, fight” method with students and business groups around the area.

But the training isn’t just for the civilians — Donberger said the ability for police to access schools and become acquainted with the student body could make for more accurate training and an efficient response in the event that the unthinkable occurs. 

“One of the biggest takeaways has been for our officers to have the ability to train and prepare in an actual school environment. We develop and train on new tactics, but also we familiarize ourselves with the layout of the school building.”

To make sure families are in the loop on what their kids are learning at school about potential threats, Bloomfield Hills Schools and the Bloomfield Township Police Department have partnered in holding community forums from time to time to share information about the “run, hide, fight” method and how to answer delicate questions that kids might have at home.

“It’s unfortunate that our students have to conduct drills and prepare for an active shooter, (but) with proper coordination and with the teaching staff and law enforcement, these drills lose the scary stigma and become second nature, similar to conducting fire drills and tornado drills,” Donberger said.