PORTLAND – Vickie Linegar was tentative when she signed up for Rape Aggression Defense training at the Portland Police Department.

She didn’t want a karate class, or a lecture on avoiding short skirts and dark alleys. She did want to be comfortable walking through a city by herself.

What she found was basic, practical techniques to escape a sexual assault. And more.

The training, which included frightening simulations, allowed her to reclaim the self-confidence she had lost early in life, when she was sexually assaulted at the age of 7, then physically abused as a teenager and an adult, when she was in an abusive relationship.

“It is a little strange to think learning to punch and kick appropriately would help you heal,” said Linegar, 33, who is now an instructor in the RAD program. “For me, it was so empowering to help myself and turn my experience into something that would help other people.”

At just 5 feet tall, Linegar said she’s not the most imposing figure. And her first time through the training was emotionally draining. It took time to build her confidence, she said.

The training isn’t designed to be therapeutic, Linegar said, but that has been a byproduct for her and some of the people she has taught.

“RAD helped me get to that place where I could help other survivors,” said Linegar, who writes a blog about her experience.

Rape Aggression Defense courses have been taught through the Portland Police Department for the past 10 years, supported by the Amy St. Laurent Foundation. The foundation is named for the South Portland High School graduate who was murdered in 2001. Authorities searched for weeks for St. Laurent after she disappeared during a night at the clubs in Portland’s Old Port.

Her body was found in Scarborough. Her killer is spending 60 years in prison.

St. Laurent’s mother, Diane Jenkins, decided that teaching women to protect themselves would be an important tribute to her daughter and a way to draw something positive from her family’s tragedy.

“I know she never had any sort of instruction like this,” Jenkins said of her daughter. “I still wonder, if she had, would she have had a better chance to come out of that.”

Portland police host the training program six to 10 times a year. The program has trained hundreds of women in the past decade. The course is free, but a $25 donation to the Amy St. Laurent Foundation is suggested to help pay for ongoing training, educational materials and supplies.

The foundation plans to hold its first fundraiser Friday night at the Italian Heritage Center in Portland, with a silent auction and music by The Time Pilots.

The program has expanded its offerings, with advanced classes on using keychains and aerosol sprays in self-defense, and classes for children.

Linegar said it would be ideal to have the training in schools. She noted that young women are especially at risk for sexual assault when they first arrive at college.

Some women are unsure whether they can stand up for themselves, or assert themselves when the need arises.

Linegar said, “When I first walked in through that door (for the training), I was a meek, shameful, afraid-to-make-eye-contact mousy person. … Now, the instructors say ‘I pity the person who tries to touch Vickie without her permission.’“

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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