Monday, February 11, 2008

Bounty Hunter Runs Self-Defense Classes

The chilling audiotape captured a frantic woman shakily reporting an intruder to police, then dropping the phone and screaming as the man raped her. “It’s pretty powerful,” said Bill Nelson. “It’s a pretty harsh and powerful thing because it’s real.”

Nelson plays the 911 call to people who attend his sexual assault seminars to start the discussion about rape.

It got a lot of people talking at his three-hour seminar Saturday at Suburban Health Club in St. Cloud, including organizer Susan Barber of St. Joseph.

A lecture about rape isn’t usually a family affair. But for Barber it was.

Five family members, including her husband, attended Nelson’s lecture about the interconnected topics of sexual assault, from gender roles and sexism to basic self-defense strategies.

“I think more men should see it,” said Barber’s husband, Jake. “A lot of these things shock me. There are a lot of pigs.”

He was one of three men in Saturday’s group of 16 people.

Nelson said he hopes he can just create awareness for those who attend his workshops.

“This affects everyone — this issue,” he said. “There’s a lot of people hurting because of this.”

Trust instincts

The ponytailed bounty hunter, private investigator and martial arts instructor wrote a book, “Your Weapon Within: How to Lower the Risk of Sexual Assault” and travels the country to discuss rape.

His main message is that people need to rely on their instincts to protect themselves.

“A lot of people put a false sense of security on (products such as pepper spray),” Nelson said. “It’s not the save-all. You still need a Plan A, B, C.”

In context

While he discussed basic self-defense, Nelson’s lesson wasn’t just on how people can protect themselves, but how people can understand rape in context of the culture.

Nelson discussed the excuses men and women make to explain rape and the stereotypes applied to rapists and rape victims. Basically, he said, you can’t pick a rapist or a rape victim out of a crowd.

“They aren’t going to act or dress any different than us,” he said of rapists. “They just express their rage different. Sexual assault is about power and control.”

Another myth is that women falsely accuse men.

But, he said, that only happens in one to 3 percent of all cases.

Nevertheless, that attitude contributes to fear of reporting rapes that do happen.

That, in turn, is one reason why rape is the most underreported crime in the country, he said.

According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, more than half of sexual assaults are unreported.

The group also says one in six women are victims of sexual assault.

“There still is a (sexist) undertone of how we raise boys and girls,” Nelson said, citing gender roles ingrained from the moment children leave the hospital with a pink or blue outfit.

The broader culture’s obsession with sex — from strip clubs and pornography to the prevalence of hooking up just for sex — promotes situations that increase the likelihood of rape.

But, Nelson said, it isn’t random dates or strangers who are often the ones to rape.

In fact, a study showed that 91 percent of Central Minnesota rape victims knew their attacker, he said.

That statistic surprised Barber’s sister Deb Holman of Bemidji because most women fear attacks by strangers, she said.

“Women think of that every single day in every kind of situation,” she said. “Men don’t think about that.”

Nelson’s information got her and other family members buzzing, including 15-year-old April Daerda.

“It’s a good thing to hear,” Daerda said.

Nelson said challenging society’s gender roles is a first step.

“I’m not going to change the world,” he said.

“But all I need is one person to say I’m going to ... stop reading those (pornographic) magazines. If we continue to talk like that, act like that ... we’re going to continue to have a problem with (sexual assault).”

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