Toni Mascione knows firsthand the importance of self-defense for women.
“I have a history of being in a previous relationship where I was the victim of domestic violence,” says Mascione, an out lesbian who currently serves as a deputy for Harris County Precinct 1’s constable, Alan Rosen. “So, empowering other women and providing them resources to overcome situations such as violent relationships is something I’m very passionate about. I think there is nothing more liberating as a woman than understanding that you alone are a force, you alone are okay.”
Although Mascione’s abuse happened a long time ago, it was the catalyst for her becoming certified in a women’s training program called Rape Aggression Defense System (R.A.D.). Now, thanks to Mascione, Rosen, and the Montrose Center, R.A.D. classes will soon be offered specifically to Houston’s LGBTQ community.
“Deputy Mascione and I thought it was a good idea to offer this class to the LGBTQIA community, as too often they are targets of violence,” says Rosen, a longtime LGBTQ ally whose precinct includes Montrose. “The purpose is to provide a safe place for them to learn how to protect themselves. For many years, I have attended the Transgender Day of Remembrance memorial service and discovered that our trans community is targeted for violence for just being who they are. I felt it was important to empower that community with self-defense. To our knowledge, Precinct 1 is the first agency anywhere to offer R.A.D. training to this community.
If the recent news stories have taught us anything, it’s that women are still at risk of being assaulted. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women in the U.S. have been raped. Meanwhile, anti-LGBTQ hate crimes are on the rise, and according to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 22 trans women have been murdered in 2018.
Rosen says his office began offering R.A.D. classes to the general public five years ago.
“We found that there was a need to empower women and children and senior citizens on how to properly protect themselves,” he says.
Response to the free program—which offers a lifetime return-and-practice policy worldwide—has been very positive, Rosen says. “We have held a R.A.D. basic class twice per month since 2013, with a participation of approximately 15 to 20 people in each class. We currently have a two-month waiting list.”
Participants in the program learn a wide range of tactics, including verbal techniques, ground-defense options, how to escape from bear hugs and chokeholds, and more. The practical techniques are designed to maximize the strengths of a woman’s body and build upon existing instinctive responses to provide women with effective self-defense options. In R.A.D., women have the opportunity for hands-on dynamic-impact practice and realistic simulation exercises. Instructors wear a specially designed aggressor simulation suit that protects them during exercises.
Mascione, who will likely teach the classes at the Montrose Center, feels the R.A.D. program empowers women both emotionally and physically. And she says her department is breaking down barriers by demonstrating that identifying as a woman makes you a woman.
R.A.D. is the only self-defense program endorsed by the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, the National Academy of Defense Education, the National Self-Defense Institute, and Redman Training Gear.
There are several other R.A.D. classes in the area, including those offered by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office; the Bellaire, Stafford, and Pearland police departments; and some universities that offer it for course credit. But the Precinct 1 constable’s office is believed to be the first to offer self-defense classes to the LGBTQ community.
Rosen says his office has just begun advertising the program. Information was available at the recent Houston GLBT Political Caucus’ Equality Brunch, as well as the Lone Star Veterans Association’s LGBTQ Military Ball.
“Additionally, we plan to have our information at the Montrose Center once the dates for the inaugural class are established,” Rosen says.
For Mascione, teaching the class will be another way of giving back to the community she credits with helping her family rebuild their home following Hurricane Harvey. Mascione, one of OutSmart’s LGBTQ Heroes of Harvey in 2017, was on duty as a Memorial Villages police officer when the home she shared with her wife and three children was flooded during the storm.
“My family is doing wonderful,” Mascione says. “We were able to quickly find another home with the help of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce, as well as Pearl Bar owner Julie Mabry. Our family would have never come out of such a devastating situation if it were not for the overwhelming support of Houston’s LGBTQ community. Christina and I feel as though we can finally breathe and get back to normal life now, a year later. Isabella, Gabriel, and Ayden started at their new school and are doing just great.”
Mascione says RAD classes at the Montrose Center will begin in January. For more info, contact Mascione at 713-755-3372 or [email protected].
This article appears in the December 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.