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Working in collaboration with the Missoula Police Department and a company that specializes in teaching self-defense, the University of Montana will instruct women how to protect themselves, trust their instincts and learn the nuances of Montana law as it pertains to sexual assault and rape.

UM’s Office of Public Safety has arranged several four-week programs on the subject, beginning next week and running once each week through October.

“We want to bring awareness, talk about real cases of sexual assault and rape,” said UM community relations officer Casey Gunter. “We’ll talk about women keying in on their awareness, when situations don’t seem right. These classes are women-specific. We don’t want to groom potential perpetrators.”

The classes will look at warning signs, along with Montana’s legal definition of sexual assault and sexual intercourse without consent – the legal term for rape, Gunter said.

“We’ll talk about how rape is a societal term and not a judicial term,” he said. “The term for rape is sexual intercourse without consent. That’s how it reads in the law books. It’s a felony.”

The classes will be joined by Detective Jamie Merifield of the Missoula Police Department. Gunter said Merifield, who tracks sex offenders, has assisted in teaching the class in the past.

“She’ll talk about the police process, how the victim-survivor is in the driver’s seat and how, at any time, can chose not to go forward with the case,” Gunter said. “The last evening, we’ll have self-defense companies come in and give some self-defense techniques.”

He said the first three classes also will include short segments on self-defense.

Gunter said the overall goal of the four sessions is to help women recognize unsafe situations and potential perpetrators, and to empower them to trust their instincts.

“Commonly, women will be in a situation where they don’t feel comfortable about a situation or person,” Gunter said. “Sometimes they’ll talk themselves into committing to that situation, even though they don’t feel comfortable. We’ll talk about that process and empower them to go with that first feeling.”

While working with the Missoula Police Department, Gunter offered the courses in the past. When he retired and took the job as community relations officer with the UM Office of Public Safety, he arranged a similar class last spring.

The Missoula County sheriff, the Missoula police chief and UM President Royce Engstrom were invited to sit in. Gunter said they saw the value of the program and agreed to see it continued.

“Just by word of mouth, we had about 20 people attend in the spring,” he said. “We had some moms who had young women as young as sophomores in high school attend. Even still, I hear how much those seminars and information we offered has helped those women.”

The first class looks at the criminal definition of sexual assault and rape, along with insight on investigations. The second class follows with a film portraying a real interview with a perpetrator, the effects of “date-rape” drugs and the importance of being sensitive to the motivations of others.

Gunter said the third class includes a review of real cases to understand the mind-set of perpetrators and sexual predators, and the last class looks at self-defense.

“These will start next Tuesday night and run for a total of four Tuesdays,” Gunter said. “The second seminar is going to start next Thursday and run for four Thursdays. The third seminar will start on Oct. 24 and four consecutive Wednesdays.”

To sign up for the class, call (406) 243-6131. Drop-ins are also welcome and classes are free and restricted to females.

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