OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – The Osceola County Sheriff's Office is offering a specialized program to teach children how to empower and defend themselves. The class not only shows children how to fight off a stranger trying to take them but also shows them what to do if someone close to them tries to abuse them.
It's called radKids, and the first three letters stand for Resisting Aggression Defensively. The program's mission is to provide realistic choices for children to avoid and/or escape violence or harm in their daily lives. The program covers everything from bullying to abuse, to how to escape and fight a kidnapper or child predator.
The program has already trained thousands of instructors in both the United States and Canada, and now, it's getting a foothold in Central Florida.
The Osceola County Sheriff's Office recently certified more than a dozen of its workers to become instructors, and they just held their first pilot class this month.
Suzanne Clouchete is one of them.
She is a sex crimes detective for Osceola County and also investigates crimes against children.
"I want to give them the tools to keep them from becoming victims," Clouchete said.
Just last March, Clouchete worked an attempted kidnapping case involving a 10-year-old girl outside a Walmart store in Poinciana. She says a man had tried to lure the girl to get in his car, but she refused and ran instead. Surveillance video captured the whole encounter.
"And it turns out this male had two prior cases where he was in the parking lot, doing inappropriate things," Clouchete said. "So he is slowly escalating - and luckily did not get that girl that day."
Parents like Melissa Hansell can relate.
She says when she was a child, she had her own scary encounter with a stranger.
"I didn't know what else to do but run," said Hansell.
But now, Hansell's children will be armed with more than just knowledge. They will have real-life training to help them know exactly what to do in any situation. Hansell says even her shy, introverted daughter learned to stand up for herself in a way she never has before.
"And to see her have that confidence and to yell and to get physical with someone to protect herself - it just made me so proud," Hansell said. "And the 6-year-old, to watch him defend himself, being so small, was fantastic."
So what do the kids think about this intense kind of training?
"I thought it was very, very cool and exciting," said student Evangeline Marrero-Mosa.
But instructors point out this class is more than just doing drills and learning how to fight back and defy an attacker. It also teaches kids the warning signs of what to look out for in other kinds of abuse, and to report it, even if it involves a person that child knows and trusts.
"Not all parents know how to teach their children," said Russell Gibson, the Osceola County sheriff. "They're not all police officers, they're not all educated to show their children this is what you do in a case where someone tells you, 'Hey little kid.'. And if they grab you to fight, fight, fight!"
The Sheriff's Office already has a waiting list of people wanting to get their kids into the radKids class. They are planning on having that the class happen over spring break.
There are also other radKids instructors and classes being offered in other parts of Florida.
According to the radKids website, more than 250,000 children have been trained in the radKids Personal Empowerment Safety Program.