Two Lenas bring rape prevention program to NIU again with new material for this year

By Lynn Rogers

“Those Two Lenas” are coming to NIU.

Dan and Marie Lena, critically acclaimed rape counselors, self-defense experts and founders of “People Against Rape,” will present a follow up of their successful “Hands Off I’m Special” program at 9 p.m. Monday in Sandburg Auditorium.

“We’re really excited about it,” said Dan Lena, adding they have a lot of different material for this year’s presentation. The pair, who are married, have been nationally praised for their frank depiction of rape and its prevention in a program tinged with humor.

For the past two years, the Lenas have brought their “Hands Off I’m Special” presentation to NIU, and the response has been high, according to Laura Tichnor, co-chairman of the program. “They make it funny, but send a serious message across to everyone,” she said, adding, “It’s a good program for college students.”

Dan Lena agreed. One thing that will remain in this year’s follow-up program is an appeal to freshmen. Most date rape victims are freshman women, he pointed out. “Our efforts are to get to the freshmen, because it is their first time away from home and they have responsiblity and freedom. They start using that freedom and forget their natural defenses,” he said.

The thrust of the Lenas’ program is using those natural defenses. “We deal with self-esteem, self-worth,” Dan Lena explained, adding, “It’s a combination of lecture and application.”

Dan Lena said the program consists of about ten minutes of talking, then ten minutes of demonstration and a return to the lecture. A striking dummy will be used to illustrate certain moves and Dan and Marie will be dressed in their karate uniforms. “It’s not the usual strike-in-the groin, hit-in-the-head-and-run technique,” he added.

Dan Lena said they have added some new material, as many NIU students have already seen their program. “This year, we’ll get into the sexual pressure of dating,” he said, adding drugs and suicide will also be discussed.

Suicide often occurs due to some kind of sexual pressure, Dan Lena said. He cited the example of a man breaking up with his girlfriend to find someone who will “do more” sexually. Despair then sets in. “She feels, ‘Where did I go wrong?’ Thoughts of suicide begin to go through her mind.”

The program is not derogatory toward men, however. “We will do our usual talk about jerk guys_not that all guys are jerks, but every woman knows one,” he explained, adding he encourages male students to attend the program.

“The program is for everyone,” Tichnor added. “Dan is living proof it can happen to guys.”

Both Dan and Marie were sexually assaulted when they were young, experiences that ultimately led them to one another and to the founding of People Against Rape. Dan Lena said they will talk about those experiences in the program.

Dan, a former national champion in kickboxing and a black belt in karate, began teaching his first self-defense class in 1976. Within two months he met Marie, who was learning karate after her rape. Their collaboration began when she accompanied him to one of his high school presentations and found herself talking to students about her experiences.

Soon after, Marie became a crisis intervention counselor and Dan a police training instructor. They eventually married, and began expanding their program.

Today, “those two Lenas” (as they are commonly referred to) are in high demand. They are touring the country with “Hands Off I’m Special,” speaking at high school and college campuses. They also appear regularly on the cable television talk show “Teenage,” which earned an Emmy award. They have spoken at the Smithsonian and filled an Oklahoma stadium as large as the Rosemont Horizon.

Currently, WTTW-TV in Chicago is planning a documentary about the Lenas, following the couple across the nation. Lena said the original idea was for a feature film, but they opted for public television instead. “There is less sensationalism in public TV,” Dan Lena said. “It has to be factual, yet livable.”

Their program is not without controversy, however. Dan Lena said some groups_including a rape crisis center_are boycotting their program at Iowa’s Drake University. Why the problem? “As a husband and wife team, we have the freedom to touch each other and act out sexual scenes. It gets to the point where we are all over each other, demonstrating a situation,” he said, adding, “But if that’s what it takes to get our point across, we’ll do it.”

Dan and Marie Lena’s unique program is sure to get some message across to potential rape victims. “It’s sometimes hilarious and sometimes serious,” Dan Lena said. “We run the gamut of emotions and want our audience to feel that. We want to show that having a high self-esteem is very important. Remember, you are special.”

The program is sponsored by the Campus Activities Board, the Residence Hall Association and the residence halls.