A woman was attacked while running in Napa this past Friday. She was running at dusk on a paved trail in a small park that is a popular location for elderly couples to walk their elderly dogs. According to the police report, there were people on the trail at the time of her attack. The park where the attack occurred is a 0.7-mile loop. Her attacker came out from behind a bush. Luckily, she was able to fend him off and run away.
I run this loop regularly for two reasons, foot traffic and visibility. I’m rarely entirely alone in this park and the path is setup so you have full visibility throughout the park. This loop is (was) an easy choice because it feels (felt) safe. I’d imagine the woman who was attacked felt the same way before Friday too.
The final line of the police report on her attack reads, “As always, we remind you to please stay on the lookout and be aware of your surroundings.”
I understand that this line is a formality, but man did it incite my fiery feminist rage. Language matters, folks. That one sentence places the burden of responsibility on the woman who was attacked to be hypervigilant enough to not be attacked. WHAT?
This woman was able to describe her assailant, the other people on the trail, and the cars parked at the entrance. I would classify that as being aware of her surroundings.
Do you know why she was able to provide the police with all of those details? Because of Mollie Tibbetts, Vanessa Marcotte, Alexandra Brueger, Karina Vetrano, and all of the other women who lost their lives simply because they were female and chose to run alone. Because as women, somehow the choice to go outside by ourselves and run, can have life-threatening consequences. Hypervigilance while we log our miles is our only option.
So I took to the Google to process my anger and I researched statistics on attacks on female runners. I also asked the Google machine why women are labeled as joggers while men are labeled as runners. Which is another issue entirely. You may have noticed I am leveling that playing field with the words used in this post. Language matters, folks.
Runner’s World conducted a survey following the deaths of three female joggers that occurred in the U.S. over one summer in 2016. The statistics speak for themselves. 43% of women surveyed have been harassed on a run. 58% of female runners under age 30 report being harassed always, often, or sometimes when they run. 30% of women have been followed by someone in a car, on foot, or on a bike while running. 60% of female runners reported limiting their runs to daylight hours as a safety precaution. In another national survey, 23% of women reported exercising in a gym instead of running outside to limit their risk of harassment.
Though Runner’s World calculates that women have a 1 in 35,336 chance of being murdered on a run, the results of their survey clearly show we don’t feel safe because we aren’t safe. Harassment reminds women that we live in a world where men continue to view us as objects. When a woman is harassed, the man has demonstrated his belief that she exists in his space, granting him the right to proposition her, follow her, or take her as his own. I use this gender divide because only 4% of men reported being harassed on a run and because 94% of women said their harassers were men.
Let’s call it what it is. It’s bullshit that women can’t go outside for a run without remaining hypervigilant.
Just this morning, I told my boyfriend what route I planned to take, turned on my live tracker on my Garmin watch, kept the music down low on my headphones, shoved my pepper spray under my boobs in my sports bra, and chose to only run in well populated neighborhoods. And you know what? I was followed.
I had planned to lap around Fuller Park to add a bit of mileage, but the city was cutting the trees along Jefferson Street, forcing me to cut through the middle of the park. An older man was standing outside the public restrooms. I watched him watch me. I turned to my left to make sure the city workers saw me too. They didn’t. I ran straight for Oak Street to get the hell out of the center of the park. When I got to the street, the man was still watching me and had started to go down the path I took to Oak Street. As I turned right on Oak, he took off for the side of the park lined by Seminary Street. I was so afraid that he might try and intercept me when I reached Seminary that I ran the other direction. The entire way home I cursed myself for wearing a hot pink shirt that made me easy to track and I looked over my shoulder at every intersection.
It was 8 a.m. The sun was shining. I ran past city workers, dog walkers, commuters, and families dropping their children off at school. I was on main roads and in safe neighborhoods. None of this mattered.
Women already know we have to take extra measures to ensure our safety when we run. We carry pepper spray, we use live trackers so our loved ones can follow our GPS, we carry our phones so we can call 911, we choose our routes carefully. My problem with all of this is, the burden of responsibility to stay safe remains with the women who choose to run.
The article published in Runner’s World along with the results of their survey on female runners’ safety, touches on the issues of harassment as one that make this a conversation less about how women can remain safe, and more about the complex societal issues at play. I agree, society absolutely dictates to men that they must be takers, conquerors, dominators, if they are to be seen as masculine. Our president, grabber of pussies, only continues to perpetuate this societal conditioning at the highest level of power in the U.S.
At what point do we realize that this societal conditioning is so problematic that it COSTS WOMEN THEIR LIVES? Mollie Tibbetts lost her life when she turned down a man who sexually propositioned her on a run. She said no and he killed her. Any safety precautions she took that day when she prepared for her run didn’t matter.
If a woman is attacked while running, she is not at fault for choosing to run alone, for running at dusk, for running in shorts and a sports bra, for running on rural roads, in city parks, or in densely populated neighborhoods. She isn’t at fault for listening to music on her headphones. Our very gender and solitude are all it takes for some men to see us as vulnerable. And I’m absolutely sick of the conversation leaning towards what we, as women, can do to be safer on our runs.
Let’s all make ourselves a promise to do better. Let’s be the one who makes eye contact with the runner so she knows someone sees her and knows where she is. Let’s be the one who doesn’t respond to a woman’s report of being attacked with, “What time of day was she running?” Let’s be the one who does not tolerate friends, family, or strangers who perpetuate violence against women with their actions or their words. Let’s be the one who stops listening to Chris Brown’s songs, or watching Woody Allen’s movies, because that behavior only rewards men who have a history of violence against women. Let’s be the ones who slowly, surely, consistently, boldly, encourage a societal shift so women can feel safe when they lace up their sneakers and hit the road.