Running websites and magazines do a solid job of reminding runners to be safe while running. They recommend not wearing headphones, or at least listening to your music at low volume. They recommend letting someone know where you're going and when to expect you back. They recommend carrying an ID with you.
Many of these warnings are in relation to being hit by unaware drivers.
But April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so it's important to mention that heeding these warnings is vital not just because of potential accidents, but also because of potential attacks.
I, like many women, am all too aware of the dangers of being "out in the world" alone. And before I even get started on this post, I need to clarify something. Victims of sexual assault are NEVER to blame for the assault. You'll hear people saying, "If only she'd taken precautions" or "If only her music hadn't been too loud", etc. These are victim-blaming statements, and they have no place on this blog. Sexual assault affects 1 in 6 women in their lifetime, meaning most of us know someone who has been a victim of it - in many cases, we know more than one. (For more statistics, go here.)
So this blog is not about "How to Behave So You Can Avoid Causing a Sexual Assault." The only person who can prevent such an assault is the attacker. But we live, unfortunately, in a world full of people who live only for their own whims and compulsions, and preparing for the worst can help us avoid these people and their potential to do us harm.
I am not very good at being prepared. Although I do run when it's still light out, I know this in itself isn't magical protection. When I was in undergrad, a girl who was jogging was attacked and just barely escaped without harm - this was at 4:00 in the afternoon, when Florida sun is bright and blinding. I wear my headphones (although I keep the volume low enough to hear my environment around me), I switch up my paths frequently, I run in public places (usually), and I make a point to check my surroundings and make eye-contact with people I pass (because I heard somewhere, once, that people are less likely to attack you if you make eye-contact). If I'm running alone, I always tell M which of my routes I'm taking. These precautions seem almost trivial.
After reading this heart-wrenching and brave blog entry on Runner's World, I've decided to finally get myself a running belt and a can of mace. Wearing such a belt, I can also carry my cell phone and ID with me, which I never do usually. I've put it off due to comfort, but safety trumps comfort every time. Besides, there are plenty of running belts that are lightweight and won't bounce or jiggle. If a marathoner can wear one, so can I.
The author of the article I linked is an amazingly strong and honest woman for stepping forward. So many women are ashamed or fearful. They feel the attack was somehow their fault, and they feel they'll never be looked at "normally" again. Going through an exam - and, if they're lucky enough to find the attacker, a trial - can feel like a second assault for many women. But Ms. Addonizio went through both, courageously, and continues to run.
There's a message here for men, too, and for other runners on the road. If you see something suspicious, speak up. If you overhear commotion, call for help. (Too many times we hear about attacks that witnesses heard but did nothing to stop.) If your loved-one wants to run and it's late, hop on a bike or skateboard and join them. There's safety in numbers.
The only one who can truly prevent an assault 100% is the person who is going to commit it. We can be prepared, alert, and wary; we can still enjoy our runs, and we should. I refuse to live in fear of what could happen, but I've realized that living in denial that the world has dangers in it outside of my control won't solve any problems. I am going to start taking precautions; I hope you do, too.