|Cynthia Menzies; strong, focussed, brave.|
Running during the summer months often means warmer weather, more daylight and more people out and about along your running route. Running in the summer can create the feeling of safety especially if we run when it is light out. We feel invincible and take risks like: running alone, running with earphones, running without iPhones, and running on secluded trails. We often fool ourselves into taking fewer precautions because we are already ‘on the move’ and as a result we feel invincible. We might ask “what are the chances of an assailant going after a runner, anyway”?
I can write from personal experience that the chances are very good. Last month, after an attempted sexual assault while running on a very public trail in south St. Vital, I realized that I am not invincible. I also realized that as a woman I am even more at risk.
It was a Sunday morning when I decided to finally head out for a run. I had postponed my start time because it was raining lightly. As I started out on my regular run route I determined that the light rain had a bit of a chill to it. As a result, I turned back and headed home for arm warmers. Finally on my way, I noticed that the public path was a little quieter than usual. There were not as many dog walkers, runners or cyclists. As a result I felt like I had a good feel for the environment around me. I rarely run distracted with the exception of my thoughts that often bounce about in my head stimulating new ideas. Admittedly, I am a day dreamer and now realize this can put me at risk.
It was so unexpected and quick when the attempted assault happened. As I continued down the trail I noticed a man walking toward me. The man seemed to be hesitating and his gait was irregular. My inner radar was set off and inside my head I heard, “Be careful Cindy”. I debated how I was going to pass the man on the trail or even if I should. I decided I would pass him. I was a few running strides in front of him when he dropped his pants and exposed himself to me. I stopped running.
The first words that came out of my mouth were “not cool, I am calling the police”. Calling the police? I did not carry my iPhone on my run. How was I going to do this? I started to run toward a house nearby. As I did this the assailant started toward me. I rang the doorbell and no one came to the door. The assailant continued to approach me and I realized my strength would be found in my voice using simple commands. I told the assailant to “back off”. I said these two words three times. Each time my voice getting louder and stronger. On the third time, the assailant stopped coming toward me and started running away. I was lucky.
The Bigger Picture
What does this experience have to do with running? I want to share that assailants are not waiting for the night time to strike. They will surprise you in the early hours of the morning, during a midday trail run or abduct you from the streets of your own neighbourhood. Sound scary? It is. My assailant lived in my neighbourhood and was a high risk predator with a track record of sexually assaulting women. He was also living with a mental health condition and I hope to touch more on the complexity of this topic in the next issue.
I really want you to be safe. Below are some of the best tried and true safety tips from police officers, EMT’s and other safety experts taken from an online website called ACTIVE.
1) Do Not Run Alone
I know, it's so simple, but it works. Two people are harder to control than one, so attackers are less likely to strike and if they do, you've just doubled your chance of survival. If you don't have someone to run with, get a dog. Or borrow a dog.
2) Do Not Run With Earphones
Again, this isn't rocket science. When you have loud music blaring in your ears, you can't hear a potential attacker come up behind you and it also slows your reaction time.
3) Alter Your Route
When we run the same route, or the same two routes, day after day, it not only makes us easy targets for stalkers, we also have a tendency to zone out.
4) Run Against Traffic
It makes it harder for someone to abduct you in a vehicle if you see them coming, literally a mile away. This also helps prevent traffic related accidents, especially if you like to run in the early morning or at dusk.
Anyone who saw the charming Sandra Bullock movie, "Miss Congeniality," will remember her demonstration of self-defense at the beauty pageant talent show. "Remember to sing," is her line and it stands for four vulnerable parts of a person: solar plexis, instep, nose, groin.
If you are attacked from behind, self-defense experts tell you to elbow your attacker in the stomach, stomp on their instep, turn and shove the heel of your hand up their nose, then knee their groin. This often sounds easier than it is, so try to take a self-defense class about every five years to keep the concepts fresh and your reaction time quick (Hargrave, 2014).
I often wonder what would have happened if I ran at my scheduled time or if I hadn’t turned back to get my arm warmers. Would I have crossed paths with the assailant?
In the end I was lucky. I also helped to identify an assailant who was wanted for similar attacks on women. The police surrounded the area moments after the attempted assault occurred and it was not long before the assailant was arrested. I decided to give a statement on camera after recognizing that other victims would not come forward.
It hasn’t been easy. I have internalized a lot of the stress and trauma on a cellular level. I have been assaulted before and was unprepared at how the recent attempted assault would bring the trauma of my childhood to the surface. It was a double whammy to process. It is difficult to measure the impact of any attack and the best thing to do at the end of the day is be better prepared, talk about what happened and allow others to help you with recovery. I carry my iPhone now and wear an alarm that Victim Services provided me.
I also forgive my perpetrator.