Less than three weeks after the body of Mollie Tibbetts was found on August 21, 2018, the news cycle had moved on once again to the next topic. It seems every time a tragedy such as this happens, and they happen far too frequently, there is a flurry of blog activity about ways that women can protect themselves, and then the news quietly moves on as the women impacted are left reeling.
In the aftermath, we saw the same startling statistics that we saw in 2016 when three women were murdered within nine days of one another, in different parts of the country—Vanessa Marcotte, 27, in Massachusetts, Alexandra Brueger, 31, in Michigan, and Karina Vetrano, 30, in New York—statistics which show the alarming rate at which women, and especially women runners, are harassed.
The fact that women runners are harassed at an alarming rate is no surprise to women runners. CNN published a story titled “A Startling Number of Women Say They Have Been Harassed While Running." The story quotes a 2016 study done by Runner’s World that found “Forty-three percent of women runners said they sometimes, often or always experienced such behavior. Only 4% percent of men did.” This is not news to women who run. On social media, TigerLady’s own followers recounted their experiences with being harassed.
What is the answer when women are doing everything “right” to stay safe? Like Vanessa Marcotte, Alexandra Brueger, and Karina Vetrano, Mollie Tibbetts was running in daylight. Tibbetts spoke up to her attacker and threatened to call the police. The only person who did anything wrong was, in Tibbetts’ case, Christhian Rivera, in Marcotte’s, and in Vetrano’s, Chanel Lewis.
Talya Minsberg published an article in the New York Times titled, “Running While Female” that addressed the problem of putting the responsibility on women. Mollie Tibbetts’s cousin, Sandi Tibbetts Murphy, wrote in a Facebook post, “Mollie was murdered because a man denied her right to say no.” Tibbetts’s killer, she wrote, “is a man who felt entitled to impose himself on Mollie’s life, without consequence. He is a man who, because of his sense of male entitlement, refused to allow Mollie the right to reject his advances — the right to her own autonomy.”
After the three separate tragedies in 2016, Runner’s World published an article about this same topic. The author writes, “I’m already doing everything I’m willing and able to do to stay safe on a run—forgoing headphones, avoiding certain routes, exploring others only when I’m with a group. But that hasn’t stopped men from honking at me, catcalling me, or following me in their cars. And if those men are disrespectful enough to honk, catcall, or follow, how am I to know that they won’t grab, rape, or kill?”
There are assaults on women happening daily, and whether or not they make national news, they leave their victims forever changed. They might report the incidents, and they might not. Police might catch the perpetrators, and they might not. The murder of Alexandra Brueger remains unsolved to this day.
At TigerLady, we value women’s safety, and we also set out to write about how women could protect themselves in the wake of another tragedy involving a woman runner. The days have started to get shorter, and we wanted to remind women how to stay safe on their evening runs. In researching, we came across several voices of our customers and other women who lament having the onus put on them to prevent these attacks from happening. Most women who run are used to hearing the tips—don’t run alone. Avoid running at night or early in the morning. Carry pepper spray. Until men can learn not to attack women, these are good tips and could help to save lives. But what can women do in the meantime?
We won’t pretend to have the answers, but to begin, they can continue to tell their stories so that other women know they’re not in this alone. The hashtag #runformollie trended as women runners took to Twitter and Instagram to recount their own experiences. They can be vigilant and truly own their surroundings, continuing to be alert and aware, and not giving up what they love to do. They can also fight back and make it hurt, the way 36-year-old Kelly Herron of Seattle did in March of 2017 when she was attacked in a restroom during her run through Golden Gardens in Seattle. We know that until we can change the culture behind the assaults on women, women will continue to be vigilant in taking their safety into their own hands.
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