There are moments in life that put us in fight or flight mode — and for one athlete, that moment was last week. 36-year-old Seattle runner Kelly Herron was four miles into her run in the popular Golden Gardens Park when she made a stop to use a public bathroom. While inside, she was allegedly attacked by Gary Steiner, a 40-year-old registered sex offender. Steiner has been charged with attempted second-degree rape and second-degree assault with sexual motivation; he is due to be arraigned on March 22.
Just weeks prior, though, Herron had taken a self-defense workshop, and using the skills she learned, she fought back against her alleged attacker with every ounce of energy she had, yelling, "Not today, motherf*cker" — a phrase she told ABC News became her battle cry. "Even just two hours of training kicked in and I was able to remember to fight like hell and aim for the soft spots," Herron tells Bustle in an email.
She got away with the help of a bystander and locked the alleged attacker in the bathroom until the police came. A terrifying ordeal, indeed — and one that could've been so much worse had Herron not fought for her safety.
Being attacked while running has always been Herron's biggest fear, and she knew to prepare herself should that fear ever become a reality. "I told him I was afraid of being attacked after running several miles and wouldn't have the energy to fight back," she said of a discussion with her self-defense instructor. "He assured me that my adrenaline would kick in and I would be able to fight — he was right."
As Herron explained in a recent Instagram post — one which showed the injuries she sustained and the pattern her GPS tracker marked out during the ordeal — she may be bruised and stitched, but her spirit remains unbroken.
Herron's worries about her safety while out running are not unfounded. Last year, Alexandra Brueger was fatally shot while out for her daily jog. Just three days later, Vanessa Marcotte went out for a run and was found dead hours later in the woods. In that same nine-day period, Karina Vetrano was murdered after leaving for her evening jog. Women runners are very commonly harassed while exercising outside. In fact, according to a report by Runner's World, more than half of women joggers under the age of 30 have experienced harassment, often of a sexual nature. In other words, your odds of having a harassment-free run aren't even 50/50 — they're worse.
What seems to be the obvious solution here is one women have heard many times before, in various forms: Just don't go running alone.
Sound familiar? We've also been told not to go out alone... period. Especially at night, but during the day, too. Why? For our safety, of course. In fact, the best defense against attacks and assault is often considered the "buddy system" — and self-defense classes, of course. Just like the one Herron (and many others) took. But there's something much bigger here: The fact that this is considered the answer to our problems.
Notice how it continues to put the responsibility of our own safety solely on us? It's not asking, "How can we prevent these attacks from happening?" but rather, "How can women fend off these attacks as they're happening?" Women are encouraged to take self-defense courses and do things in pairs. Good advice? Sure. You can never be too safe, and self-defense is a good skill to have in your back pocket.
But have you ever wondered why we don't give men the same advice? That's no coincidence.
Furthermore, by shifting this responsibility from the perpetrators, you're also creating an environment where, if someone should become a victim, they can be blamed for it if they didn't do anything to prevent it.
The point is not to discourage women or anyone else from taking extra safety precautions, because with the help of those self-defense lessons, Herron was able to escape to safety. The point, rather, is to question this climate we live in, where we need to always be on guard and prepared for a fight. What happened to Herron and others like her aren't random, isolated experiences. There's a pattern; and it will only change if we repeatedly teach people not to attack and assault in the first place.
Equally important, as Herron explains, is to never back down. "The reason I'm speaking out about my horrible assault is to make sure everyone, including my fellow runners, keep getting outside and enjoying life. Yes, get self defense-training, yes take precautions, yes be aware of your surroundings, but get out there and do something. We can't let others keep us inside and in fear all of the time — at least, 'not today.'"