I was out for a run one Sunday morning, probably thinking about a recent track race or what I was going to wear to church that day. I was 16 years old. A man crossed the street in front of me and started walking the same direction that I was running. Just as I was about to pass him and give a friendly “hello” he turned around. I froze. He grabbed me, pushed me into the woods and sexually assaulted me. Years later, while I was in college, I found out they had caught him using DNA evidence from the crime scene. He had been arrested for doing the same thing to an elderly woman. They compared his sample to a sample from my case and got a match. And my case wasn’t the only match, I’m sure.
It wasn’t about what I was wearing or how I looked. He was a terrible man, and did a terrible thing to me. And yet, the comments that came after the attack seemed to place some of the blame on me, the victim.
“Why were you out running by yourself?”
“Why didn’t you just turn around and run away?”
“You should have been carrying pepper spray.”
This is my reality. Our reality as women. I took those comments to heart. I don’t like to run by myself now, and I usually run with pepper spray if I have to run alone. I don’t know why I froze in that moment, but I did.
I could have chosen to quit running, out of fear. But I am persistent if anything.