A year ago this month, Jerika Binks went for a run. No one has heard from her since. A natural runner who often trained for hours alone, she began her daily route around 9 am and made her way to the Highland Trail in Utah around 10 am. This was supposed to be the easy part of her run. But there’s no evidence Jerika ever made it out. It took 8 days for the police to begin actively searching for her after she went missing. Despite rescue planes, helicopters, and drones, no one could find Jerika, or any trace of her on the trail. The most likely theory? “Foul play is the only reason Jerika didn’t return from her run.” The lead detective on the case admits that “abduction hasn’t been ruled out” and could very well be the reason for her disappearance.
But Jerika isn’t alone. In the summer of 2016, three, unrelated girls from all over the country were murdered while jogging alone in the span of just nine days. While this is clearly an isolated example that doesn’t reflect the true crime rates of female joggers, it does shed light on the sad and scary truth that female runners are, in fact, at risk of unwanted attention, harassment, and even abduction or murder. According to a study done by Michelle Hamilton of Runner’s World, 58% of women under 30 reported experiencing harassment while running, 30% say they had been actively followed by a harasser (by bike, foot, or vehicle), and 18% admitted to being sexually propositioned with obscene comments and/or gestures. These statistics speak for themselves. Female runners are in danger. And that’s not okay.
In the era of #MeToo, it’s disappointing and unsettling to find new ways in which women are being targeted and victimized. Women shouldn’t feel unsafe running alone, and they certainly shouldn’t have to switch to gym workouts or class exercises because of fear. Hey, I love a good Soul Cycle class just as much as the next girl, but I also know the empowering and freeing feeling you can get from running outside. It feels good. It feels strong. But, 23% of women said they switched to other exercises that make them feel safer. Safer, not stronger, happier, healthier. Just safer. So, what are we supposed to do? Stand on the sidelines, hide in the middle of spin classes and yoga studios? That’s an option. But, my advice is to be proactive. Be smart. Use apps that track your GPS and running routes, take pepper spray or safeguard bracelets, and always always always either tell a friend, or better yet, take a friend.
This isn’t a problem we can solve tomorrow. This isn’t a problem we can just blame men for. This is a problem we have to handle ourselves. Girls helping girls. You helping you. I can’t promise you that we can make running alone safe. But I won’t stop trying. By spreading awareness, spurring innovation, and sharing our stories, we can create a community that helps and protects each other. So, run girl, run!