Running Safety is More than Just a Safety Vest – 10 Precautionary Ways to Avoid Runner Assaults

When you contemplate running safely, most of us think of safety vests, blinking lights, and bright clothes. However, this article delves a little deeper into the dark side of runner safety; staying safe from assaults.

Recently, there have been a series of these piling up.  These types of assaults bring up different concerns about running safely and ones that are in sharp contrast to the usual ones, such as avoiding becoming a target. Please rememeber that you can have all the best and brightest running gear, but assaults happen day or night.

Assaults seem rare, but how rare are they really? I am not trying to scare you, but is it so bad we cannot go outside safely anymore? Especially as a female runner? I was not able to find many statistics on running assaults.  One blog, Science-Based Running, decided they wanted to know the answer to this question and researched the statistics of runner assaults.  Surprisingly, they found very little statistics on this matter. They focused on the statistics of violent crimes instead, and the fact that very few assaults (aggravated or otherwise) and murders were by strangers of the victims*.

They stated that, “Seventy-eight percent of assaults were committed by someone known to the victim. Less than 14 percent of rapes were committed in open areas like parks and greenways (the numbers we have in this report combine “locations such as an apartment yard; a park, field, or playground not on school property; a location on the street other than that immediately adjacent to home of the victim, a relative, or a friend; on public transportation; in a station or depot for bus or train; on a plane; or in an airport.)” Their deductions stated that about 3% of all rapes (with women most likely to be the victims) are from some sort of “random guy jumping out from behind a bush” attack.  While that number is not significantly high, it would still suck to be in that minority. Even if the occurrences are low or if they may be on the rise, every runner should at least take as many precautionary measures as possible before going out for their run.

First off, I feel it is necessary, before going into some recommendations on assault avoidance, that nothing is 100% foolproof when it comes to assault. You can take all the precautions possible, and the assault could still be unavoidable. Erica Winnestorfer said “(For) night runs  –  well-lit, no headphones, my dog and brass knuckles. I run in a nice area where things rarely happen, but reality is that things do happen. I’m prior military and am confident in my abilities to protect myself, but a sneaky creeper will always have an advantage.”

I am military too, and I will admit, like this article’s author, I too have been scared once or twice while out running. So we asked our Run Oregon Blog readers what they did to stay safe, and I scoured the internet to find some more ideas to lower your chances of assault.

  1. Run with Man’s Best Friend. The number one precautionary method used by Run Oregon readers were dogs; large dogs especially. One Run Oregon Blog reader, Erin McGibbon, mentioned that in addition to having her dog with her,  she will “soothe her (dog) when we’re around people as if she’s agitated. She is a total sweetheart and would not dream of biting someone, but no one needs to know that. I read somewhere that dogs can be enough of an X factor to make you seem not worth it to potential attackers.”
  2. Run with Friends or in a Group. There is power in numbers. Plus running with someone provides other benefits according to blogger Paul Jolicoeur!
  3. Leave the Headphones at Home, Especially at Night. Allow yourself the ability to pay attention to your surroundings and the sounds that could alert you. For example, the snapping of branches as someone lurches towards you, could be the powerful few seconds you need to get away.
  4. Run in Daylight, or if Running at Night, Stay in Well Lit and Familiar Areas or Run in Daylight.  Running in daylight increases visibility and less risk of an attack due to this factor, always try to avoid isolated trails and choose paths you understand well. Knowing the area could give your mind the ability to react more safety in a fight or flight situation., especially during the night-time.
  5. Frequent Populated Areas and Trails for Your Running Routes. Populated areas tend to discourage assailants, due to the desire to avoid being caught. Not fail-proof, but it definitely increases the safety factor.
  6. Carry a Weapon to Deter Assault. E.g. Pepper Spray/Mace/gun/brass knuckles/Taser or another weapon could be the item that helps you get away. Another Run Oregon Blog reader recommended the items sold by ;“Equipping, empowering, and educating. Sassy stun guns, pepper sprays, and personal security items”.
  7. Take a Self Defense Course. Even a basic self-defense course help you rehearse dangerous situations, which will train you to maintain the emotional intelligence needed in a high stress situation, such as an assault, and respond in ways that hopefully will disable the attacker. If you cannot take a course, Run Oregon Blog reader Serena Randall advised “just remember jab (eyes, throat, and nuts).”
  8. Stay Aware & Make Eye Contact. Many Run Oregon Blog readers mentioned eye contact was crucial to potentially avoiding assault.  Attackers look for the weakest and unaware victims. A vigilant runner who makes eye contact is more likely to make a potential attacker think twice and most likely avoid you.
  9. Be Conservative of Your Whereabouts Online.  Be cautious about using social media to publicly broadcast where you are running, especially if you are alone. Leaving profiles open publicly means not only friends and family can see you, but also dangerous online lurkers. If using social media openly is important to you, just be aware of the risk of doing so. Leave the public social media messages for when you are running a race or sanctioned event.
  10. Use a Safety App/Attack Alarm Device/Phone App . Check your phone for its safety features. There are also safety apps and devices that can alert others in emergency situations and some are mentioned below. On another note, do not leave for a run without a fully charged phone or batteries for your devices.
  • I know the Galaxy S5 has a safety feature to press a button three times and it will alert contacts (you identify), take a picture, and a recording. (I will say I have accidentally set of my Galaxy S5 alarm once by accident, only finding out when my brother called me in a panic.)
  • RoadID has an iPhone and android app that shows an emergency contact on the display/lock screen.
  • Glympse app (android for sure, do not know about iOS) publicly shares your location by sending a text message to people of your choosing (Meliha’s husband suggested deleting the location history after every time).
  • sends an alerts after your pre-set time has passed (don’t lose track of time, Meliha did, and it called her husband).

These suggestions are not 100% foolproof, I understand that, but they increase your survival exponentially. It’s a scary world out there. Should you be so scared, it paralyzes you? No. Utilize these suggestions to help improve your chances for a safer run and reduce the chance you will become a victim.

Edited 15 October 2014: Please note that the victim is NEVER at fault if they are attacked, EVER.  I am sorry I did not mention this previously. A commentor brought up this point and I wholeheartedly agree. I do not however regret writing the peace and do not believe it is fear mongering. I am not the expert on the statistics surrounding this topic. Yes, you are more likely to be attacked at home or die in a car accident. However, if any of my tips help one person, least of all reminding myself to be vigilient, then I will have NO regrets. I guess I should also mention this is an opinion piece 🙂

Blogger’s Note: Are you familiar in self-defense and/or running with weapons? We are looking for a blogger who is an expert on running with multiple weapons, and can submit a guest blog on recommendations for the best safety devices (to carry) while running.

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