In the early hours of Valentine’s morning a 40 year old woman in Gaborone was raped while running. I’ve struggled to find the words to describe how I felt upon hearing this news. I have always spoken of my love for running outdoors and for my passion of exploring different places. So this news hit me hard. I don’t know this runner but in that moment I felt a crushing pain for her, for what she must have felt and for the journey she now has to take to reach some level of healing from this unimaginable trauma. I cried for her but also for all women, particularly runners, who were hit by the news on that day. I’ve had several messages from women asking if they should still keep running. Usually, I’m unwavering in my stance, that no one should stop us from running. But this time, I didn’t have the heart or the strength to utter those words.
Let me try to explain my thoughts and feelings as best as I can. The first thing that shook me were the similarities – according to reports, she is the same age as me and the assault took place about 3km from my house in an area I’ve run before. She had probably also fought the usual mental battle we runners tend to have on a Monday morning before heading out. In the theme of Valentine’s Day, I’d posted a blog about why I love running. And here was someone doing what they love, only to get violently assaulted. In what world does this even make sense?
The second thing that shook me was our typical “Let’s put it on the woman to stay safe” response. Both the Police and Public, all well-meaning of course, were quick to instruct women to run with someone or in a group, to run at certain times, to avoid certain areas. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve said the same thing. I’ve even written a post about ways women can stay safe on the run. I think we know the rules that have been imposed on us. In fact, the reason I haven’t finished my #RunEveryStreet project in Block 3 is because the last section can’t be done on my own. No, I need my husband there as a form of protection. Imagine that. I need my husband to run with me so I feel safe for what is probably a 5km run. Let that sink in. What exactly is Government, law enforcement, or civil society at large doing to ensure that strategies are put in place to keep US safe? Are we seriously happy to sit back and say “Women should stay safe while running.” We are trying to! The real question is: What are YOU doing to keep us safe?
The third thing that shook me was some of the vitriol on social media – aside from those who blamed women for not taking enough care, there were some men who dared to criticise us for running in tights! Tell me oh wise man, what would you like us to run in? What kind of idiotic comment is that? And why is there no penalty that exists for such comments – if anything, to investigate further what a man who can utter such nonsense is capable of doing if he met said-woman in tights on the street?
Yes, we as women are aware there are measures we can take to feel more secure when we run. We also know that even with those measures, we still experience leering looks, lewd comments, body shaming – but sure, I guess at this point we should be grateful most of those are not life threatening. We are trying to stay safe. But when are we going to focus on real solutions for creating a society where a woman can run in the early morning or on a lonely trail without fear of abuse, assault, rape or murder. It’s time to stop putting the onus on women to change their behaviours to stay safe. Let’s imagine a world where women can safely and rightfully run where we like and alone if that’s what we choose. Let’s change the narrative, let’s change the conversation and focus on real solutions that actually keep women safe.