Life-altering experience began with a simple jog

Sunday, July 8, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:24 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Last Tuesday evening, I went jogging.

Another female jogger was coming in my direction. We both stopped at the intersection of University and College, and she revealed that she had seen the campus security release the University of Missouri Police Department had sent out about an assault on College Avenue that happened a week before. She had gone out a little earlier in the evening than usual, with the report in mind.

She remembered the release again, moments before I met her, when she passed a man fitting the description of the attacker. Like the assault victim from the news release, she was jogging on College, by herself, her clothes nothing special. Just a white T-shirt and cotton shorts.

How do I know that?

Because the assault victim in the news release was me.

It’s been my goal since spring to make jogging a habit — at least twice a week. I would head to South Campus and back to my house. A quick jog, especially for someone as out of shape as me.

My roommate is a worrier. So when I left the house on June 19 a little after 10 p.m. and she asked me how long I would be gone, I rolled my eyes like a teenager to her mother.

“Maybe, like, 20 minutes?” I said. “I’m just going down to the bridge and back.”

I couldn’t understand why she would worry about me. I’m an independent, fearless person. I’m one of those girls who can go to a public bathroom by herself instead of in a clan of other females. I’ll even answer a knock at the front door if no one else is home. So jogging at night by myself on a well-lit, major road in Columbia? I never gave it a second thought.

And then I was about three-quarters of a mile from my house, and a man tackled me. Suddenly I was on the ground, screaming and struggling. But he said nothing to me. And when I was free of his grasp, and stood up and ran, he stood up and walked in the opposite direction. It was over.

Of course, it wasn’t.

I had no cell phone. I had left it home to charge. I never jog without my cell phone, except that night. Finding one of the blue light emergency phones, which are spread out on campus, didn’t occur to me, probably because there weren’t any in sight. So I ran home, thinking I overreacted. My roommate called the police while I took a quick shower, re-evaluating what had happened and calming myself down. The guy didn’t really hurt me. I was just a little shaken.

But then I stayed shaken. Especially after the campus police department told me there were so many “red flags” in my story that they didn’t exactly believe me. And then they asked me if I would be willing to take a lie detector test.

What? They thought I was lying? They didn’t understand. I’m one of those good kids. You know, the one who’s never skipped a class in her three years of college.

My integrity had been questioned, attacked, even. So I took it, and passed it. I gave them the T-shirt and shorts I had worn that night, which are now at the Missouri State Highway Patrol crime lab being analyzed for trace evidence.

A week later, I wouldn’t eat if I was by myself. I ate about one meal a day, only if a friend offered to go out to eat dinner with me, or if my roommate asked me to cook with her, or if my employer offered me a handful of Goldfish crackers.

One night, I pulled into my driveway and called my roommate to ask if she’d come to the back door and watch me come in.

This was new for me: Being afraid to be by myself. The guy who tackled me didn’t hurt me physically. But the aftermath changed me into a person I didn’t like, a person I wasn’t used to dealing with. I’m known for my cut-the-crap, fearless, determined attitude. For a week, I wasn’t that person. I’m angry I had to go jogging at Stankowski Field two nights after it happened, instead of down the street I know so well. I’m angry that, while I got away, someone else might not be so fortunate. I’m angry that I’m not as fearless as I thought I was.

I did everything right, except for leaving the cell phone behind to begin with. Maybe those campus safety skits they show you at Summer Welcome really do make a difference. I struggled as soon as someone who I didn’t know grabbed me. I yelled for help. I ran away from danger and reported what had happened. Why couldn’t I get over it yet?

This incident knocked me down in an emotional way. I will forever think twice about being anywhere alone after dark.

But I faced my fear by jogging down the same street a week after I had been assaulted. Except that time, I had my cell phone, and it wasn’t dark outside.

It took me about two weeks to be back to my daily habits — eating meals without having other people with me, being able to walk in my back door without asking my roommate to watch out for me, and even sleeping by myself at night. I realized I had become one of those girly girls who I used to make fun of. I had become that scared, wimpy female who needs someone to hold her hand all the time.

I got so angry at that person that I decided to get over it. I had entered and lived the world of the “scared assault victim.” I lived in it for a week and decided I didn’t like it. I talked to several people about what happened. The reactions ranged from suggesting I form an on-campus group for others with similar experiences to scolding me for being out by myself at night.

Being scolded just made me angrier. So even though there’s probably some large life lesson I should have learned from this experience, I still believe that I should be able to jog wherever and whenever I want. I shouldn’t have to be afraid. So I’m not going to be.

Meeting the other woman who was jogging alone on the street where I was tackled a week earlier was important. I was relieved by the fact that another woman was not so afraid that she stopped going out to jog.

Even though it took me a little while to get over it, I realized that I can take care of myself, even though I’m not as invincible as I once thought I was.

I’m still going to keep jogging.

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