Maybe you love jogging, or maybe you love complaining about going jogging, but chances are, you or someone close to you jogs fairly regularly. Unfortunately, an activity that's beloved by many and offers plenty of health benefits also comes with a real risk. Consider what happened earlier this year, when the tragic story of a woman who was killed while jogging rocked the nation.
University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts was last seen going for an evening jog in the rural farming town of Brooklyn, Iowa on July 18. Over a month later, her body was found in a cornfield. A man named Cristhian Rivera allegedly led authorities to the jogger’s body, according to an arrest affidavit obtained by Oxygen.com.
He told police he approached Tibbetts as he saw her jogging. He began following her, so Tibbetts threatened to call the police if he didn’t leave her alone. Rivera then said he blacked out.
When he came to, he claimed he was in an intersection with Tibbetts in the trunk of his car and her earbuds in his lap. As he went to retrieve her, he “noticed blood on the side of her head,” according to the affidavit. “The defendant further described during the interview that he dragged Tibbetts on foot from his vehicle to a secluded location in a cornfield,” the affidavit said.
Tibbett’s tragic death is a nightmare for any jogger. And she is not to blame for what happened to her.
“No matter your race, your religion, your outfit, your size, your height, everyone should have the ability to feel safe while doing the things they love,” Self defense expert Jennifer Cassetta told Oxygen.com. She has a third-degree black belt in Hapkido, and founded and teaches the Stilettos & Self Defense class. “This is not to just put the onus on women or to blame victims, but we can take personal responsibility as much as we can. Unfortunately, we have to think about these things. I absolutely encourage women to keep doing the things that they love. Do not stop running outdoors and do not let your fear take you out of the game. There are some tips you can follow with your personal safety in mind.”
A study done by two criminologists showed that predatory people search for certain types of victims. They often look for people who are not paying attention and for people in desolate areas, like Tibbetts.
Kathleen Baty, a personal safety expert who goes by The Safety Chick told Oxygen.com that we can learn from this study. She said safety in numbers, keeping in highly trafficked areas, and avoiding being out alone late at night is key. She said predatory people often like to strike at night or where they cannot be observed.
But what about when you want to run solo?
Here are some tips for staying safe while jogging alone:
1. Avoid darkness while jogging alone.
Baty urges people to avoid certain times, like early in the morning when it’s still dark or late at night. She also noted there’s often a police shift change in the late afternoon, so there isn't as much patrolling going on. Pay attention to local police presence.
2. Be calm but alert.
“That’s a general way to be,” Cassetta told Oxygen.com. “That can enhance your situational awareness. Keep your senses alert, mostly your eyesight. Check around you and make sure your eyesight isn’t blocked by reading emails and texts while you are out and about.”
3. That goes for your ears, too.
“If you have that music cranked in your ear buds, you can’t hear anything,” Baty said. “You get wrapped up in your music, you’re not paying attention.”
Cassetta said she was once grabbed from behind while checking a voicemail.
“I don’t tell women to not wear their headphones, but what I would offer is a suggestion to have one earbud out or have the music low enough so that you can hear your surroundings.”
She added to make sure to check your back from time to time.
4. Be equipped.
Have your phone handy, Baty advised. There are a number of free safety apps you can download. There’s also pepper spray, which can be shot up to 10 to 15 feet from your body. You can also carry personal alarms on your keychain to alert bystanders.
5. Trust your gut.
“Your intuition is a gift,” Cassetta told Oxygen.com. “Fear acts as a gift to us. It alerts us that something might be off. Once you have a gut feeling, your body is telling you that something is off about a person or a place you’re in; definitely check it out. Do not ignore your intuition, which we tend to do a lot.”
6. Check your boundaries.
If someone is creeping up close to you in a remote area, that might be cause for concern, Cassetta said. When people invade your space you can either run away or confront, she explained.
7. Communicate with your body.
Cassetta said that body language while running is important. She said good body posture shows a potential attacker that you are alert and confident. Keep your shoulders back, your head held high, and make brief eye contact with people in your path.
“If you do have to confront someone, dropping your voice down low will be more powerful than a shrill or high voice,” she said. “Telling someone, ‘get away from me,’ ‘get out of my space,’ are all things I have people practice saying in my class.”
Cassetta said a natural fear when approached by someone with potentially bad intentions is to freeze up, but she said that’s not the only option. In addition to using your voice, you can also take a powerful stance by having a wider stance and bending your knees, which makes it harder for someone to push, pull, or knock you to the ground.
8. Fight back.
If you cannot run and you’ve been grabbed, fighting back is another option.
Continue to try to take a powerful stance to avoid being knocked to the ground, but also know your weapons and your targets, Cassetta advised.
Your hands and fingers can be used for eye gouging. Your fists can be used to punch soft areas like the eyes, throat, and groin, Cassetta said. The elbows and knees can be used for striking and the feet for kicking.
The soft areas of an attacker's body are the best to target because your fists can cause the most amount of damage with the least amount of effort, Cassetta told Oxygen.com.
9. Take a self-defense class.
Cassetta said taking one class a year can enhance your awareness.
“You can get comfortable using your body as a weapon,” she said.
10. Know that crime knows no boundaries or demographics.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re in a rural farm town as we know, or if you’re in a big city, or a safe neighborhood,” Baty said. “Predators are everywhere. It’s not about being paranoid. It’s about being smart and confident and empowered.”
[Source: Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation]
Crime Time is your destination for true crime stories from around the world, breaking crime news, and information about Oxgen's original true crime shows and documentaries. Sign up for our Crime Time Newsletter and subscribe to our true crime podcast Martinis & Murder for all the best true crime content.