Justice

This Jogger's Story Got People Talking About Self-Defense and Sexual Assault

Kelly Herron of Seattle, Washington, lived every woman's nightmare when she was attacked while jogging in a park.

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Herron stopped in a public restroom in Golden Gardens Park on Sunday, March 5, and was washing her hands when she was attacked, PEOPLE reports. Local police report her alleged attacker, 40-year-old Gary Steiner, was hiding in a bathroom stall, according to Seattle news affiliate KIRO 7.

He "started beating me in the face with his hand," Herron told PEOPLE. But she fought him off. "I was screaming at him, 'not today, motherfucker.' Being loud and not afraid. I mean you are afraid, but letting him know you are not taking me down today. You are not going to win this fight," she said. Herron had just taken a self-defense class a mere three weeks before the attack. 

As it turns out, KIRO 7 reports, Steiner is "a level 3 sex offender who was convicted of assaulting several women in Arizona."

"Thankfully I just took a self-defense class offered at my work and utilized all of it," Herron wrote in an Instagram post, showing her wounds and the scene of the attack.

 

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Herron credits this self-defense class with saving her, adding: "my face is stitched, my body is bruised, but my spirit is intact."

Many women are saying the story has spurred them to take self-defense classes too. It should be noted, however, that most sexual assault cases do not happen in the way Herron's did — with a violent attack from stranger. The reality, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, is that "in eight out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the person who sexually assaulted them."

While self-defense classes can of course be of immense help, it's also unfortunate they're necessary.

This ties into what self-defense expert Lynne Marie Wanamaker has dubbed the "self-defense paradox," writer Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett noted in a May 2015 column for The Guardian. "One facet of this paradox," Wanamaker says, "is the fact that one person – the perpetrator – holds sole responsibility for the decision to assault someone. The other is the fact that people at risk of violence can take effective steps to increase their own safety."

 

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Cosslett acknowledges there are some who think the lesson taught should be, instead, "Don’t teach women how not to get raped; teach men not to rape." She continues:

"That’s all very well, I think, when I hear this, but I am not about to sit around waiting for a mammoth cultural shift before I feel safer on the streets. Until society changes, what’s wrong with any woman equipping herself with some of the skills that could (and the word 'could' is crucial here – there are no certainties) give her a fighting chance? Self-defence [sic] is not my responsibility; it is my choice, just as it is every woman’s choice."

As Wanamaker explains on her website, "far too many self-defense classes reinforce the myth of stranger-danger and shade into victim-blaming, as if women’s behavior was the determinant factor in whether or not one was subject to sexual assault."

"But in a world where as many as one in five women will be sexually assaulted," Wannamaker continues, "it is prudent and effective for us to build skills that promote our own safety. Until rapists stop raping, prevention education that empowers women to identify, interrupt and respond to sexual assault will be an essential part of the equation."