Women running alone after Mollie Tibetts’s death

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Women running alone after Mollie Tibetts’s death

Celia Gould (‘19) will not stop running on her own or carry pepper spray to make her feel safer, despite what others have recommended.

Celia Gould (‘19) will not stop running on her own or carry pepper spray to make her feel safer, despite what others have recommended.

Sophie Nall (‘22) I Chips

Celia Gould (‘19) will not stop running on her own or carry pepper spray to make her feel safer, despite what others have recommended.

Sophie Nall (‘22) I Chips

Sophie Nall (‘22) I Chips

Celia Gould (‘19) will not stop running on her own or carry pepper spray to make her feel safer, despite what others have recommended.

Sophie Nall, Staff Writer

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Last July, University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts was abducted while running by herself in Brooklyn, Iowa. She was last seen July 18, and the search gained national attention until her body was eventually discovered on Aug. 21. Tibbetts was killed after she threatened to call the police on a man who had been following her as she ran. This tragedy has re-ignited discussions about the safety of female and femme-identifying runners, particularly when running alone all across the country, including in Decorah.

In response to three women being murdered while running in a three day span in the summer of 2016, “Runner’s World” began conducting a survey on experiences American women and men may have had while running. According to that survey released in the summer of 2017, 58 percent of women under 30 surveyed experienced harassment on runs and 30 percent reported that a harasser had followed them on a run.

Maya Evans (‘19) has been a runner since eighth grade and is passionate about running.

“I used to run outside all the time because I just really liked it,” Evans said. “It’s a good way to get away from it all and to just kind of relax and clear my mind. I used to run on the trails a lot [in Decorah] and other places that I’ve lived.”

Celia Gould (‘19) has run for three years. Her favorite spot for a run in Decorah is the Trout Run Trail because it is more trafficked than other trails nearby. She has mixed feelings about running alone around the Luther campus.

“I feel safe during the day for sure, but I definitely [feel unsafe] when I’m listening to music,” Gould said. “I try to make sure that I’m looking around a little more actively, but at night I definitely feel a little unnerved.”

Assistant Professor of Music Jennaya Robison (‘96) has run regularly for six years and enjoys exploring the local trails. Though she does not feel unsafe when running on her own, she worries for other runners.

“I never listen to music when I run,” Robison said. “I see that as the thing that concerns me the most, when I see women running by themselves in the dark and with music.”

The story of Mollie Tibbetts’s murder has not only impacted the Brooklyn community but also female and femme-identifying runners across Iowa and beyond. In the wake of the tragedy, runners struggle with whether or not to make changes, when something they do regularly may not be as safe as they thought.

Erin Ellefsen (‘17) is a life-long runner and participated in cross country and distance track and field each year during her four years at Luther. While most of her runs were done at practice time in groups, she ran alone on some occasions. Ellefsen recounted feeling relatively safe while running alone in Decorah as a Luther student.

“I think naively I felt safe,” Ellefsen said. “I think Decorah just has this ‘community-small-town’ feel, which I think is part of the naive part.”

Ellefsen said she had not heard of any serious crimes being committed in Decorah in her time there, adding to her sense of safety.

In the aftermath of Tibbetts’s murder, Evans’s mom had a strong reaction. She was very worried about her daughter’s safety while running in Decorah.

“My mom actually made me promise that I wouldn’t [run outdoors] because she’s never really liked that I did,” Evans said. “After Mollie Tibbetts was murdered this summer, that was a strong reminder of how real [the danger] is … I used to [feel safe] but I think I’ve come to realize that it is a real concern.”

Female and femme-identifying runners have had mixed reactions to the tragedy. While some have changed their habits, others find it difficult to do so.

“After the Mollie Tibbetts [story] I ran with pepper spray for like a week, and then [I stopped],” Gould said. “It was [a hassle].”

Robison reflected on the extent to which the tragedy has impacted her running habits.

“Maybe it should have, but no,” Robison said. “I mean I have two [cans] of pepper spray but I never bring them. My dad has always told me [that I] need to bring them.”

Upon graduating from Luther, Ellefsen moved to Boulder, Colorado to pursue graduate level studies. Living in Boulder, which is larger than Decorah, she does not feel naively safe any longer. Ellefsen still runs alone sometimes as she has not found the right group to run with yet. However, she tries to complete most runs during daylight. If she is running as the sun is going down, she wears a reflective vest and uses a self-defense keychain in the shape of a cat; the ears are sharpened to a point to act as protection.

Tibbetts’s murder has prompted conversations about how people, namely women and those who are femme-identifying, can take precautions to be safe while running. The balance between the cultural responsibility to prevent occurrences such as this and the responsibility of female and femme-identifying people to protect themselves has become a point of discussion for runners and non-runners alike.

“Everyone says you have to carry [pepper spray, and] they put [the responsibility] on you,” Gould said. “[It’s] like, if you’re running without pepper spray then you’re being reckless, when really it shouldn’t be like that.”

Gould’s sentiment of frustration is shared by other women runners, too. Evans is dissatisfied with the reality that her safety is compromised.

“It’s really sad that as a female runner you can’t safely run outside by yourself,” Evans said. “It’s sad and frustrating in my opinion.”

While living in Boulder, Ellefsen had an experience while running that made this compromise to her safety very real.

“In the spring, I had a terrifying altercation on a trailhead to where I’m much more aware of what I do, where I am,” Ellefsen said. “This made it more real, like this could happen to me.”

Following this experience, Ellefsen found herself more aware of the possible dangers of running. Tibbetts’s murder was especially impactful as it resonated with her personal experience.

“Mollie Tibbetts’s [murder] happened after my incident at the trailhead, and I think that was probably the first thing that was really in the news that happened after that,” Ellefsen said. “[I was] just shocked at how naive I had been before, and I think angry and terrified seeing something awful happen to someone else, it’s a problem that shouldn’t be happening that nobody’s doing anything about.”

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