Almost 8 out of 10 women feel unsafe when running or jogging in public. Here's how to protect yourself

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As many as 79% of South African women feel unsafe while running or jogging in public. Illustration photo by Getty Images
As many as 79% of South African women feel unsafe while running or jogging in public. Illustration photo by Getty Images
  • As many as 79% of South African women feel unsafe while running or jogging in public, according to a recent survey by insurer 1st for Women. 
  • This means it is quite a real possibility that any of us may be attacked, in which case there will be three main human reactions: Fight, flight or freeze.
  • Below are tips on what to do if you need to fight your attacker in order to save your own life, as well as what you can do now to make your runs and jogs a bit safer.

Recently a woman from Mpumalanga reportedly found herself in a 40-minute life and death struggle with an attacker who tried to rape her. The woman, who was running at the time, was attacked along the road between Mataffin and Sabie/Lydenberg.

The attacker dragged her from behind and pulled her by her neck for about 800 metres to the river.

She eventually got free and she spent five days in ICU recovering from the brutal attack.

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She is not alone, and many others do not survive the brutality. Women the world over battle with constant harassment and the threat of attacks while trying to run or exercise outdoors.

As many as 79% of South African women feel unsafe while running or jogging in public, according to a recent survey by insurer 1st for Women. 

"International research highlights the increased threat of physical harm or harassment for female joggers. While many such cases go unreported, extreme cases are reported to the police and the media," says Seugnette van Wyngaard, Head of 1st for Women. "The issue needs to be highlighted so that women can take back their space."

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It's not about learning self-defence moves, which takes years of training and muscle memory. It's about having the mental knowledge and physical ability to make choices that may save your life in any threatening situation or circumstance.

"If you find yourself in a life-threatening situation, there are only three human reactions: Fight, flight and freeze," says Mark Grobbelaar, founder of Woman INpowered (WIP).

"If you choose flight, try and get away from the situation as fast as possible. Freezing is not a good option. If you choose to fight, you must make sure that whatever you do immobilises the attacker. Otherwise, it'll anger him."

Mark says if you have to fight to save your life, the way the Mpumalanga woman did, there is a simple tool that has proven to be devastatingly effective which you can use. 

"It's something that is taught by WIP that empowers women to do what they have to do that could keep from being hurt, raped, robbed or killed," he says.

"There is only one target on the human body that can immobilise any attacker with very little training, and that is the throat because there is no muscle in the throat, and when you strike the throat, the attacker stops breathing."

Mark shares the technique which is best used when you are in front of the attacker:

  • It would help if you stood as close as possible without being in the attacker's space.
  • Place your feet a shoulder-width apart.
  • Your hips should be at a 45-degree angle to the attacker.
  • If he is behind you, turn around to face him by whatever means  possible.
  • Use your whole body, swivel your hips and shoulders and punch through on the throat as hard as possible.

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Seugnette highlights more safety tips for women joggers: 

Join the Women for Change campaign: Founded in 2016 by Sabrina Walter, this website encourages women runners to participate in virtual races and funds raised through entry fees towards charities such as Rape Crisis and the Tears Foundation. 

Be aware of your surroundings: Headphones are great for playing tunes that help motivate you while running, but they can also block out surrounding sounds that could alert you to danger. Try to keep your headphone volume low if you feel you must use them. 

Stay in contact: Let someone know when you are going to be running and what route you will be following. You can also check in with them at the end of your run with a simple text message. 

Vary the times of your runs: Attacks while you are running are often spontaneous attacks when a perpetrator spots an opportunity. However, predictable patterns are also a safety concern. Try to have some variation in the timing of your runs and avoid running when it is dark or in isolated areas. You could run an hour earlier or later and change up your routine when it comes to the days of the week when you choose to run. 

Carry a whistle: You can buy a sports whistle from R60 to R130, and having it on a lanyard around your neck means you can raise the alarm quite quickly if you feel unsafe. The loud noise may also startle your attacker into running away. 

Use an app to call for help: Alternatively, there are various mobile or app-based panic buttons available, including the 1st for Women panic button, which you can use in any emergency where you feel unsafe. 

Run in a group: There's safety in numbers. 

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