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For much of my life, I was a runner. Mrs. Manor and I participated in marathons and many other shorter runs, including the first ever run around the base of Devil’s Tower. As age caught up to us, and knees and hips no longer worked as enthusiastically and smoothly as they once did, we’ve switched to bicycling. In all those years, the running and bicycling press have scrupulously avoided one subject: properly protecting vulnerable runners and riders, often alone on long runs and rides in isolated areas. The occasional article spoke of the usual ineffective methods, such as sprays, whistles and the like, or the scourge of rapists and other assorted thugs everywhere: the cellphone. However, none told the truth, a truth particularly vital to women, as illustrated by the tale of Kelly Herron, a courageous, and fortunate, young woman. Fox News reports:

I fought for my life screaming(“Not today, M**F**er!”), clawing his face, punching back, and desperately trying to escape his grip- never giving up,’ Heron wrote in the post, which had received more than 26,000 likes as of Tuesday morning. ‘I was able to lock him in the bathroom until police arrived. Thankfully I just took a self-defense class offered at my work and utilized all of it.”

In the post, Herron features three photos, including one of her bloody face — with a gash above her left eyebrow and a wound on her left nostril — and another with an aerial view of the bathroom with red lines from the GPS in her fitness tracker, which documented the harrowing attack.

According to police, the attacker was Gary Steiner, a 40-year-old registered sex offender in Arizona who has a history of assaulting women, ABC News reported.

I hope it is a surprise to no one that a known sex offender with a history of assaulting women was not in jail. Obviously, Steiner had already done time in jail for sex offenses. Honest corrections officials and psychologists will affirm that sex offenders virtually never reform. Enlightened penology in such cases would logically involve locking the door and throwing away the key. Unfortunately, that’s not the way things work, and sex offenders and other sociopaths are everywhere.

Four miles into a planned 10-mile run in Seattle’s Golden Gardens park on Sunday, 36-year-old Kelly Herron stopped for what she thought would be a quick bathroom break. But when she stepped out of a public bathroom stall, it was anything but.

In a viral Instagram post, Herron recounted being brutally attacked on by a man hiding in the restroom.

What’s most likely is Steiner was nearby, watching, waiting his chance, and when Herron entered the empty bathroom alone, he took it, slipping in and waiting for her to exit the stall.

Herron told ABC she fought Steiner off by scratching and hitting the side of his face, aiming for hard bones and fleshy places, just as she learned in her self-defense class three weeks earlier.

‘All those little things that I learned in my life … how to punch and everything came back to me,’ she told ABC. ‘I started to feel like I was going to lose consciousness … but I got another surge of adrenaline, and I reached for the door and was able to get out.’

Steiner is reportedly being held in jail on $750,000 bail. According to ABC, he faces charges of attempted rape in the second degree, as well as second degree assault.

If convicted, which is likely but not a sure things by any means, Steiner will probably be in jail five or so years. It’s a virtual certainty that at the age of 40, he’ll be out and hunting again long before he’s too old to take advantage of his urges. The next time, he’ll probably be armed and determined to leave no witnesses. Even sociopaths learn from their mistakes.

Kelly Herron is the kind of woman I’d like to meet, and she’s fortunate indeed to be alive. All too often I see women, alone, running or riding, earbuds in their ears, paying little or no attention to their surroundings, and I shake my head and say a prayer for their safety. Does that sound sexist? If that was your first thought, read on, but prepare to be outraged, because I’m about to provide a dose of hard, cold reality.

Women are physically weaker than men. They are smaller, have substantially less upper body mass, muscle and strength, and are generally substantially less aggressive than men. What’s that you say? Some women are great martial artists? Indeed some are, but even they, if honest, will affirm that size, strength and aggression can easily overpower skill. In martial arts competitions, men do not fight women; the results are preordained. This is also why there are weight classes in such competitions. There was only one Bruce Lee, and 150 pound fighters do not take on 175 pound fighters, because the results are preordained. Does this mean studying the martial arts is useless? Certainly not. They provide many benefits, physical and psychological, but as Clint Eastwood said in Magnum Force, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

How did Kelly Herron win? She was lucky. For whatever reason, she did the right thing at the right time. She gave it her all; she didn’t quit. She fought until she won and kept her wits about her. Amazingly, she was able to lock the guy in the bathroom until the police could arrive. That’s extraordinarily rare. For whatever reason her attacker wasn’t armed, and wasn’t prepared to kill her to get what he wanted, or he didn’t get the chance. In a great many cases like this, perhaps most, we don’t hear from the victim afterward. We read a story about a missing woman, and a much smaller story days or months later about someone finding her body in a field or ditch in a remote area.

My face is stitched, my body is bruised, but my spirit is intact,’ Herron wrote on Instagram.

For this, I am glad. But for Kelly, and for every woman, I offer advice which can save lives.

Few people, particularly women, are ever involved in fights. They are fast, brutal and ugly. Being struck in the face is painful, stunning and destructive. Single blows can disfigure, cripple, even kill. Being attacked by someone larger and stronger is an overwhelming, potentially deadly situation. The kinds of fights one sees on TV and in the movies, where a smaller hero defeats multiple, much larger bad guys, are not fighting, but choreography. The smartest thing to do is to avoid confrontations.

To do that, one needs to develop situational awareness. Most people are completely unaware of what is happening outside their personal, arms-length bubble. Cell phones, ear buds, and other distractions have made this much worse. My article Bras And Guns And Knives, Oh My, speaks of a case of a madman on a train, pointing a gun at many people, their heads down in their cellphones, until he shot one.

Fortunately, anyone can develop better situational awareness by simply learning to pay attention to their surroundings, by always asking “what if?” What if that guy walking toward me tries to grab me? What if that guy reaching into his coat comes out with a gun? What will I do? Where will I go? If someone wanted to attack me when I left my home, where would they do it? Where’s the safest place to park? Which areas should I avoid? Spotting potential danger early enough provides opportunities to go elsewhere, to go where there are many people, or if properly armed, to deter an attack, or if necessary, end it. To this end, no one, and particularly, no woman, should ever run or ride with ear buds or any other electronic device distracting them. Not only does this make them easier targets for predators, it makes it more likely they’ll be run over by inattentive drivers. But running is no fun without my music! Neither is rape or being crushed beneath the wheels of a vehicle. That will never happen to me!

Probably not, but there is absolutely nothing keeping it from happening to you either. Ask Kelly Herron. People would be amazed to know how many sex offenders and other sociopaths are out there. They walk among us every day. They stand behind us at the checkout counter, sit near us in theaters, live down the street or in the apartment down the hall. Some plan their attacks carefully; others are opportunists. One thing is certain, exposing oneself to attack by being isolated, unaware and unprepared dramatically increases the odds against you.

What about pepper spray? The products commercially available are less powerful than those formulated for the police. During my police days I rarely used the stuff. Rarely because when I did, everybody got a dose. I ended up with running eyes and nose, coughing and hacking, but had no trouble wrestling the bad guys into submission as they coughed and hacked too. The stuff affects some people and causes them to stop being violent, but for most, it only makes them mad and causes them to sling bodily fluids in all directions. Its use also requires one to be close, closer than any rational person would want to be to someone trying to attack them, and the closer you are, the more of the stuff you’re going to get on you.

How about knives? The aforementioned article speaks of a female jogger who was attacked, survived, and designed a line of bras with holsters for small knives. The use of edged weapons is a martial art in and of itself. Anyone fighting with edged weapons must be ready to be cut, and cut badly. Their use also requires one to be within arms length of an attacker, and if you’re female, that attacker will likely have much greater reach, strength and speed. Even if one is highly skilled in the use of knives, it’s difficult to do enough damage to quickly stop an attacker, even they are unarmed and unskilled.

How about a cell phone? An attacker is not going to give you the time and space to dial 911 and calmly call for help, describing him and giving your location, to say nothing of police response time–think a minimum of 15 minutes after you connect with the dispatcher and fully explain yourself. By all means, carry a cell phone always, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it provides deterrence or protection.

What’s left? Handguns, the only self-defense arm that can deter or quickly stop a determined attacker, the only arm that can bridge the size, strength and speed gap between men and women. But I could never hurt someone! I just want to scare them!

That’s a laudable attitude, but it fails to take into account the intentions of anyone vicious enough to attack and rape a woman. Such attacks can leave one crippled, emotionally and physically, or if the attacker wants no witnesses, dead. Are you really so tender toward rapists and murderers? Is your life truly of so little value to you and those you love? Are the lives of sociopaths of greater value to your family and society than yours?

Every year or two, I update my series on gun ownership. The final part of that series is available here. It has links to the entire series, which discusses all of the issues revolving around gun ownership. It may be useful to those unsure about these issues.

Handguns are used as often as two million times a year to stop criminal assault, and in most of those instances, no shots are fired. The mere presence of a handgun is sufficient to make criminals turn tail and run. No one should count on this, however. No one should ever draw a handgun without being ready and willing to use it. Predators can read hesitation, and they’ll take advantage of it. It is the will to use a handgun that deters, not merely brandishing it.

Fortunately, many manufacturers are now making small, light and easily concealed handguns, and several manufacturers make bras and other fitting devices for carrying them while running or riding. Combined with situational awareness, one can maintain sufficient distance to avoid, deter or prevent attacks, and if attacked, to end them.

S&W Bodyguard with integral Crimson Trace laser sight

Among the best contemporary choices are the Smith and Wesson Bodyguard in .380 ACP. Contemporary cartridge design has made that round substantially more effective, and the Bodyguard incorporates a laser sight. Its polymer frame help make it light, and prevents rust. It also comes in a version without an integral laser, which is slightly lighter and smaller. My article on that handgun–early models had an Insight rather than Crimson Trace laser–is available here. 

Ruger LCPII

Another excellent choice is the Ruger LCP and LCPII, both polymer .380s. The LCPII is an updated version with a superior trigger. While it does not come with an integral laser sight, aftermarket sights, such as those available from Crimson Trace, are available.

More and more women are choosing to carry concealed weapons, a satisfying development. No woman should run or ride alone. It’s an unrealistic suggestion, I know, but no woman should be unable to save her life if the need arises. One would hope that’s a reality more obvious to Kelly Herron these days. One would also hope that when her attacker gets out of prison, the next woman he attacks is ready to deny him future prison terms.

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