Learning that a woman stated that I was asking to be raped in my "dangerous neighborhood" simply for running at night time made me sick to my stomach. I placed my phone on airplane mode and tried to let go of my frustrations.
NOTE: SENSITIVE COMMENTARY IS LOADED THROUGH THIS ENTIRE BLOG ABOUT SEXUAL ASSAULT AND PHYSICAL HARM.
Embarking on this new career changed up a lot of my fitness routines. You would think that because you're in the sports industry, this means that you would have more time to focus on your personal health. Actually, quite the opposite can happen especially when you are an entrepreneur like I am. At one point, my times for working out were pretty predictable but these days not so much.
As a road and trail runner, I am not easily rattled by the thoughts of running solo -- particularly at night or during the wee hours of the morning before the break of light. Oftentimes I hear commentary from people who raise concern but I was pretty disturbed by some comments that came my way via inbox about my nighttime musings. Without disclosing the person or to go into other details, several followers notified me about a woman ranting that I was going to 'get raped' for running around late hours of night. Other things were mentioned as to elude that I should run with a male companion and even reaching with a wild attempt to weaponize my own words from media interviews describing my "dangerous neighborhood," hinting that I am too nonchalant about moving through the NYC streets familiar to me.
Initially it filled me with anger but I realize that there's a lot of people who feel this way -- and frankly it frustrates me to such a high level that these sort of scare tactics stop people from night running especially as a woman. A few months ago, I partnered up with HOKA ONE ONE, Runner's World and Garmin about street harassment that I experienced during the 2017 New York City Marathon. Fortunately I was not catcalled during this instance but was heckled from the sidelines by a spectator who didn't feel I was suitable nor fit to run a marathon. Speaking out about this occurrence gave me a lot of media attention but I am no stranger to unwanted commentary; I'm far from alone in this instance.
In fact, I am subjected to sexual harassment in my everyday life on a regular basis and you know what: It doesn't wait for the late hours to commence. I am a lot more level headed than years before and wanted to articulate my thoughts in a rational manner. The best way that I know how to do this is in the form of a letter -- here it goes:
To the Woman Who Eluded That I'm Asking to Be Raped
I am not certain as to pity your ignorance or to simply wish you well on your propaganda. For starters: Sexual assault doesn't have a work shift. Predators do not clock in from the hours of 6PM to 6AM; sexual offenses happen 24 hours a day, 365 1/4 and as I respond, someone is in fear of their lives at this very moment. Because I know who you are, I know that your intentions were not to worry about my safety but to shame me in this sport -- but I will not elaborate on those details. I want to focus on a larger narrative that others accused you of starting on your social media feed about me: Subjecting myself to being viciously attacked simply for doing what I enjoy.
Ma'am I've been catcalled, whistled at, called sexual derogatory names and had unspeakable acts done to me before running was ever something I thought I'd ever pursue. Although you haven't earned an ounce of my respect, I'll share a detail: My first menstrual happened in front of a man who tried to rape me when I was nine or ten years old. I wore white pants, a bright top and was clutching library books. I didn't participate in extracurricular activities, walk into any dark alleys nor did I make an advance. And may I add -- it wasn't during the night hours; Saturday afternoon to be exact. I was fortunate enough to make it out alive but I am still haunted to this day at my thirty four years of age about being a victim. I've tortured myself on what if scenarios, questioned my own sanity to wondering if I was a terrible person for not telling my family. In turn, when I hear about comments from people like yourself who think walking with a man is a solution, I question your logic.
Here's some statistics for you: According to RAINN.org every 73 seconds an American is sexually assaulted -- that statistic doesn't include a gender. Did you know that most victims know their attacker; I met mine inside of a library for months as he tried to groom me to be his friend.
I didn't seek counseling until I became an adult and honestly, therapy helps. I don't know nor wish any of my pain onto you or anyone else but hearing just a fraction of your thoughts - if there's any truth of it from my followers - makes me frown on your piss poor technique of warning your following. Instead of scaring women, empower and arm them with real knowledge.
Here's a start: Sexual assault can happen to anyone, at any hour and doesn't discriminate by race, gender, sexual identity, status, class nor time of day. Additionally, people should practice safe techniques where you go regardless of who accompanies them. I don't expect you to know that I was a sexual assault survivor but what I humbly request is for you to not add to the cesspool of others who like to shame women for doing basic things like going for a solo run at night because of whatever reason. An Instagram story nor a social media post educates you on my preventative measures when leaving my house and to be blunt, nobody is entitled or privy to that information. Try educating your followers that it's not the victim's fault if they are assaulted and talk to them about learning the definition of consent. Talk to them about ways to arm themselves at night beyond running with a "male partner" who may or may not be able to help either one of us in a serious situation. If you are a fellow runner, educate them on the ways that you can be alert at ANY HOUR of the day. We can even take it a step further in giving suggestions to your viewers on what to do if they witness a crime and are unable to physically help.
I cannot control your feed nor your commentary; it is downright awful of you to target me the way that you do. What I do know is when people use their energy to talk ill of someone so much, it's more of a reflection of themselves. Even with this stated, I will never be okay with this; your way of arming women to move around scared in a world that tries to tell us to not be comfortable in our skins is contributing to the problem.
Woman to woman: Do better -- for all of us.
How I Practice Runner Safety
With that stated, here's some solid information that I'll provide to anyone that dares to run at any hour:
Pressing Forward: Coping as a Sexual Assault Survivor
Even at this very moment, it is hard to say out loud that I am a sexual assault survivor. There are moments where I wake up in cold sweats and feel stupid for not being as brave as people claim that they are in these scenarios. My menstrual symbolically serves as a reminder that I survives and at times, a moment where I need the most mental support beyond my physical diagnosis with endometriosis; my diagnosis is not in relation to sexual assault. Until this day, I never had a full conversation with my surviving parent or little sister about the details from my first encounter with sexual harassment; it's strange that I find it easier to talk about this online or in speeches versus looking at my loved ones in the face. As irrational as it may sound, I feel like I've failed them in being the "strong" family member that they perceive me to be -- but I know most of this fear thrives in my head.
Learning my triggers help me move better throughout my everyday life. I know what conversations to avoid and as I talk about the situations where I came close to the full act, I reclaim a part of my strength back. For a few years, I ran the NYRR Brooklyn Half Marathon route simply because I avoided this area from the memories of being lured to this man's home; this year I'll be participating in the Cleveland Marathon. Running near Eastern Parkway gave me the power that this man stripped from me when he lured me to his home in my youth.
Admittedly I already expect backlash to this post and I hope that it's just the pessimistic side of me that feels this way. I already made peace with it for a week before publishing this to the public. Allowing others to see my truth helps me emancipate myself in ways that I feel outweigh the negative. There's not a thing that a person can state about me that I haven't said about myself at one point; it holds no power because I elected to fight back against the stigma of giving nasty commentary residence in my heart.
Before therapy, I resorted to self harming and practicing an eating disorder. I pushed away friends and family members because I was scared that they would hurt me. It is a daily act to remind myself to not only treat myself kindly but to practice standing my ground in my boundaries. Running became an art form of healing and I didn't walk into this thinking that was possible. It is not perfect nor does it replace actual therapy but it's cleansing. Find your muse in whatever way that your heart contents -- nobody has a right to shame you for your happiness at any hour.
Latoya Shauntay Snell
For my pretentious ass bio, check out the about me page but for anyone interested in who I really am, make me a good meal at your house and I'll tell you a dope ass story.
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