Monday, April 2, 2012
Be Aware: Assaulted on the Bloomington Rail Trail
April is National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. For me, every month is about being aware of sexual assault. I survived an assault in December of 2008, which happened while I was out running on the Bloomington Rail Trail. Since then I have been, well, hyper-aware of it. But today, as we dig into a new month, with the days lengthening, warming up, and offering more in hours in which to run, I want to tell you my story, because I believe that reading it will help others be more aware.
I was running north alone on the trail on a dreary winter afternoon. Not long after crossing Country Club Drive, I saw three runners headed south and said hi to them. Shortly after that, I heard footsteps behind me and assumed it was another runner. I didn’t look back. That’s when I was grabbed, practically tackled, from behind, and blindfolded with my fleece headband. I won’t go into details, but the next 20 minutes were the worst of my life.
As I stumbled back toward Country Club, I met the same three runners I had seen earlier, heading back north. They instantly saw that something was wrong and when I told them what had happened, they stayed with me until the police arrived. We realized that they had seen a guy running behind me in street clothes, thinking it a little odd but not taking much notice. One of them was able to give a detailed description, including the fact that he had bruises all over his face.
Although I wasn’t (physically) hurt, after working with police at the scene of the assault, and then recording an interview at the police station, I went to the hospital in the hope that DNA evidence could be collected. The detective on the case accompanied me out of kindness, to do the talking and so I wouldn’t have to go in through the front door. As we waited to check in at the nurses’ station, the detective calmly asked me to move a little way down the hall. I complied, and a moment later I was taken into a private room by the nurse.
The detective returned a little while later and informed me she had seen a guy with bruises all over his face sitting not 10 feet away in the hospital hallway by the nurses’ station, which was why she told me to move away. She interviewed him and his story “had an odor to it.” And so, in one of the most unbelievable coincidences I’ve ever witnessed, the guy who assaulted me was found and arrested on the very same day as the attack.
What followed was about a year of waiting. The trial was rescheduled several times, each time not until a couple of days before it was due to start. In fact, it was originally scheduled for the day after my honeymoon ended, and I didn’t find out it had been rescheduled until we got back. Perhaps not so coincidentally, I had the best year of running I’ve ever had, with two BQ marathons (including my lifetime PR of 3:36) and a 1:37 half. That was a tough year, but I think without running I would have needed mental help. And then there was my family and my running friends who helped carry me through, especially friends from the Indiana Running Company training group (now called BARA!), Women With Will, and running friends from across the country that I’d met online.
Finally, that fall, the trial went on and I faced my attacker in court. Other than my own testimony, I couldn’t be in the courtroom for the majority of it, so I spent most of my time at the Bakehouse, drinking far too much coffee. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the Bakehouse!
The trial included some drama, but in the end, my attacker, Robert E. Murphy, was found guilty of a whole slew of felonies on the strength of DNA evidence (and my testimony about recognizing his voice). Weeks later he was sentenced to 60 years in prison. And so I sleep easy. I hope the women (yes, plural) that he has assaulted in the past sleep easier now too. I only wish that more sex offenders got as much time, or any, for that matter.
A lot has changed in the three years since the attack. Now I run almost all of my solo miles with my dog Rudy. Otherwise I run with people. If I run alone, I carry pepper spray. I’ve taken a self-defense course. If I’m alone, I run tall and stay aware of my surroundings. As I did on that day, I carry my phone with me, and if I’m alone, I stay where there’s help nearby. I live with the knowledge that something like this could happen again, or something completely different might happen. But I also know that the same is true of anything I do—driving a car, sitting in my house. So I choose to be aware, but to not live in fear.
I believe that awareness is the key. Being aware of the possibility of sexual assault can directly affect the likelihood of becoming a victim. Be aware of the possibility. Be aware of your surroundings, of sounds and other details. Be aware of that little voice in you that might be warning against doing something, like having too much to drink, running alone in an isolated spot, or trying to walk home alone in the small hours of the morning. Be aware of the people around you, and which of those people are your friends. And when April ends, stay aware!
In the end, it’s not the victims who prevent sexual assault. That power lies with those who commit the crime. Our best weapon against them is awareness.
My name is Miranda Addonizio, I’m 30 years old, and I run because my attacker can’t stop me.
MIRANDA ADDONIZIO is an events editor at Solution Tree, an educational publisher/PD company. She grew up in southern Indiana and has been running since the fourth grade, when she joined the track team. After running cross country and track at Illinois’ Knox College (DIII), where she met husband Mark, she moved to Bloomington to get her master’s degree in journalism and turned to marathon training. Mark followed a year later. She worked at the goal of qualifying for and running Boston for the next few years and finally succeeded, running the 2010 race and qualifying for 2011 before being injured. These days she is concentrating more on being low-key with her running, participating in events like the Red Eye and Bourbon Chase relays. Her favorite running partner is her dog, the shepherd mix Rudy. Besides running, Miranda loves to read, watch movies, garden, and work on her house.
Writer: Miranda Addonizio