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Mollie Tibbetts was last seen alive during an evening jog in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa.
On August 21, after nationwide news coverage and an intensive search that lasted more than a month, the body of the 20-year-old college student was found. And just one day later, 24-year-old Cristhian Bahena Rivera was charged with her murder.
Mollie’s murder has sparked nationwide outrage and fear—especially among female runners. What’s even more terrible is that Mollie is just the latest victim in a series of murders that’s hit the running community in recent years. Others include Chelsea King in 2010 and Vanessa Marcotte, Ally Brueger and Karina Vetrano, who were all killed within days of each other in 2016, to name just a few. These murders are likely unrelated.
This latest act of violence represents the extreme end of the harassment and violence that many female runners encounter when venturing out alone. From verbal harassment like whistles and catcalls to physical attacks that range from groping to sexual assault, the abuse is wide-ranging and terrifying.
Women have taken to social media in response to this latest tragedy using the #MilesforMollie hashtag, highlighting the harassment and fear that too many female runners have come to expect when they step out for their usual run.
“I run alone regularly. I often get cat called at, honked at or followed for longer [than] comfortable. Even in a safe community, I have also experienced problems with stalking. I and many female runners worry about safety every single run #milesformollie,” writes Twitter user Shannon Riley.
“I now carry my running pepper spray with me on every run…I never really felt like it was necessary until the Mollie Tibbetts story,” writes Twitter user Felicia Combs.
Other runners have dedicated their mileage to Mollie under #MilesforMollie to honor her memory, as well as show that they won’t let fear stop them from pursuing the activity they love.
“Am going to continue to run solo, when, where, and how I want to. #MilesforMollie,” wrote Kristen Stolka (@krissybsto) of North Carolina on Twitter. She shared a photo of her running route through the San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico.
Stolka in particular has been running alone and with other women for years, both in the U.S. and abroad. “I always consider my safety before I decide to run some place, and Mollie’s death has not changed how I do that,” she shared via direct message on Twitter. “Running alone was not why Mollie was killed. Mollie was killed because there are terrible people in this world that aim to terrorize.”
Stolka wants women to know that running is generally a safe activity, and that millions of women run alone safely every year. “I found it frustrating that one tragic event could dictate what people think women should and should not do,” she wrote.
New York-based high school track coach Ash Puttaswamy (@DrCoachP) also wants women to not be fearful of running outside. She runs #MilesforMollie in order to be a role model for the athletes she coaches. “Today’s run is in honor of #MilesForMollie and for all of our young, student athletes who should be able to safely run on the streets of their towns,” she wrote on Twitter. The post was accompanied by a photo of Puttaswamy in her running shoes.
Like many women, Puttaswamy is constantly vigilant about her surroundings, whether she’s running or out in public. That said, she’d rather be careful than fearful. “I will not let the isolated bad deeds of others to prevent me from doing something that is within my right to do,” she wrote in a direct message on Twitter.
We’d like to know: Why do you run #MilesforMollie? Tweet at @WomensRunning to share your thoughts on this latest social media campaign using the hashtag #MilesforMollie.