Dear City of Des Moines,
We need to talk.
I love you. Always have. Always will. I exclaim your greatness to all my friends, family, coworkers and acquaintances. I share your restaurants, coffee shops, run routes and festivals with all those willing to hear or read about on my blog. I tout your friendliness, accessibility and safety.
I spend time in all of your neighborhoods- enjoying the culture, diversity and inclusiveness of these niche communities. I grew up on the east side, have lived Downtown (twice), on the north side and in Beaverdale. I try to shop local, dine local and attend all the events I can to support the community I love so much. I occasionally leave food and empty bottles and cans out for the homeless in my neighborhood, always making sure to look them in the eye and say hello as a sign of respect for my fellow DesMo. I tweet and Facebook about fantastic you are, often with the hashtag‘#ilovemycity.’ When I go out for a run- I go all over town, exploring neighborhoods on foot, every time nodding and smiling to any and all pedestrians I pass by. I run phone and weapon free, feeling safe and free, truly blessed to live in such a great city.
But, Des Moines, on Wednesday, December 12, 2012, you broke my heart.
Two of my friends and I gathered together and met at one of my favorite coffee shops- Mars Café. We headed out for a ‘short’ run (it ended up being six miles) to look at Christmas lights in Beaverdale and circle back to the café for post-run holiday coffees. On our way back to Mars, during our cool down walk in front of the Knapp Center on Forest Avenue, I was sexually assaulted by an unknown assailant.
Disclaimer: I don’t like using that term ‘sexually assaulted’ to describe this incident, but when I later called the cops to file a police report, that is what they called it.
To say I was shocked by a man riding a bike past me who felt it was okay and appropriate to grab my backside and then proceed to call me a name after I blurted out an expletive at him…is an understatement.
Then, to watch him turn around and proceed to either expose himself or pull out a weapon, also shocked me.
Thankfully, my friend had enough wits about her to yell‘Run!’ and spur me to action because I was standing in shock, not fully understanding what had just occurred or what was about to happen. My instincts kicked in and I fled down the street, not looking back, not saying a word, thinking‘oh my God, I don’t want to die like this,’ wondering if I was going to feel the hit of a bullet in my back as I escaped with my running buddies.
Residents of our great city, I hope you are also reading because this part is for you.
If you think when something bad happens to you, you are going to kick into self-defense action and fight off someone, or have some witty comeback to teach the attacker a lesson- don’t. Because chances are you will stand there like a deer caught in the headlights, part of some bad dream, knowing you should yell out or do something but unable to find your voice. Don’t be naïve. Plan ahead- bring a cell phone and/or non-lethal weapon such as mace or pepper spray when you are out at night in a maybe not so good part of town.
Also, remember that there really ARE not so good parts of town in Des Moines. Personally, I’ve never oncefelt uncomfortable or worried for my safety in any part of Des Moines. In fact, not even a week before this incident I laughed at a co-worker who thought it was crazy that I would run anywhere around Drake area or 19th street at night by myself.
To the gentleman who felt it was appropriate to grab me just because he thought I had a ‘nice a$$’, this is what I have to say to you:
You are a disgrace.
You dishonor your
YOU are the reason people think a woman can’t be out alone and should learn self-defense lest an unsavory man approaches her.
YOU are the reason some people say things like ‘It doesn’t surprise me’ when an African-American is portrayed in the media as being wanted for a crime.
YOU are the reason people stay away from your neighborhood and say bad things about it.
YOU are the reason people ignore a wonderful part of our city due to safety concerns.
I don’t know how you were raised, but I wonder what made you think that touching another person’s body without their permission is acceptable behavior?
Would you like to be hanging out with your friends and an unidentified person grabs you from behind in a forceful way?
Would you like to have to constantly look over your shoulder for days to come, questioning any stranger that gets too close to your personal space?
Would you like to constantly look at people walking down the street and wonder what their motives are?
Would you like to be scared to let your dog out in the dark because you feel vulnerable and unable to defend yourself lest the same situation happen again?
Would you like to have to feel afraid to be in your own city, a place you really truly love?
Maybe you, sir, should consider how your actions affect others.
City of Des Moines, I realize this incident is not an everyday occurrence. I realize that the people of your community do not normally treat their neighbors with this kind of disrespect. I realize that you work very hard as a city to be a place of safety, comfort and inclusiveness to all your residents.
But frankly, you disappointed me.
I am both angry and hurt by the actions of one of your residents.
As a city, you are much, much better.
Special thanks to Detective Youngblut and Sergeant Wallace who both called me personally and followed up on my case. They pulled surveillance and put extra patrol in the area as well as provided their personal cell phone numbers in case I had any questions or concerns. The assailant was not caught, but I am super grateful and impressed, it really comforted me to know someone was out there watching out for the residents of the Drake Area.
Also, to the other victim of the perpetrator that night, whoever you are, I hope you are feeling the comfort of my prayers.
I wrote the entire letter above the two days following the encounter. I debated posting it here, but thought I should share.
My initial instinct is to look for the best in people and I'm really annoyed that is tarnished by this unwelcome attack upon me. I can't explain how much it bothers me that I'm constantly looking over my shoulder now, wondering if someone is coming up behind me. I hate that I have to feel paranoid or uncomfortable to be in neighborhoods I've been running in for years. And most of all, I hate that every time I see a man late at night by himself anywhere in the vicinity of me, I feel my heart speed up and I instantly think about how I can escape.
Even tonight, when I walked my dog, I debated wearing boots- knowing if I had to run, they would be difficult to move in. I don't like having to think that way.
I know that with time, a lot of these feelings will pass and things will go back to mostly normal. For right now, I'm being extra cautious (maybe overly).
Just be safe, friends.
As much as I want to believe in the goodness of all people, not everyone in the world has the best intentions.