Jessica (not her real name) has been a runner for 15 years. In all that time, she's never had an experience like the morning last month when a man violently assaulted her in Georgetown — and then, thanks to her training, she was able to pursue the attacker and ensure his arrest.
“This is my neighborhood,” Jessica says. A longtime Seattle resident, she’s lived in the neighborhood for a few years and runs several times a week with her dog, Louis, an 11-pound miniature pinscher. Knowing that there are fewer people out during mid-day, she times her runs for morning and evening rush hour, when the street is more populated. “I’ve never felt unsafe,” she says.
At around 8:30 am on January 20, she had an inkling that something was off when she jogged past a man walking in the same direction near 4786 1st Ave, a rehabbed warehouse converted into office space. Louis barked at the man, and then after they had passed him, continued to tug backwards and growl. In hindsight, Jessica says, Louis had probably seen that after she passed the man, he’d broken into a run to pursue her.
“The first thing that actually happened was he jumped on my back,” Jessica says. “He was groping me, so I realized he didn’t have weapons in his hands. And I realized my hands were free. … This all happened in one second, so it sounds like a big project but it wasn’t.”
At that moment, her self-defense training kicked in. She’d taken years of classes in boxing and mixed martial arts at Quantum Martial Arts, and without having to think she immediately spun around, elbowed the attacker in the chest, and made the loudest sound that she has ever heard come out of her mouth. “It wasn’t a word,” she says. “I just shouted.”
The man instantly backed away, wide-eyed, and now she could see that he looked young and well-dressed. He didn’t appear to be unfocused or under the influence of anything. He looked like a teenager on his way to work.
“He had a mask on,” Jessica says, “but I could see his eyes. … I don’t know what I said, probably ‘what the fuck are you doing?’ He hesitated for a moment, then turned and ran.”
So did she. Jessica and her dog chased the man down 1st Ave, zig-zagging through cars and traffic. Along the way, she shouted to bystanders to call 911.
The assailant was in poor shape and kept stopping to catch his breath. Jessica, who can easily run seven or eight miles on an average day, maintained a distance of about twenty feet, not afraid of her own safety but worried he’d try to kick her dog.
“And I was screaming the whole time,” she says. “At the top of my lungs, that he picked the wrong person to fuck with and I’m too old for this.”
Eventually the man jumped into a car and drove off, but by that point some people on the street had called 911 and handed the phone over to Jessica. She read his license plate number to the dispatcher as she watched the man escape.
“All I could think of was, ‘he’s done this before and he’s got away with it,’ because he looked so surprised,” she says. “And I’m the right person to chase someone around. I have a really big voice when I need it.”
This was the first time she’d ever had to put her self-defense training to work, she says. After the initial surge of adrenaline wore off and she waited for police to arrive, she realized that “it was kind of empowering to see my body do its thing. To get big.”
After a long wait, three officers arrived and took down the details. They offered to give her a ride home, but she wanted to run instead. “I felt like if I finished my run I’d work my adrenaline out,” she says. “And I’d reclaim my run.”
A few days later, she saw an update about the incident on the news. Police had arrested an 18-year-old from Auburn for the assault just a few hours after it occurred. He’ll be arraigned next Monday, the 7th, and Jessica will have an opportunity to make a statement. She’s not sure what she’ll say — if anything.
“Is there any justice here?” she says. “He’s going to get a sex offender mark … and I’m not sure that solves anything.”
But she also doesn’t know what the solution is. “We’re living in a very patriarchal society where men have de facto power over women,” Jessica says. “We’re failing to raise boys, and consent culture hasn’t made its way into every household.”
She’s also dismayed to see that some coverage of the incident has suggested a connection to neighbors who are struggling with housing, living nearby in temporary shelters and vehicles. A report on conservative KOMO included footage of nearby RVs, even though her assailant wasn’t connected to any of those people — he was arrested at his home in Auburn, twenty miles away. And although police claim that crime reports have risen slightly in Georgetown over the last few years, Jessica says she’s never felt threatened there.
Still, she encourages everyone to seek self-defense training, no matter who they are. “This is the same advice I have for all genders, which is that you should tune up your self-defense skills like your CPR skills,” she says. “Yelling at the top of your voice and sprinting and making quick decisions are things you need muscle memory for.” She recommends the classes she took at Quantum, and also Seven Star Women’s Kung Fu.
Since the attack, she’s been back out on the same street. “I don’t want to give creepy maladjusted men that much power,” she says. “I’ve recommitted to running. I don’t like running, I do it because it keeps my heart and lungs strong.” That, she says, and “being able to run a mile and shout at the top of my lungs at the same time.”