SPECIAL REPORT: Jogging safety for women

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - For most women, a casual walk or run outdoors seems harmless.

However, that can all change because tragedy can strike before reaching the finish line.

Jogging paths can be hunting ground for attackers.  A survey says 43 percent of women say they've been harassed, 30 percent experience being followed by a car, bike or by foot, and 96 percent say they've heard sexual remarks and whistles.

Pip Gahagan runs at least three times a week on the Columbus Riverwalk.  From now on, she says she's reconsidering her weekly routine after being confronted by a naked man on a sunny afternoon near Golden Park.

"To me looked like a runner, he had running shoes on and he had long shorts on and he had a shirt with no sleeves on," Gahagan. "He looked quite fit. I then carried on past him, I passed him and lost sight of him and then when I came to this area here I suddenly looked up. I saw someone waving something in his hand and I noticed he had taken all his clothes off and he was running towards me, I took my phone out and phoned 911."

Columbus Police Bike Patrol Captain Casey Conrad says his squad is doing what they can to eliminate these types of situations.

"Right now I have five officers assigned to me to ride their bikes on the Riverwalk, the bike trails and the parks," Capt. Conrad said.

Corporal Justin Evans says women should be mindful how they approach a running path.

"if you're out here on the trail you don't want to be a soft target with your headphones in and looking up at the clouds as you're jogging, so you want to present yourself as a hard target," Cpl. Evans said.

Capt. Conrad suggest if a woman finds herself in trouble on a walking trail to look for the nearest light pole.

"There are numbers on the light poles. If you call with the light pole number, we know exactly where you are to come to help," Capt. Conrad said.

Self-defense coach Mike Skinner of Armed Reaction Tactics says sometimes calling the police may not be your first option when trying to get away from a potential attacker.

He says believe it or not, it's hard to dial 911 while running.

"it's something a lot of people don't think about," Skinner said. "You can practice with a calculator. Practice getting your heart rate up then trying to hit 911 on the calculator and you'll find out just how difficult that might be specially with these new smart phones that you might have to put in a code."

So, here's what to do if you think you're being followed.

Skinner says to confront the situation rather than pretending it's not happening.

Let the stalker know you see them and you want them to stop. Also, think of a way of escape and find a place where there are other people.

Skinner says if you find yourself under attack, you shouldn't turn away from the attacker because it prevents you from fighting back.

Once you're face-to-face, go for the eyes, rip the hair, and bite if you can.

Skinner also says a weapon can intimidate an attacker.

"Find a way to equalize the situation," Skinner said. "Most women are soft targets for larger men. Knowing how to use it and when to use it. You want to use something like a stun gun and find a large muscle group whether it be the bicep area or the thigh, even the abdominal area where everyone has a muscle layer."

The Columbus Police Department says using these tips and techniques can go a long way, but they also say not to jog at night alone.

Gahagan says since her incident on the Riverwalk, she will no longer go running in that area.

"I can't just suddenly decide that I finished work or finished what I was doing this morning and now I'm going to go for a quick run down the Riverwalk," Gahagan said. "Now I have to plan everything and make sure I have someone with me when I go."

Since Gahagan's run-in with the man on the Riverwalk, another woman says she believes she was confronted by the same man.

She didn't file a police report but she did make it public on her Facebook Live.

Police and both women describe suspected stalker to be a Hispanic man, standing about 5'8" tall and clean shaven with a short haircut.

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