Ever since the news broke last week that Eliza Fletcher was kidnapped during her regular 4:30 a.m. run through Memphis streets—which tragically turned into a murder investigation just days later—my social feeds have been flooded with breaking reports, timeline updates, and media speculation on the developing story.

And comments. Lots and lots of comments. There was one in particular, on a news piece describing Fletcher’s murder as an “isolated” attack, that I couldn’t get out of my head. I’m a runner myself, and the bluntness of it hit hard:

“Did she or did she not make herself a target?”

Thankfully, there were a bunch of replies refuting it, but there were still a demoralizing number of people “liking” it, showing to me that it’s likely a way more common belief than it should be. The implication that Fletcher—a 34-year-old kindergarten teacher who regularly ran in the predawn hours to log her miles before work—was even partly responsible for her own kidnapping and murder because of when and where she chose to exercise is sickening to me. 

Sickening, but not surprising. Unfortunately, it’s followed a pattern I’ve seen happen all too frequently: When women go missing while running, people have something to say about it. Not the kidnapping, not the assault, not the murder, but what the person was doing when it happened.

Take Mollie Tibbets, the 20-year-old student from the University of Iowa who was murdered in 2018 while running on a route she’d completed countless times before. At the time, I was working for a media outlet in the running space, and I remember seeing comment after comment on news articles highlighting the fact that she took a rural, farmland route, and that she was running solo. Same regarding the murder of Wendy Martinez, the 35-year-old who was stabbed to death in a random attack while running just a few months after Tibbetts’s death. People brought up the fact that she was running the city streets of Washington, DC, in the nighttime hours. And, of course, that she was doing so alone.

It’s not just the comments, either. I remember a flurry of runner safety articles coming out after the murders of Tibbetts and Martinez with all of the things women need to do before they should even think about running outside. Charge up the cell phone (never mind if it’s bulky and messes with your stride), never run without a buddy (even if it’s unworkable with your schedule or…you just don’t have friends who run), and change up your timing and location of each run if you must go outside (because that peaceful path you love shouldn’t be traversed too frequently!). Now with Fletcher’s murder, these kinds of articles are once again making the rounds.

To be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with adopting habits that make you feel comfortable and confident when you run. After all, many of us run to reduce stress, so anything that helps that along (or, at the very least, doesn’t add to it) is important to our mission. The problem, though, is that these kinds of “service” articles put the onus solely on women to control the safety of their runs, while ignoring the actual problem here: the people responsible for these attacks, these kidnappings, and these murders.