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It was her “biggest running nightmare,” but she fought her way out of it.
Kelly Herron said in an Instagram post that she has four miles into a long run in Seattle on Sunday when she stopped to use the bathroom in a public park. A man hiding in the stall came out when she was washing her hands and tackled her to the ground, where the two began fighting, according to ABC News. The man was Gary Steiner, a 40-year-old registered sex offender in Arizona.
“All those little things that I learned in my life … how to punch and everything came back to me,” Herron told ABC News. “I started to feel like I was going to lose consciousness … but I got another surge of adrenaline, and I reached for the door and was able to get out.”
Luckily, Herron had just taken a self-defense course three weeks earlier, and she said she used her new knowledge to help in the fight. She and a passerby outside managed to lock Steiner in a stall until police arrived.
“My face is stitched, my body is bruised, but my spirit is intact,” Herron said in an Instagram post.
Though Steiner is now being held in jail on a $750,000 bond, Herron’s fight isn’t over. After her ordeal gained national attention – partly because her running GPS tracker showed her frantic movements during the fight – a group called Just Want Privacy started using her story to advocate for a ballot initiative. Washington state initiative I-1552 would mandate that school bathrooms separated by gender can only be used by people who were born that gender, which is reminiscent of North Carolina’s controversial bathroom bill, HB2, passed in 2016. That law has frequently been criticized as discriminatory to transgender people and North Carolina is currently embroiled in multiple lawsuits over the law, both from the federal government and private citizens.
Just Want Privacy sent the photo Herron used on Instagram and her story to its campaign listserv, according to Slate, saying, “Sadly, what happened to Kelly is hardly rare. Each week yields new stories of deviant men who found ways to access female’s vulnerable spaces in order to exploit them.”
In a public statement to the Seattle Stranger, Herron demanded the group apologize, retract their post and return any money in donations they made off her name and photos. She said seeing them use her story made her “more upset now than I have been all week.”
“The fact is I-1552 would not have done one thing to prevent the attack on me,” Herron said. “It’s already illegal to enter a restroom or locker room to harm someone, period.”
“I-1552’s backers use fear mongering to justify singling out one group, transgender people, for discrimination,” she continued. “I strongly oppose their efforts to repeal Washington State’s decade-old protections against discrimination for our transgender friends, family and co-workers.”
Just Want Privacy did apologize to the woman in a Facebook post on Tuesday, though they did not reference plans to return any donations.
“Since many of the volunteers that comprise this campaign are themselves survivors of sexual assault, the last thing we want to do is make anyone feel exploited,” the group wrote on Facebook. “If our actions have inadvertently failed in this effort, we are sincerely sorry.”