Video: Female joggers targeted in Florida?

By Clint Van Zandt
msnbc.com
updated 7/10/2008 5:24:12 PM ET 2008-07-10T21:24:12
COMMENTARY

A serial rapist is suspected of assaulting at least four different women in Orange County, Fla., since the October 2006 attack of the 32-year-old wife of a police officer. The victim was attacked while jogging and saved by a passerby who intervened. Other female joggers in this same area have been attacked in a similar manner by their assailant, a man, now referred to as the “East Side Rapist” who steps from the nearby woods, undergrowth or shadows to assault his victims. This rapist is also suspected in the assault and murder of 26-year-old Florida graduate student Nicole Ganguzza, whose body was found in a wooded area near the park where she went for a run early last month.

Ganguzza was dragged by her killer into the woods from the jogging trail.  Police have interviewed many of the people who live in homeless camps in the nearby woods, believing that Ganguzza’s killer knows the local area well and probably stalked the jogging trail for potential victims. Although investigators recently arrested a man in a 2007 rape case that occurred in the same general area where Ganguzza was murdered, they cannot currently link him to the other assaults.

Depending on which statistics you believe, there were between 100,000 and 250,000 reported rapes in the U.S. last year. Although terrible in itself, this figure is only believed to reflect approximately 16 percent of the total rapes that actually took place in the same time period.  The challenge for investigators in the “East Side Rapist” investigation is determining if they have a single serial rapist or multiple assailants operating in the same area, perhaps copy cats covering up their crimes by trying to suggest that all of the assaults were the work of only one rapist. On July 7, a 24-year-old female college student identified only as Taina was the latest victim of an attempted assault as she ran along a road just two miles from where Ganguzza was murdered.

Taina, who is hearing impaired, was running with her dog when attacked this past Monday evening. As her assailant, described as a 5’10” dark-skinned Hispanic male, attacked her, ripping her clothing as she literally fought for her life, her dog broke free and ran home. Taina believes her cries for help may have distracted her attacker long enough for her to momentarily push her attacker away, thereby allowing her, like her dog, to run home.

Just like many other similar victims of jogging path rapists across the country, Taina did not believe it could happen to her. Now she, like other victims, knows that anyone can become the victim of a determined assailant who is out looking, out hunting for a new victim. Orange County authorities arrested a man last month in a year-old rape case, but they have yet to determine if their suspect is responsible for other similar attacks. Florida, of course, is not alone in such attacks.

Most will remember the so-called “Central Park Rapist” believed responsible for the 1989 horrific attack on a then 28-year-old female investment banker jogging in Central Park, New York City.  In that case the victim, who was running with a radio headset, apparently never knew what hit her. Whether you believe she was attacked by just one person or a gang of assailants, what is undeniable is that the victim was attacked and brutalized to the extent that she lost three-quarters of her blood and was left for dead before her assailant(s) fled. 

Buffalo, N.Y. was haunted by the “Bike Path Rapist,” eventually identified as Altemio Sanchez, who is believed to have begun attacking women in that city as early as 1977 when he was just 19 years old. He is thought to have raped at least 16 females and murdered three others in his reign of terror that lasted three decades. In Salem, Ore., a woman raped 22 years ago by Richard Troy Gillmore, the so-called “Jogger Rapist,” a man who admitted to sexually assaulting at least seven other women in the 70s and 80s, testified before a parole board that Gillmore continued to pose a risk to the community and should not be released on parole.


Tips for female joggers
Florida authorities are left to trying to identify their current serial rapist, a man who is believed to target women running alone along jogging paths just as day changes into night.  When he will strike again is unknown, but if he’s anything like other similar offenders, he will strike again, further victimizing the local community and forever affecting the life of his victims and those closest to her. While police attempt to get this latest threat off the street, most women know it is ultimately up to them to protect themselves, while not surrendering their joy of jogging to the two-legged monsters that could target them at any time.

  • Do not run alone.  There is strength in numbers and most assailants will not attack multiple potential victims in such a setting.
  • Avoid running in areas where the woods or brush come right up to the running path. Do not run with earphones connected to iPods, etc. You can’t hear someone running up behind you or the sound of bikes and cars as they approach.
  • Be alert to the area where you run and know who leaves just before and just after you along the same trail.
  • Vary the time and trails that you run on.  Don’t allow a potential assailant to set his watch by the time you hit the same trail every day.
  • Always run against traffic. You want to be able see a vehicle before it approaches you.
  • Don’t stop or approach a vehicle driven by a person asking questions or directions of you. Simply shrug and continue your run while remembering who tried to stop you. Don’t challenge the person, but simply move on.
  • If you see the same vehicle twice during your run, perhaps believing the vehicle is following you, make a mental note of the description of the car, its driver, and its license plate.
  • Consider carrying a cell phone, and either a whistle or mace to use to attract attention and/or to defend yourself.
  • Always carry some form or personal identification, perhaps with a contact telephone number for a friend or family member.
  • Always trust your intuition. If a situation doesn’t feel right or a person doesn’t look right, leave the area as soon as possible.
  • Consider an escape route should you be confronted. Run to and not away from people and population groups.
  • Different people will give you different advice as what to do if attacked. Some attackers will leave you alone if you scream or fight back, while other assailants may enjoy the fight and see your resistance as a stimulus. Think about what your response would be in advance and don’t freeze up, no matter what your assailant says.    

Clint Van Zandt is a former FBI agent, behavioral profiler and hostage negotiator as well as an MSNBC analyst. His Web site, www.LiveSecure.org, provides readers with security-related information.

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