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People are being Assaulted on the Schuylkill River Trail and it’s NOT Ok.
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People are being Assaulted on the Schuylkill River Trail and it’s NOT Ok.

*Updated 9/17 at 11:15 AM: We received an email from the Zoe Axelrod from the Schuylkill River Development Corporation and have updated a few texts in the original post.

A recent string of attacks on both runners and bikers is happening right on USA Today’s Best Urban Trail Winner.

Although I try to avoid perusing Facebook for hours on end, I couldn’t help but notice these recurring themes of danger on the Schuylkill River Trail (SRT) in the past few months. And it’s not incidents where people are solo at 3 AM, after a Saturday evening at Bob & Barbara’s.

One private Facebook group has discussed several incidences. One woman’s bike was stolen while she was riding on the SRT, as she rode a few hundred yards behind her boyfriend. On August 2nd, August 9th & August 17th, a group of teenage boys shoved women off their bikes (at least one theft in this incident) and/OR assaulted them.

Last evening, a woman posted on the Run215 Facebook group that a female runner was surrounded by a group of teenage males on bikes, even as people were running, riding and walking AROUND the group. Luckily the witness stopped and the assailants left. The victim said they group had been verbally and sexually harassing her.

Recurring themes in these instances include a handful of teenage boys, often blocking off the trail (either by one end of the SRT by an intersection or end). The assailants either have bikes or may be without.

This is totally unacceptable on a trail where we celebrate our accomplishments but bury the problems. I searched online for any news coverage of these instances, but it’s limited to a raped on the trail by JFK Boulevard in May 2014 and incidences in Norristown six years ago. (UPDATED 11:15 AM: SRDC pointed out “that the rape on the trail reported in May of 2014 was never substantiated and is believed to be a false report to cover other actions by the purported victim who refused to cooperate with the police.”)

So what can we do to prevent similar occurrences? 

Suggestions on the Facebook group include contacting the Schuylkill River Development Corporation or local friends group.

**Updated 9/17 at 11:15 AM: We received an email from the Zoe Axelrod from the Schuylkill River Development Corporation. The organization issued the following statement:

“While we would of course like to know when these incidents happen, we suggest that people first contact the police, by calling 911 at the scene of the crime and giving a detailed description, as you suggest. A call from the victim or direct witness as the incident is happening gives police the best chance of catching the assailant.”

More good news from Axelrod, which is now on the Schuylkill Banks website on how to report an incident:

“SRDC has contacted the 9th District and they have agreed to increase police presence on the trail. They have given the following 3 email addresses, where people can send their concerns:

Lieutenant Marty Best – marty.best@phila.gov
Lieutenant Stephen Johnson – stephen.johnson@phila.gov
Captain’s email – policeco_09@phila.gov

However, they stress that a 911 call ASAP is the proper response to enable apprehension.”

They agreed to increase police presence on the trail! What a win, guys! ** Updated 11/17 at 11:15 AM

Other suggestions? 

  • Tell a friend. The more people aware of the situation, the more people can look out for each other / look out for suspicious signs or people in danger.
  • Contact your City Council representative – If they start getting calls about the safety of our fitness trails, they will pay attention.

What to do if you’re in a dangerous situation:

  • Report it by calling 911 if you are a victim! Make sure to get a very detailed description of your attacker, and try noticing things besides clothing/etc. (facial features, piercings, etc.) Think the police will never catch the assailant? After searching for the person who robbed me, the Police officer found my attacker an hour after the incident. (Story for another time.) It’s possible, but you must report it.   
  • Note where the incident occurred.
  • Don’t be afraid to involve or inform other people around you. One other person can cause the attacker to stop their actions.
  • If you witness someone else in a questionable situation, don’t be afraid to ask ‘Are you OK?

Lowering your music in earbuds, being aware of where you are and checking with others can help prevent or nip an incident in the bud.

I’ll continue to look into this situation to see other action items we can do as a community, but I want to ask: Readers, what are your suggestions for improving safety on the Schuylkill River Trail and around the city?

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Julie Hancher
Julie Hancher is Editor-in-Chief of Green Philly, sharing her expertise of all things sustainable in the city of brotherly love. She enjoys long walks in the park with local beer and greening her travels, cooking & cat, Sir Floofus Drake. View all posts by Julie Hancher
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