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Kelly Herron, a doctor community advisor at RealSelf, used self-defense skills she learned at work to fight off a sexual assault. (Photos courtesy of Kelly Herron)

Editor’s note: This story contains explicit language.

After Kelly Herron fought off a sexual offender in a bathroom at Seattle’s Golden Gardens park last week, the story of her harrowing altercation went viral. Now Herron is hoping her ordeal can have further reach, and be a lesson to employers.

Herron sustained injuries but managed to escape and call the police.

RealSelf, where Herron works, offers self-defense classes as a benefit to its employees. Just weeks before she was attacked, Herron took a class taught by Fighting Chance Seattle — and was then forced to put what she learned to the test.

Herron believes the class saved her life, and she hopes other employers will see the merits of offering this kind of training. Inspired by her story, RealSelf is planning to host another training session, this time open to the public.

“One of the most important things I learned in the self-defense class is that if something feels unusual or off it probably is, and you need to react immediately,” Herron told GeekWire. “During the incident, I was able to recall the defense moves I learned in the class such as striking with the side of the hands and ‘hard bones to soft fleshy places.’ I clawed his face because the eye and face area are very vulnerable.”

Herron was training for a marathon when she stopped in the public restroom at Golden Gardens, located in North Seattle along Elliott Bay. The assailant, identified as 40-year-old Gary Steiner, a homeless sex offender, was hiding in one of the stalls and attacked her from behind while she was washing her hands, according to KIRO.

“One of the principles we learned was to fight like a savage beast, which I did,” Herron said.

Herron will share what she learned from the assault at the RealSelf Open Self-Defense Session on March 28 at Block 41 in Seattle. The free event will focus on identifying red flags and finding an assailant’s weak spots, just like Herron did.

When she first saw her attacker standing behind her, a phrase immediately came to Herron. She screamed it over and over again, like a battle cry.

“Not today, motherfucker!”

When the ordeal was over, Herron received medical care for her injuries and began the process of healing and sharing her story, including on Instagram. She didn’t realize she’d need her battle cry once again, so soon after the attack.

But Herron found herself saying the explicit phrase again, this time in response to a very different kind of violation. Just Want Privacy — a group pushing for legislation that would require people in Washington state to use public restrooms based on the gender they were born with — used Herron’s story to promote that agenda. The group shared Herron’s Instagram photos from the attack. Just Want Privacy used the incident as fodder for the argument that it is dangerous to allow transgender people to use restrooms that correspond with their identity because it provides an opening for sex offenders.

Herron’s running app tracked her struggle with her attacker.

“I came out with my story about fighting back because I didn’t want other women to be fearful and not continue to do the things that make them happy, like running,” she said. “I want to empower them to tap into the savage beast that lives within. When I heard that this political campaign was using me to further their own agenda I had to speak out and say, again, ‘Not today, motherfucker.’ I can’t speak for those groups but it’s clear to me that one thing has nothing to do with the other. Protecting transgender people from discrimination has nothing to do with sexual assault.”

Just Want Privacy took down the photos of Herron and issued an apology on Facebook.

“We have recently learned through several media outlets that the woman objected to our reference to her story in our communications,” the statement said. “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.”

RealSelf makes a point to stand behind transgender rights. As an online community for people interested in elective medical procedures, many of the Seattle company’s customers are trans. Similarly, women’s issues are a high priority for the company. The upcoming self-defense class is part of an ongoing Empowerment Series, centered around supporting women to be confident in whatever they do and promoting equality.

“What I want women to know is that they are so much stronger than they know and they have so much power inside them that they can unleash in a terrifying situation such as this,” Herron said. “I survived because of the self-defense class my employer RealSelf offered to us as a benefit. I hope other companies will follow this example immediately because yes, life gets busy but it is never too soon to prioritize the safety and security of the people you care about and yourself.”

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