More Than 84% Of Women Have Been Harassed While Out Running
‘Don’t walk alone in the dark.’ ‘Never get separated from your friends on a night out.’ ‘Whatever you do, make sure you switch up your running route so nobody can learn your routine.’
How many times, as a woman, have you heard one or all of those phrases? How many times have you been told to avoid doing normal, everyday things for the sole purpose of keeping yourself safe? Once, twice, maybe a hundred times?
So when a tweet went viral earlier this year from a woman acknowledging how dangerous it is to share your running route online, it’s perhaps unsurprising that she was immediately inundated with replies from other women.
A pattern quickly began to form in the thread of comments beneath the original tweet, with it soon becoming clear that thousands of woman have felt the need to hide or switch up their running routes to avoid something bad happening to them.
In some instances, something had already happened to them. One such woman recalled a time she was running her regular route when a man came up behind her and told her he liked seeing her run by each time. ‘[I] never ran that route again,’ she added.
Another woman stopped running every day, as she usually would, because a man pulled over in his car to tell her he had purposely come to the area to see her after spotting her the day before.
Yet another had to stop running for a year and a half after a ‘creepy’ customer of hers told her he saw her running all the time. ‘[He] even gave me specifics on where,’ she said. ‘My anxiety kept me from running.’
Each of the above examples go to show that sometimes it is necessary for us, as women, to switch up our running habits to avoid routine and to avoid being targeted in a world where our male counterparts wouldn’t have to consider doing so, even for a moment.
They go to show that we do need to hide our routes on running apps, and that we should avoid sharing our achievements on social media at all costs – no matter how proud we are – just so strangers can’t find us.
But it shouldn’t have to be. We shouldn’t have to police our behaviour just because we fear being attacked, or because other people can’t be trusted enough not to prey on us. Yet time and time again, that’s exactly what we find ourselves doing.
Kelly, a 49-year-old business owner from Croydon, London, told UNILAD she had to stop using Strava to track her runs when she realised a random man had been liking all of her updates on there.
The 49-year-old, who is the founder of BP3 underwear, downloaded the app about a year ago to ‘keep an eye on her route, times and consistency’, and said she enjoyed being able to monitor how much she was improving each time.
She would also upload a picture of herself after each run, something she described as ‘just a jokey thing for me to do to see how red I was after each run’. So far, so innocent, right? Right. Until one day she noticed a complete stranger had been liking all of her runs.
Kelly told us:
I looked to see if I knew the person but I didn’t recognise his name. But he did runs around where I was running, so obviously he was local. I felt a bit weirded out to be honest.
I felt incredibly vulnerable, especially as I was running through the woods and I had downloaded a photo of me after each run. Sometimes I was out running in the dark.
Having never used Strava before, Kelly wasn’t sure if it was normal for strangers to like her posts or if she was simply ‘over-reacting’ because she’s ‘older now so feels less brave and more vulnerable’. Regardless, the whole experience made her feel ‘really uncomfortable’.
So much so that it put her off running for a while, and when she got back to it she never used Strava again for fear somebody else could see where she was running – even after she discovered you could change your privacy settings.
She also now only tends to go out running with her son, who is 20, something she said makes her ‘cross’ because ultimately she had to stop doing something she loved because of someone else’s behaviour.
‘Why should women have to delete the app?’ she asked. ‘Why should women feel afraid to go running at night or even just go running through the woods? We shouldn’t have to stop all of these things because of men, but we do.’
And it’s true, we do. Because what’s the alternative? Risk it and then find ourselves in an uncomfortable and extremely disconcerting situation, or worse, one that puts us in direct danger?
Amanda Lauren, a Playboy cover girl, managed to avoid such a situation recently after using MapMyRun to track her workouts and the amount of calories she burned.
Although she was used to receiving messages from her more than 250,000 followers, one day she received an unsettling DM from a man telling her he knew her running route and would wait for her at the Starbucks on the corner of a particular road at the same time the following day.
‘[It made me feel] a bit uneasy,’ she told UNILAD. ‘These are the people who are volunteering this information, so imagine those that aren’t and are just watching you.’ As a result, Amanda Lauren no longer posts her runs in real-time, and will instead wait until later on in the day or week to share them on the app.
She will also use her watch to track her runs instead of MapMyRun if she’s in a strange city, which is often as she travels around the world for work, to make sure nobody can track where she’s going.
‘In a perfect world no, no woman should have to fear living her life,’ she told us. ‘However, it’s par for the course, so our safety comes in awareness and exercising caution when necessary.’
Kelly and Amanda Lauren aren’t the only ones, either. A 2019 Runner’s World survey found that 84% of women have experienced some kind of harassment while running that left them feeling unsafe.
This included physical actions such as groping, being followed or flashed, as well as other forms of harassment like catcalls, people honking their horns and lewd comments.
So although we shouldn’t have to hide our running routes or switch up our routine each day just to keep ourselves safe, it’s clear that we do. That being said, it’s absolutely vital that we don’t focus solely on the behaviour of women, because ultimately that’s not where the problem lies.
Instead of placing the responsibility on women to avoid being harassed, then, we should be placing the responsibility elsewhere – specifically on the men who are actually harassing them. Because clearly, women taking precautions isn’t enough to prevent them from being harassed.
Farah Benis, 33, who runs Catcalls of London – an Instagram-based campaign that aims to highlight gender-based, street-based harassment – said she regularly receives submissions from women and girls who have experienced harassment while out running.
In fact, she recently conducted several polls on the organisation’s Instagram page, asking its 8,600 followers whether they had ever experienced harassment while running, and whether they had changed their route or clothing due to harassment.
Of those who responded, she found that 60% had been harassed while out running, 62% had changed their route because of the harassment they had faced, and 68% had changed their choice of workout clothes.
Farah told UNILAD:
Since I started this campaign I have spoken with thousands of women and girls who have experienced public street harassment.
The thing that really stands out to me is how many feel hyper-vigilant [and] fear for their safety, only to have those concerns dismissed, mainly by men, due to a lack of empathy and understanding of the scale of the issue.
To truly tackle the intrinsic issues of sexism and misogyny, Farah explained widespread education is needed for men to ‘really understand the toll the constant harassment we face as women can take on us’.
In the meantime though, let’s normalise telling men how to change their behaviour, as that’s clearly where the problem lies – not in the actions of women who just want to go for a run without feeling threatened.
UNILAD has reached out to Strava for comment.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence, contact the Rape Crisis England and Wales helpline on 0808 802 9999 between 12pm–2.30pm and 7pm– 9.30pm every day. Alternatively, you can contact Victim Support free on 08 08 16 89 111 available 24/7, every day of the year, including Christmas.
Creditsjihanmarie_/Twitter and 3 others
Catcalls of London/Instagram