Cat called, beeped by passing cars, followed by groups of men, propositioned for sex: these are just a handful of the everyday experiences of women running alone in the UK.
A poll of 2,000 female runners from the This Girl Can Run Community revealed that one third of women have received some form of sexual harassment while running alone.
The findings also revealed that almost one third of women (over 60%) feel anxious when running alone, with nearly half of those surveyed stating that it is due to personal safety concerns that they have such fears.
Of those who had experienced harassment, shouting and car horns beeped by passing motorists were the most common.
If the Everyday Sexism Project taught us anything it’s that the female experience is a bleak one, filled with unwanted sexual attention and advances.
After reaching out on Twitter and having a wave of women respond with their own stories of being harassed while running alone, it became apparent that it would be harder to find women who hadn’t been sexual harassed while running solo.
So far, so depressing.
“When running through south London, within the space of a couple of minutes, I’d had a car full of young men slow down and make obscene gestures alongside me, as well as a bus driver on a break call me over to grab my hand and tell me how good I looked in my leggings,” Kara Godfrey, 24, told The Huffington Post UK.
Lou Boyd, 25, said: “A man I passed on the street tried to stop me by touching my arm and shouted after me that I should ‘come back to my house’ before also shouting exactly what he’d do if I did go back with him - a mother and two children were on the pavement beside us, he didn’t seem at all bothered that they could hear what he was saying.”
Amy Bull, 30, said: “I’ve been followed by cars twice, once I began to feel quite uncomfortable so I rang my brother to come and pick me up. It’s not always what they are saying that makes me feel uncomfortable, quite often I had my headphones in, but it’s the leering. It comes across as almost predatory; I don’t know why a group of men would think that shouting or following a women is ever acceptable or wanted?”
Bull has now stopped running outside, opting to go to the gym instead. “It’s not ideal, but I hated feeling unsafe because of my experiences,” she said.
According to the survey, most of the women insisted that they would not be put off running altogether, with over half of women (56%) saying that running with others would make them feel safer.
Still, it’s difficult to see this as a solution to the issue of sexual harassment. Many women (and men) who run do so not just for exercise, but for headspace and moments of solitude. Not to mention the fact that exercising alone gives a huge degree of autonomy in terms of route, time and duration.
While RunTogether does offer an alternative, it does not deal with the problem. It shouldn’t be the responsibility of the victim to change their lives and hobbies to avoid situations that might make them feel uncomfortable and unsafe - instead it is the perpetrators who must be held to account.
Godfrey, who has been harassed more times than she cares to remember, said we need to educate men to understand how intimidated women can feel.
“If they saw how scared or nervous it made their sister or girlfriend when a stranger makes suggestive comments, I hope they’d be less inclined to do it for ‘banter’ with their friends,” she said.
Michelle Sammet, 25, who changed her running route after she was catcalled while she was training for the London Marathon, agreed that education about vulnerability is key, as well as better lighting.
She said: “I’m pretty sure very few women would say they go out for a run because they are trying to impress some stranger or hoping to meet Mister Right, so for men to assume it’s appropriate to see a woman exercising as an invitation to behave like a chauvinist shows that there’s a lack of understanding between the two sexes.”
She added: “The fact that there’s been instances where someone would roll down their window at a traffic light and make a comment with kids in the backseat shows that even the future generation of men won’t behave any differently, because they’ve not been taught otherwise.”