A 2019 issue of Runner’s World magazine (vol 54 No 6) conducted a survey that found 84% of women runners had been harassed on a run. “Harassment” could mean anything from catcalls, honks, lewd comments, groping, and being followed. In the same survey 67% of women found they were at least sometimes concerned they would be physically assaulted while running. And 16% said that they have felt threatened enough while running that they feared for their lives.
These fears don’t come unfounded: runners Mollie Tibbetts, Vanessa Marcotte, Karina Vetrano, Alexandra Brueger and Wendy Karina Martinez were all killed while running.
And the cover of that issue featured Kelly Herron, who was assaulted in a bathroom on a break 4 miles into a 10 mile training run.
This fear, this complex calculation has happened to almost every women runner I know.
It’s happened to me.
Just recently I was running on a well travelled street, home to multi-million dollar waterfront homes, when a black GMC carrying four men drove by and started honking, waving, whistling and then slowing down to tell me I was sexy and had a nice ass. I silently fumed, but said nothing.
Apparently my reaction is common: women usually stay silent as a protective measure, because they don’t know what else to do, but also due to fear that if they engage with a harasser or fight back, the situation might escalate. But I also turned to Instagram, where posted what I wish I’d said.
This is also common: “Social media has become an avenue for women to reclaim their experiences, and nudge the conversation forward,” writes Yu. She adds women who post about their experiences are often met with a chorus of similar stories (“worst part about running” two women commented one after another), as well as support from men. This sharing and chorus of recognition also shows just how prevalent these instances of harassment are even today.
Friends often ask me how I run at night or run trails alone. I explain that I take precautions (wear lights, tell my kids my route, carry my phone, don’t wear headphones and always, always stay aware and even keep an ongoing ‘if this happens I’ll do that’ plan) but the fear is still there. And perhaps the worst part is that I know that if something was to happen, I’d have to face the question: “Well, what did you expect?”
I expect to live in a world where I don’t need to consider carrying bear spray when I run. When I don’t second guess whether to enter a trailhead when I see a car already parked there. When my heart beats fast only because of the effort of the workout, and not because of the ATV that might be following me on the remote rail trail.
Running gives me the opportunity to face my fears about chasing big goals: I’m not going to let fears of being attacked stop me from that. Regardless of what women are wearing when they run, when they run or where they run, they’re still not asking for it.
Note: Shortly after writing this post I started researching “bear spray” and “pepper spray” for runners. According to this article by Cottage Life there is a difference between the two, and the latter is illegal in Canada. I’m still not comfortable carrying anything, but… I’ll be giving this more thought.
Do you run with any defensive “items”?