Women runners all over the world battle with constant harassment and the threat of attacks while trying to run or exercise outdoors. A survey by Runners’ World and Women’s Health in the UK found that 60% of women were harassed while running. In 2019, Stop Street Harassment found that 68% of US women had experienced sexual harassment or assault in public spaces such as streets, trails, and parks.
The harassment of women runners is rife
According to the Runner’s World survey, “Harassment takes many forms, but the most common category reported in our survey was sexist comments or unwanted sexual attention, with 74 percent of women who have been harassed experiencing one or the other.”
“Also common are body shaming or insults about appearance, which 33 per cent of women reported. This verbal abuse falls under the realm of public sexual harassment, but, disturbingly, our survey also highlighted the prevalence of more severe and intrusive forms of harassment, with 39 per cent of women having experienced someone repeatedly trying to talk to them, 26 per cent someone following them, 11 per cent someone exposing themselves and 11 per cent someone making unwanted physical contact.”
Women In South Africa Feel They Are Particularly At High Risk When Running
A South African insurer 1st for Women recently conducted a recent survey.
Their survey confirmed that South African women runners are at particularly high risk. It showed as many as 79% of South African women felt unsafe while running or jogging in public. This shockingly high statistic means that running or exercising in public spaces is a freedom that most women are denied due to safety concerns.
“International research highlights the increased threat of physical harm or harassment for female joggers. While many such cases go unreported, extreme cases are reported to the police and the media,” says Seugnette van Wyngaard, Head of 1st for Women. “One such instance in May this year saw an Mpumalanga jogger struggle for 40 minutes with an attacker who dragged her 800 metres away from the road, while stating his intent to rape her.”
Take back your space safely
“The issue needs to be highlighted so that women can take back their space,” van Wyngaard says. She shared the following safety tips for women joggers.
7 Tips to Help Keep Women Runners Safe
1. Be aware of your surroundings
Headphones are great for playing tunes that help motivate you while running, but they can also block out surrounding sounds that could alert you to danger. Try to keep your headphone volume low if you feel you must use them
2. Stay in contact
Let someone know when you are going to be running and what route you will be following. You can also check in with them at the end of your run with a simple text message.
3. Vary the times of your runs
Attacks, while you are running, are often spontaneous attacks when a perpetrator spots an opportunity. However, predictable patterns are also a safety concern. Try to have some variation in the timing of your runs, and avoid running when it is dark or in isolated areas. You could run an hour earlier or later and change up your routine when it comes to the days of the week when you choose to run.
4. Carry a whistle
You can buy a sports whistle, and having it on a lanyard around your neck means you can raise the alarm quite quickly if you feel unsafe. The loud noise may also startle your attacker into running away.
5. Use an app to call for help
Alternatively, there are various mobile or app-based panic buttons available. which you can use in any emergency situation where you feel unsafe.
6. Run in a group
It is difficult to always find a running partner. However, the reality is, there’s safety in numbers.
7. Campaign for change
All over the world, women are campaigning for change. Play your part to help running become safer. In South Africa, you can join the Women for Change campaign. It was founded in 2016 by Sabrina Walter. This website encourages women runners to participate in virtual races, and funds raised through entry fees are used towards charities such as Rape Crisis and the Tears Foundation. There are many such initiatives all around the world, so look out for one in your community.
The bottom line
Most surveys conducted show that men are the main perpetrators of incidents involving women runners. The Runner’s World survey confirmed harassment on the run is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men, with 90 percent of women reporting men were responsible. Clearly, a huge shift in male attitudes is needed. This starts with men understanding the true impact of their behavior.