Women have taken over the sport of running, as they account for over half of road race finishers in the United States, but the frequency of sexual harassment women receive mid-run is unnerving. This article features stories from UT students of their experiences of being harassed while running, as well as national data showing the likelihood of a woman being harassed and even assaulted mid-run.
The majority of runners are women and a majority of them have been harassed while running.
Running has become an incredibly popular sport over the past 10 years. Participation in organized races has increased steadily, and now more women are lacing up their shoes than ever before. From the days of being banned from racing until now, women have come an incredibly long way.
Thanks to the brave ladies who decided to stand up and challenge the status quo, women can claim running as their sport. More women are finishing races now than men. One study found that women are actually better at running marathons than men.
But ladies still can’t go for a run without being afraid. Sometimes going for a run can even cost a woman’s life. In a span of nine days, three women were murdered mid-run in 2016. This horrific incident prompted the popular magazine, Runner’s World, to conduct an extensive report about the dangers women face while running. The results were unsurprising, as a majority of respondents stated they had been harassed on a run. Though oftentimes a simple comment, a catcall, or a whistle can seem harmless, it can be annoying to be interrupted mid-run. These incidents can escalate into an assault, as the survey found numerous woman had been groped.
Most of the women surveyed lived in urban areas larger than Knoxville, but harassment can happen anywhere. I reached out to multiple students at UT and asked if they had ever experienced any kind of harassment while on a run. Most women I asked had been catcalled at least once while on a run, but some had more chilling stories.
One student, Kylie Amos, recounted multiple instances of being cat-called while running. “Once, a man called me a slut for not responding to him,” she stated. No woman deserves to be insulted for choosing not to acknowledge a comment.
She also told a horrifying story of being followed while on a run. “I got cat-called. I ignored it and kept on my way. But the weirdest thing was I saw him again six miles down the trail. He said the exact same thing when I ran past,” Amos said. She finished her run just before dark and was about to enter her apartment complex when she noticed the same man was standing there. This time he was trying to approach her. “I kept running to my friend’s apartment complex, but after that incident, I ran with pepper spray. Soon after, I took the rape aggression course on campus too, but I still feel uncomfortable on my typical route sometimes,” Amos stated.
Another student, Megan Sadler, had a similar story of being followed. “I was running and accidentally took a wrong turn and ended up in a rough part of town. I turned around and realized that I was being followed. He began to yell at me and tried to convince me to get in his car with him,” Sadler stated. Sadler, fortunately, was able to call a friend to come pick her up before the situation escalated, but she is still affected by the incident today. “Now, I never run alone. I always go with my boyfriend or a friend. I wish I was brave enough to go by myself because running used to be my ‘me-time,'” Sadler said.
What can we do to make sure that the percentage of women that have been harassed during a run will decrease as the number of women participating in running increases? We can help each other out. As women, we can ensure that when we see something happening, we stand up for each other. Men, you can do the same. If you’re out on a run and you see or hear something inappropriate, call it out. Let’s make sure that women have the right to go for a run without being concerned about their safety. We have to do it together.