Sexual harassment when running | Bolt Burdon Kemp Sexual harassment when running | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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Sexual harassment when running

I previously wrote a blog about the Welsh athletes who had spoken out about the harassment they had received whilst training during lockdown.

As a runner this is something I have been aware of for a while but throughout lockdown it has been difficult to avoid the increased reports of sexual harassment and sexual assaults that other female runners were experiencing.

Runners World and Women’s Health have recently published a survey of over 2000 women that found that 60% had been harassed when running with 1 in 5 saying that they felt more harassed since the first national lockdown. Shockingly, the survey also found that 25% of women reported being regularly subjected to sexist comments or unwanted sexual advances and 6% had felt threatened to such an extent by harassment while running that they feared for their lives.

As I regular runner I can relate to the unwanted comments shouted whilst out running and whilst I feel lucky that I have managed to avoid the regular harassment that friends and other runners have reported I have been shocked to realise how much so many of us alter our behaviours in order to avoid public sexual harassment and to feel safe.  The times that I have altered my route, avoided the darker paths that feel unsafe or tried to run home a little bit faster when a late run has taken longer than I thought.

Whilst runners are not the only group to suffer from street harassment there does seem to be a high number of runners affected. Running is a massive part of my life, something that assists me both physically and mentally and I was very sad to learn that 11% of those surveyed said that they had stopped running due to harassment and 91% of those who had questioned their safety said that they had changed their behaviour in some way as a consequence.

These statistics are shocking but I am not trying to put anyone off from running.  Quite the opposite, getting outside brings me a lot of joy and I would like everyone to be able to get outside and share that joy but the shocking statistic that 25% of women report routinely being sexually harassed whilst running cannot be ignored. It is clear that the narrative needs to change and instead of looking at what women can do to protect themselves we need to address the behaviour of perpetrators and shift the culture so that everyone knows that sexual harassment does not need to be tolerated. It is not okay.

Sexual harassment should never be accepted – and as a runner I hate that the thought that it may be preventing others from getting out and enjoying one of things that brings so much enjoyment into my life.

There are calls for the government to make street harassment a criminal offence which would be a massive step forward in helping make our streets feel safer.  In the meantime we need to keep talking about it and where possible reporting any incidents of harassment.  The more we talk about it the more people will know it is not okay.

It is important to keep this conversation going, to raise awareness and if possible report any incidents of harassment.  So Women’s Health UK and Runners World UK are asking everyone to run or walk for 25 minutes and the post a picture – either of yourself, the view or your time to show your solidarity for those sexually harassed whilst running and raise awareness of public sexual harassment in running.  Lets #reclaimyourrun.

More information can be found at Women’s Health UK and Runners World UK

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