Harassment is replacing fun with fear for a growing number of Australian women, according to a report on ABC News today.
It referred to a recent study by Runners World that found that 43 per cent of female runners experienced harassment at least sometimes – compared with just 4 per cent of men.
The study also found that 63 per cent of women ran where they felt it was unlikely they would encounter a person who might harm them, and 41 per cent ran where they thought they would be less likely to received unsolicited attention.
For men, the figures were 23 per cent and 9 per cent, respectively.
Thirty per cent of women reported being followed by someone — and 18 per cent had been sexually propositioned while out running.
The article, written by Eliza Buzacott Speer, quoted a Brisbane-based runner Bec Humphries who no longer exercises after dark by herself.
“I never worried about whether it was dark when I went running until I was out for a run one night around 8:00pm and I got followed by a man in a car,” she is quoted as saying.
“I didn’t even realise until I stopped to tie my shoes and the car stopped and he wound his window down and asked me if I wanted a lift in return for a favour.
“I have never felt so terrified and I ran to a house with the lights on and the family that lived there gave me a lift home.”
Mother-of-three Kim Cayzer who has run in Brisbane, Canberra and Sydney was quoted as saying she had experienced “non-stop harassment”.
“I’ve had guys run alongside me to smack my arse. I have had men run behind me chanting ‘I see you baby, shaking that arse’,” she said.
The Runner’s World study took place in the United States, but Bianca Fileborn, research fellow at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University, said these intrusions were a problem everywhere, including in Australia.
“I think we do need to be conceptualising it as a form of sexual violence and violence against women because it is a highly gender-based experience,” she said.
Although there has not been any Australian research into the harassment of runners, Professor Fileborn said research suggested 90 per cent of women had experienced harassment at least once, with most experiencing it on a weekly or monthly basis.
Professor Fileborn said harassment — while often dismissed as relatively “minor” — could have a significant impact on women.
“I think that’s something that’s really important to talk about because it is something that tends to be dismissed as some minor or trivial or, you know, ‘it’s a compliment’ or ‘it’s just a bit of friendly banter’,” she said.
Sydney runner Belinda Ramsay said she was yelled and whistled at by a car full of high-school-aged boys while she was running recently.
“[It] made me feel both physically threatened as well as uncomfortable and self-conscious,” she said.
Professor Fileborn said the cumulative impact of harassment over time could be particularly harmful, adding that one the most significant impacts harassment could have was the way women accessed public space — and society’s response to that.
The Runner’s World report into harassment came on the back of an essay, “The Problem is Not Women Running Alone”, in the US which generated a massive response.
Meghan Kita wrote the essay in response to the murders of three young female runners — killed within nine days of each other in three different US cities — and the subsequent advice peppering the lips of well-meaning friends and family on how women could keep themselves safe while running.
“I’m already doing everything I’m willing and able to do to stay safe on a run — forgoing headphones, avoiding certain routes, exploring others only when I’m with a group,” she wrote.