Is old fashion sexism forcing female joggers to run scared?

More than a third of women questioned in an England Athletics survey said they had been subject to harassment while out running alone.
More than a third of women questioned in an England Athletics survey said they had been subject to harassment while out running alone.
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Outdoor runners wax lyrical about the pleasures of pounding the pavements. It’s much cheaper, they say, than gym membership. They will tell you that running outside elicits a feeling of freedom that a person simply cannot get from a treadmill. But I suspect a lot of these runners are men.

Outdoor runners wax lyrical about the pleasures of pounding the pavements. It’s much cheaper, they say, than gym membership. They will tell you that running outside elicits a feeling of freedom that a person simply cannot get from a treadmill. But I suspect a lot of these runners are men.

Because research from England Athletics has revealed that more than a third of British women have been on the receiving end of some form of harassment while out running alone. The most common forms of abuse reported were shouting and car horns beeped.

The study, which polled 2,000 members of the This Girl Can Run Community, also revealed that more than 60 per cent of women feel anxious when running alone, with nearly half putting it down to personal safety fears.

One woman who has feared for her own safety while out exercising is Katy Guest. The 40 year old was left fuming after being sexually harassed by a group of men while she was jogging in the park in December.

“Occasionally I come across this little group of men,” she tells me. She explains that although the men had shouted abuse at her before, commenting on her breasts, she’d never responded. This time though, she did.

“This time I did answer back. Just to call them pathetic losers and to tell them to get a life,” she says. “They jumped up and started shouting things like: ‘I’d like to get some of you. Come back here and get some’.”

Guest tells me she ran away feeling scared and furious.

“Some people insisted I report it to the police,” she says, but explains that when she did try to report it she was told it was not a crime. Eventually she decided to email her local police who advised her that if anything similar happened again she should get a safe distance before calling 101 and reporting it.

The abuse she suffered has put her running in that particular park. “And actually not running there means I haven’t run yet this month because running on the road is boring.” The scariest thing, she admits, is the fear that men will turn violent if you answer back, something that has happened to Guest in the past.

These men don’t do it at times or places where the woman has a chance to answer back,” she says. “They either shout from their moving white van or say something when there’s three of them and one of you on a narrow path and nobody else around to defend you.”

While most of the women questioned by England Athletics said they would not be put off running, over half said that running with other people would make them feel safer.

However, the founder and coach of the Lazy Girl Running group, 34 year old Laura Fountain says that she has even experienced harassment while leading her running group.

“Running with friends or with a group doesn’t make you immune from harassment,” she says. “If I am leading a beginners group and see people that I think might be problematic I say hello to them as we approach and often that seems to put them off saying anything.

“However, there was one time when I blew my whistle at another man who made a comment about another runner’s body. What followed was an argument between him and myself, with me explaining that his comments were offensive and him telling me I don’t own the park.”

Although offensive remarks have never put Fountain off running, she does worry it might make beginners more reluctant

“It’s already hard enough to get out the door to run on a cold January evening, especially when you are just starting out. If you’re nervous about what comments you might encounter that’s not going to make running any more tempting.”