If you live in the UK, you can’t help but have heard of some horrendous crimes in recent years including the murders of sisters Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, Sarah Everard, Sabeena Nessa and Ashling Murphy. All these women were killed at the hands of a male perpetrator who was unknown to them.
We know that crimes like this are incredibly rare, but the conversations that were triggered as a result highlighted some very real and common fears, experiences and concerns from women across the country but also within the running community about safety and harassment.
The point of this article isn’t to increase fear, but to highlight the mass of worries that were raised by so many women runner’s out there. Some of the well-meaning yet misplaced advice that has come out since the attacks included advising women not to go out alone, to exercise in daylight hours in public places, to think about your clothing choice or to carry your keys or some other item as a weapon.
Should we have to stop and think before we choose to step outside about whether we can train in peace and safety without the fear of being harassed, assaulted or worse? The problem here isn’t what time a woman goes for a run or what shorts she chooses to put on, it is not a woman’s job to make sure a man does not decide to attack her or shout obscenities at her in the street.
We are of the belief that the problem here is with the perpetrators, and that is men in the vast majority of cases. We've seen the response across social media, “Yes, but not all men”. Of course not all men, but enough men to make us unsure which men might pose a risk. When you add into the equation the disturbing fact that Sarah Everard’s killer was a serving police officer, a mistrust of seemingly honourable and authoritative men becomes more understandable.
This then begs the question, what could we do collectively to try and stop this sort of behaviour within this small subset of the male population? And what can we all do, men and women, to improve our safety when out running? Here are a few ideas for concrete action, from basic etiquette on the streets and trails, to helping nurture more positive attitudes in those around us:
- If you have children or work with young people, have conversations with them about the issues that are in the media. Talking to young people about equality, diversity and respect for each other from a young age is vital if attitudes and behaviours towards women are to change.
- Plan your route and always tell someone where you will be and when you plan to leave and return, that way if something goes amiss or your get injured help won’t be far away.
- Carry a phone and make sure it is charged up.
- Be visible, carry lights and hi-vis at night so that you stand out and can see where you are going.
- There are apps you can download which will monitor where you are and alert chosen contacts when you reach certain points in your journey (or not).
- Be aware of your surroundings and what is around you
What specifically can men do to help?
Call out unacceptable behaviour. Don't be a silent bystander if you witness a friend or colleague cat-calling or honking their car horn at women; this type of thing can be really intimidating, call it out!
- If you encounter a lone female give her a friendly hello or smile, take your hood down if you are wearing one, step aside and allow plenty of room on the path so you can easily get around each other.
Try not to startle people by appearing suddenly from behind. Try to alert people when you are a few metres away just to make whoever is in front aware that you're about to overtake them, so you don't give them a fright. If you're a man out running, imagine how it'd feel to a lone woman to have you suddenly run up behind her, panting and sweating. A cheery hello from a distance might help.
- Please don't make comments about what someone is wearing to exercise in, it really isn't anything to do with you no matter how harmless it might seem to you.
- If you see a woman alone in the hills, don't try to stop her and give her your assistance unless she has asked for it. Would you do the same thing if you saw a man out on his own?
- If you are part of a large group of walkers or bikers, please think about how intimidating that can feel to a woman out on her own. Step to the side so that she doesn't feel blocked in by having to run or walk through the middle of you all.
- Be an ally. If a female friend tells you she feels threatened by something or someone, try not to shrug it off as nothing. If something is happening which makes her feel this way then see what you can do to help.
Above everything, running and the outdoors is something for us all to share and enjoy, having to curtail the activities we love because we feel threatened by the actions of others is never OK.