harassment of female runners

Harassment of Female Runners is Rampant, New Survey Finds

By Corrine Malcolm,
CTS Expert Coach, co-author “Training Essentials for Ultrarunning, 2nd Edition”

Listen to any Q&A session or panel with female runners and inevitably a question about safety and fear will come up. As we were sitting on the rooftop deck of the Coffee Bear in Silverton, Colorado ahead of the Hardrock 100 ultramarathon this past week that exact same question came up. “How do you prepare to feel safe running, particularly through the night?”  Ultrarunning veteran, Darcy Piceu answered first, “Honestly, I’m less afraid of running on the trail than I am of walking down the street.” This sentiment was echoed by the other women on the panel. I find that while this statement resonates with other female runners, it often comes as a surprise to the males we share the trails with. It turns out this has been backed up by a recent survey put out by Danny McLoughlin of RunRepeat.

When they surveyed 4,709 runners, they found that 45.85% of the female runners had experienced some kind of harassment compared to 17.48% of the male runners surveyed. These numbers suggest that female runners are 2.62 times more likely to be harassed on a run. Harassment included unwanted attention (34.74%), unwanted comments or verbal abuse (31.41%), and unwanted physical contact (9.56%). These numbers are startling, but again, as a female runner I’m not all that surprised. What does both surprise and disappoint me is the actions these female runners had to take as a result of being harassed.

Broadly, according to the survey, 80.29% of female runners who experienced harassment while running changed their running habits as a result. This included changing the route or schedule of running (59.61%), changing clothing (27.46%), carrying protection (24.23%), no longer running alone (19.39%), switching to treadmill running (15.02%), or most devastatingly – ceasing running altogether (20.52%). That’s a lot of change despite female runners having no responsibility for the harassment they are exposed to. Again, devastatingly, taking away an outlet for health and wellbeing for as much as 20% of females.

So, what do we do? How do we fix a thing many of us do not feel we have any control over? How do we reduce the number of instances of harassment experienced by female runners so that it is not a restriction or a deterrent to getting out the door for a run? I don’t want to tell you (the female runners in the room) that it’s up to you to protect yourself, to only run with others, to always be aware of your surroundings, etc. You’ve lived that experience.

Instead, with these survey results and the results of similar surveys, I ask everyone else to be our allies. Recognize that female runners are 6 times more likely to stop running alone than you, 6 times more likely to alter their clothing, 4 times more like to change their route and the time they run, 4 times more likely to stop running altogether. Think, then speak. Lead by example, welcome us all without us having to run from catcalls.

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That might not fix fear, but it’s a start. As another member of the women’s panel, Allisa Linfield, said: even with practice fear doesn’t go away, but you can’t let fear stop you from doing it.

Comments 8

  1. This is terrible. Female runners should be respected and even admired for their endurance, their drive, their motivation. While I’m out I tend to see more female runners in neighborhood and surrounding areas. It actually puts us males to shame who sit at home and play video games ( I don’t), drink beer, and many other “manly” things.
    Kudos to all the female runners that have the drive to be out their constantly.
    And as a father of 2 daughters I always fear for their safety regardless of their activity.
    Dave – San Antonio

  2. So true. My pepper spray is part of my early morning run gear. I also don’t have Strava, or has kept all my running whereabouts private from tracking platforms coz you’d really never know who’s looking.

  3. I think it is also important to realize that female bicyclists are also subjected to harassment as well.
    I don’t understand it but I am not the only woman I know who has been harassed, had objects thrown at and otherwise targeted by drivers while biking.

  4. I live close to a beautiful urban park in Portland, Forest Park, but I’m afraid to hike or run there alone as a female. What’s really disappointing is that the trails are therapeutic for me as I work through PTSD. So for now, I stick to the neighborhood streets close to the safety of home.

  5. I find it morally despicable that women are being assaulted in this manner. My sincerest apologies to all the women who are being subjected to this unfair treatment by the thoughtless
    scum at the rock bottom of the male race. As a grandfather and great grandfather of six beautiful babies I am appalled that they may be subjected to this degrading practice by heartless idiots. Hopefully this inane cur will realize one day that it could very well be their mother or sister or wife or granddaughter. To have to go overseas and fight for liberty only to return and realize that this is how women in America are being treated is reprehensible and the act of small minded cowards. May GOD give the wonderful women of this land the strength and fortitude to step over and around this ball-less man-less pieces of disease. Thank you and have a strong and happy life.

  6. Some days, just trying to get out the door to start a run is hard enough without the fear of being harassed in some fashion. As a dad, I’ve enjoyed sharing the joys of running with both my daughters, but the thought of some jackass harassing them on a run makes me so angry. Even worse if it’s by another athlete. Unfortunately, I’ve read similar stories about women getting harassed while out cycling and even on Zwift…unbelievable! Sorry ladies for all the jerks out there; we need more Marty’s and less Biff’s!

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