Denied Peace of Mind

I’m skipping work for a few days to write a few chapters of my street harassment book. Near the hotel where I’m staying (to flee distractions), there is a beautiful trail alongside the Potomac River and before buckling down to write yesterday and today I went for a run on it. Having never run there before though, I ran with my phone and kept alert and I ran in a different direction each day. I quickly found out that the trail was isolated, deserted, and mostly far from any roads, buildings, or even people. The beauty of the scenery was dimmed by my hyper awareness of every unusual sound and nervousness when I passed by a few lone men because of the isolation. No one harassed or attacked me but, as any woman who is out alone in a deserted area knows, there is rarely relief from the fear that one day you’ll be the wrong woman in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This afternoon, after more than six hours of writing and a self-imposed internet ban, I came online to do a bit more research for the chapter I’m writing. When I also checked e-mail, I saw a friend had sent me a relevant link to an article in the Phildalphia Daily News called “Staying safe on the run” about the harassment and risk of assault women runners, including the article author, regularly face. She shares a recent story about being harassed while on a run and then highlights some of the women who have been in the news recently because they were abducted or assualted while running.

Ugh. As a runner, I have had men honk and whistle and make kissing noises at me, some have said sexually explicit comments, and two men followed me on two separate occasions, one by car and another on foot. As precautions against assault, I rarely run with music, I mix up my routes and the time of day I run so I don’t become predictable, I don’t run in the dark, and if I am running somewhere new, I usually run with my phone. Sometimes I wish I was a man because that would make being a runner so much easier.

Aside from my own experiences and those detailed in the Philly article, in the last few months I’ve reported on a female runner being attacked in New York, followed in Delaware, and murdered in Vancouver. I plan to address the particular issues that face women runners – and walkers and cyclists – in my book in a chapter that details ways women alter their lives because of actual or feared harassment.

Wouldn’t it be nice if men never harassed or assaulted women? Then we could run in peace and with peace of mind.


4 Responses to Denied Peace of Mind

  1. b says:

    I’m so sorry this happened to you, especially while you’re just trying to take a break!

    I think the contrast of not/using music is really interesting. I use music a lot to *avoid* getting harassed, mostly when I’m in crowded areas like public transit or malls or other public spaces with lots of people. If I keep my headphones on, I get to avoid pretty much everyone. Of course, the flip side is much like yours: when isolated, I’m never distracted by music.

    I was dog sitting for a friend last weekend and took several late night walks in my neighborhood with him. While I admittedly live in an exceptionally safe area in which I’m really never afraid, having a giant black lab with me certainly made me feel safer…especially when I found that my partner’s bike had been jacked the next morning. Just when you think you’ve left it behind 😦

  2. b –
    The more I research, the more I find similar contrasts like the no music/music one. The biggest two I’ve found are women who said, always avoid eye contact with a harasser versus women who say always make eye contact, and the women who say to completely ignore the men because that denies them the attention they want versus the women who say always stand up for yourself against them and glare or say something to them.

    I guess it comes down to things like the area you’re in, your personality, and what’s worked in the past. The most important thing is for women to be able to go about their day feeling as safe and unharassed as possible, so however they feel they can accomplish that is fine. And in the utopian future when men stop harassing women, we will all be able to walk around however we want! 🙂

    – glad you were safe while dog sitting, even if your partner’s bike wasn’t 😦

  3. I once considered living in the area you were staying to write. I knew I would have to walk/run on the streets in town even though this great wooded bike trail was nearby because of the very reasons you stated. My niece is going to school in seattle and lives near a bike trail. She likes to exercise st nights and because she felt unsafe walking or running she bought a used bike and now bikes in the evenings. I don’t think males have any clue as to how we plan everything including our exercise to be safe. It makes me so angry!!! I am so sorry you could not relax and enjoy the woods ironically while you took a break from writing about street harassment.

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