Harassment is a health hazard

May 29, 2010

I’m with my partner visiting his grandparents in a very rural area of Virginia. This morning when I was running, men in a white truck felt the need to whistle a few times at my retreating figure as I turned off the road they were driving on. I was wearing a bright orange, oversized t-shirt from a race and blue running shorts, I was dripping in sweat in the southern heat and humidity. In short, I was the picture of stunning beauty so I bear them no ill will for their uncontrollable need to harass me while I was on what was otherwise a peaceful run.


I have every right to go for a run without being harassed. That includes whistling, honking, sexual comments, and stalking. Twice in my life I stopped running outside for a while because I was getting harassed so much each time I went running and that was exhausting. Additionally, I’ve had the most vulgar comments made to me on my runs and I’ve been followed by men twice while running (= very scary).

I am not alone. In an informal survey for my forthcoming book, I found that one in four women exercise inside on at least a weekly or monthly basis because of actual or feared interactions with strangers in public, meaning because of street harassment by men or their fear of being attacked.

Since mentioning this fact in an Oregonian op-ed, I’ve done a few interviews in the last two weeks specifically on exercising and harassment, because this reality is striking a nerve.

In response to the AOL article I posted on my Stop Street Harassment Facebook group, one woman wrote, “So sad and so true. My boyfriend suggested I could save money by running outside instead of using the gym. I replied, ‘I can’t. I’ve got big tits.’

Imagine how many more women would exercise if they could do so outside safely and without harassment  since running outside offers a lot more flexibility and affordability compared to exercising at a gym. And we know that exercise is something we all need to be healthy. So, men harassing women is a health hazard. Seriously, think about it.

Anyway, I want to know, do you get harassed while exercising? If so, what impact has it had on your life? How do you deal with it? Do you have any suggestions?