Street Harassment Awareness Week
STOP Street Harassment is an international campaign aiming to raise awareness against Street Harassment – every year they head an awareness week and, it just so happens, my campaign has conveniently cat-call collided head first into it.
I wanted to take this opportunity to begin to share some of the experiences from some amazing women who have bravely said they’d stand beside us in this fight.
These are their accounts, verbatim. They are personal and raw. They matter. They are all too relatable.
I am collating and posting these stories in the hope that, if we shout loud enough, we will quash the victim blaming and stigma associated with it.
This anecdotal evidence is a huge step toward getting out voices heard.
Some will be anonymous, some will not. All are important and are real.
I have asked these wonderful women the same questions to highlight the face that our experiences with street harassment are, unfortunately, all too similar, common and consistent and yet still vastly personal.
In this post I spoke to the wonderful Jess (@kennyyyyy_)
Jess is a wonderful light in the running community. She recently ran her first marathon and proved that training hard, turning up and trusting yourself really can pay off . She’s a wonderfully strong character who I relate to a lot and reminds me that, some times, it’s ok to be silly among the serious.
Hi Jess, you’re part of the Instagram running community, but what inspired you to run in the first place? And when did you start?
I first started running as a teenager, largely due to the classic societal pressures to be skinny (a sadly common reality). I dipped in and out of it throughout my teenage years and university, generally building myself up to 10k, but I was never able to really push myself further or find any proper joy in it as it often went alongside very restrictive diets which obviously aren’t great running fuel! About 2 and a half years ago I threw out my scales, gave the middle finger to diet culture, and started running because I love myself rather than because I hate myself – and this MARATHONER hasn’t stopped since!
I relate a lot to that – to be honest, I started running for the exact same reason. We seem to have had the same experience of running through university too, I think I prioritised cider too much! So we’ve both not always been runners. Does that mean there’s been incidents of street harassment in your life outside of running? What is your earliest memory of this?
There have been plenty! My walk to work is 10 minutes, and I would say at least half of those walks I get some sort of harassment – from a leer out the window to a beep and shout. I couldn’t say my earliest memory exactly, but I do remember being catcalled whilst in school uniform, and even as a fairly attention-seeking teenager I knew how gross that was. I think it felt like an inevitability though, and so we would brush it off as definitely creepy, but expected.
-Have there been many instances of you feeling unsafe on a run? What caused it and what actions did you take in the moment, if so?
One that springs to mind was when I’d forgotten my headphones (which makes me nervous anyway as I can’t take my mind off people around me) and I ended up getting chased through a park by a group of 4/5 lads who’d yelled something at me and I’d told them to fuck off. I’ve also had cars slow down and crawl along next to me, with blokes leaning out the window asking for my number etc. I generally speed up and/or change direction. Sometimes I’ll cut my run short or change my route. To be honest, at this point any male presence on my runs makes me feel unsafe!
That’s horrific. I don’t know about you but I always think of a million witty things to say in response to these situations after but, in the moment, my mind goes completely blank and “fuck off” is usually all I can muster. People always tell me to be carful when responding too – but it’s hard to not want to stick up for yourself! Do you take preventative measures when running – is thinking about your safety normal to you?
I have my mum tracking me on runs, and my partner when I’m staying at his. I also have a whistle on me for most runs. I generally try to stick with very rural routes, I’m lucky that I live somewhere I can run routes avoiding a lot of people!
So is there a certain time of day or any environments you avoid running in?
If it’s dark (evening or morning) I’ll only run in well-lit residential areas, which is a pain in the winter months! I won’t usually run through town centre during busier hours.
And has that affected your behaviours in and out of running?
I tried running in just a sports bra and shorts a couple of times last summer when it was really hot, and I just felt I started to victim-blame myself every time I was catcalled in those outfits (which I would never do to another woman). I just felt so exposed and I’m very wary of doing it anymore so I’ll always wear a t-shirt.
I feel you on that – I have blamed myself before for the actions of harassers but would never even think of doing so to another women! On the subject of victim blaming, have you experienced any negative feedback from people close to you regarding outdoor exercise and harassment?
I’d say the main response from older generations is that I should be flattered/take it as a compliment. The alternative seems to be ambivalence and not seeing it as a big deal. When I was younger there was definitely more of the victim blaming – wearing “slutty” clothing etc meant you obviously wanted that attention. I don’t think anyone would dare say that to me now!
Hopefully attitudes like that are changing. Do you notice an influx in it after certain events? I notice a lot more during sports event, and even lockdown seems to have brought more out of the woodwork!
The worst it’s been for me was when I used to live in Bristol behind the Bristol Rovers home stadium. I remember once I went out for a run without realising there was a home game, ended up getting cornered and followed up my road by a load of rowdy Rovers fans. Never made that mistake again. The pack mentality along with booze just seems to make things a million times worse. Where I live now is so rural that during lock-down I’ve actually experienced it less because there’s just so few cars around, so I count myself lucky for that.
I think, weirdly, being on trafficless roads makes most of us feel safer in that aspect – which is everything our parents probably warned us against. What other measures do you feel would make you feel safe? What would you like to see change?
France criminalised street harassment and started handing out fines and it works! I don’t think it would eliminate the problem, but knowing we have that backing and we have the law on our side would be reassuring at the very least. I’d love to see attitudes to it change, I’d love to see more men calling out their friends rather than laughing off their behaviour and enabling it to continue (that one is a big ask).
You heard it from Jess, we need allies in this fight. It’s important for us to call out harassment when we see it and if we are safe to do so. It’s especially important to hold our friends accountable if we see this. Education is key.
Thank you so much, Jess, for speaking out on this. Your honest account will show others that they’re not alone and it’s ok to speak out.