Last week was Street Harassment Awareness week.
But just because that’s over doesn’t mean that the conversation should stop.
In fact, we should be even more vocal about it – until we feel safe on the streets, whether that’s running or going about our day-to-day lives every week needs to be Street Harassment Awareness week.
After a really positive launch of the series last week, I’m going to start posting more regularly to keep the traction of the message up. It’s tough to feel proactive in our current climate but I don’t want to let the message slip out of the public eye.
This week I spoke to Illana (@run_farther_illana), an active member of the online running community who, very impressively, completed RED January this year during the beginning of her first marathon training cycle.
As with my previous posts, I asked Illana about her running journey and how Street Harassment has affected her and her behaviors within it. She speaks very eloquently about the pressure for us, as victims, to accept the brunt of responsibility for perpetrators actions and challenging the norm.
I’m sure a lot of us can relate to what she has to say.
Hey Illana, so, first thing’s first – What drew you to running?
I started running in May 2019 after beginning the Couch to 5k plan, which I started out of curiosity for running. At the time, my boyfriend had recently started attending parkrun more regularly and hearing his experiences about the encouraging environment and atmosphere about parkrun, I wanted to give running a try in addition to the gym classes I was used to doing.
I love parkrun, it’s one of the main things I can’t wait to get back to after this lockdown! Have there been incidents of street harassment in your life outside of running? What is your earliest memory?
Yes, I don’t think many people (women especially) can say they haven’t been harassed on the street, whether that’s heckling or cat-calling to serious harassment which compromises your physical safety. The obvious examples are from general girls nights out as I’m in my 20s where groups of lads would shout at you from across the street, or when innocently running errands in town having a total stranger verbally harass you. I was heckled by a driver in a work vehicle once – it involved some gross gestures. I was so horrified I reported it to the Police. They were extremely helpful in supporting me and making sure I had the option to prosecute if I wanted to, but I chose not to but I’m glad that the Crime Reference Number contributes to vital data and insight into these incidents.
There’s a lot to be said for reporting incidents of harassment when they happen – it all gets logged and goes toward proving how rife this problem is. 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?
I’ve never felt really unsafe where I’ve felt I needed to take action in the moment. There have been instances where I’ve felt uneasy or unsure, especially if I’m running an unfamiliar route I always contemplate the “what ifs” but usually dismiss the worry quite quickly.
I think most of us can probably say the same for a lot of our runs – the fact that uncertainty is the norm for us is concerning to me. Speaking of the norm, a lot of women I’ve talked to say that considering their safety, even in the back of their minds, is the norm. Do you take preventative measures when running?
I always try and prepare to make my runs as safe as possible if I’m going alone – I’ve purchased a RunAngel wearable safety device, and always run with my phone too. I never run alone in the dark in neighbourhoods or areas where I can’t get immediate attention or help. It’s normal to me to think about my safety – whether I worry about getting an injury or getting lost, but sadly thinking about safeguarding myself against street harassment is part of that “risk assessing” too.
I’m the same – I’ll not even consider running without my phone. It’s sad that there is a need for these devices and apps, but it’s very useful that they’re there for us too. In terms of the environments you run in, is there anything you’ll avoid?
Weirdly, I feel a lot safer running around cycle paths or footpaths that aren’t near the roadside. The only other people I see on these routes are cyclists, dog-walkers, or other runners. However it’s taken me some time to build my confidence and familiarity running around those areas. I hate running on pedestrian paths alongside roads at rush-hour or late evening as I’m always a lot more conscious about traffic and what actions/behaviours motorists can do, drive away, and get away with!
100% my experience too – busy roads are the worst and I can guarantee I’ll get harassed without a doubt on the main ones near me. Have you found that Street Harassment affects your every day behavior, both in running and non-running life? It’s getting hotter now, that tends to be an area of concern for a lot of female runners.
What I’m wearing sadly extends to what I choose to wear when running as well. It’s awful that we have been conditioned within the culture of victim-blaming It’s absurd and ridiculous to worry about simple things, like the length of my shorts or removing layers on a hot day to nothing but a sports bra, just because we’re worried about street harassment.
Totally! Others behavior should not affect our every day comfort. It’s especially easy to blame ourselves in regards to what we’re wearing, I know I constantly doubt if it was “my fault” because of my outfit choice which, as you said, is conditioning and completely ridiculous. Have you experienced any negative feedback from people close to you regarding outdoor exercise and harassment, like victim blaming due to outfit choices, for example?
No, luckily all other runners and friends I trust enough to vent to about this are extremely supportive and understanding. I think we all have shared experiences and stories to share so it’s a collective understanding of how frustrating, disappointing and annoying it can be. I’m fortunate that the experiences I’ve had mean I only feel those things in response, and nothing so severe has happened to me to cause a massive mental health knock, or impact my life or my relationships with others profoundly.
That’s good to hear – this sort of every day oppression can be tough on our mental health so it’s great that you’ve fought back against it. What sort of change would you like to see, going forward, to hopefully put an end to Street Harassment for good?
Fundamentally, it is the behaviour of perpetrators and the assumption that we should just “brush it off” that needs to change. Why is it okay to accept street harassment as a norm in society whilst many are stigmatised or judged when they talk about it? Hopefully we are resilient enough to ‘let it slide’ and ‘brush it off’, but we should also allow ourselves to get angry and challenge this norm. There needs to be more education and outreach to explain why it’s not okay, whichever environment it takes place in. There also need to be opportunities to empower people to be active bystanders so we are equipped with tools and techniques to safely intervene if we see something, or personally experience something, which is wrong and makes us uncomfortable. Hopefully with the work that you’re doing we can make it more positive space to openly talk, share and empathise with each other within the running community.
Agreed – education is key! Thank you so much for your honestly, Illana. The more I speak to people the more comfort I find in our shared experiences. Which is an incredibly sad blessing and curse. Is there anything else you’d like to touch on?
There might be a lot of people that scroll past these accounts and think “Nope, can’t relate” as they might not have had experiences of street harassment themselves or perhaps their experiences aren’t “bad enough”. But perhaps I’d like everyone to think about the things you worry about on a run, and question whether that stems from a worry for your safety or risk of street harassment. I’m sure after this post people might reflect on where they run, when they run, and the crowds they avoid (although, with social distancing in place, we all know our running habits have changed drastically in response to that too!)
Thanks again, Illana. I think daily harassment is such the norm now that we often don’t notice we’re victim to the subtle biases anymore. It’s important to remember that we don’t have to put up with this – together we will put an end it!