Women the world over battle with constant harassment and the threat of attacks while trying to run or exercise outdoors. A survey by Runners’ World and Women’s Health in the UK found that 60% of women were harassed while running. In 2019, Stop Street Harassment found that 68% of US women had experienced sexual harassment or assault in public spaces such as streets, trails and parks.
Locally, insurer 1st for Women’s recent survey showed that as many as 79% of South African women felt unsafe while running or jogging in public. This shockingly high statistic means that running or exercising in public spaces is a freedom that most women are denied due to safety concerns.
“International research highlights the increased threat of physical harm or harassment for female joggers. While many such cases go unreported, extreme cases are reported to the police and the media,” says Seugnette van Wyngaard, Head of 1st for Women. “One such instance in May this year saw an Mpumalanga jogger struggle for 40 minutes with an attacker who dragged her 800 metres away from the road, while stating his intent to rape her.”
Take back your space safely
“The issue needs to be highlighted so that women can take back their space,” van Wyngaard says. She outlined the following safety tips for women joggers:
- Join the Women for Change campaign: Founded in 2016 by Sabrina Walter, this website encourages women runners to participate in virtual races and funds raised through entry fees are used towards charities such as Rape Crisis and the Tears Foundation.
- Be aware of your surroundings: Headphones are great for playing tunes that help motivate you while running but they can also block out surrounding sound that could alert you to danger. Try to keep your headphone volume low if you feel you must use them.
- Stay in contact: Let someone know when you are going to be running and what route you will be following. You can also check in with them at the end of your run with a simple text message.
- Vary the times of your runs: Attacks while you are running are often spontaneous attacks when a perpetrator spots an opportunity. However, predictable patterns are also a safety concern. Try to have some variation in the timing of your runs and avoid running when it is dark or in isolated areas. You could run an hour earlier or later and change up your routine when it comes to the days of the week when you choose to run.
- Carry a whistle: You can buy a sports whistle from R60 to R130 and having it on a lanyard around your neck means you can raise the alarm quite quickly if you feel unsafe. The loud noise may also startle your attacker into running away.
- Use an app to call for help: Alternatively, there are various mobile or app-based panic buttons available, including the 1st for Women panic button, which you can use in any emergency situation where you feel unsafe.
- Run in a group: There’s safety in numbers.
“These are all small steps you can take to ensure your personal safety while keeping your running practice on track,” van Wyngaard concludes.