84% of female runners have experienced street harassment in London, study finds

·2-min read
Photo credit: Matthew Leete - Getty Images
Photo credit: Matthew Leete - Getty Images

More than 80% of female runners have experienced street harassment in London, a new study claims.

Researchers from St. Mary’s University, Twickenham, interviewed 121 runners from across 26 of the capital’s 32 boroughs, finding that 84% of women experienced some form of street harassment, compared to 50% of men.

The most common forms of harassment were catcalls, propositioning, name calling, and non-verbal expressions like wolf whistles or winking, the study said. But a number of participants also reported more extreme forms of harassment, like being groped or physically attacked. 30% of female runners surveyed reported having been followed by somebody either on foot or in a car.

One respondent described being followed by a man in his car while she was running with her dog: ‘He was like, “I really like what you’re wearing,” but I tried to just listen through my headphones and not reacting and then he kept driving next to me for about a minute, he was just like, “Oh I really want your number, can we talk, blah blah”.’

Meanwhile, 50% of male participants reported never having received any harassment while running. Those that did said harassment occurred rarely, ‘“Maybe two or three times maximum over hundreds and hundreds of runs in London,”’ as one participant put it.

Male participants generally reported feeling much safer running in London, with 45% stating they felt very safe, compared to 18% of women. On the other hand, 8% of men reported feeling either very or somewhat unsafe, compared to 23% of women.

The study cites a 2017 survey published in Runner’s World UK that found 27% of women had been followed while running, while 13% had been sexually propositioned. More recently Runner’s World and Women’s Health launched the Reclaim Your Run campaign, which surveyed 2,000 runners on their experiences of harassment. 25% of these runners reported being regularly subjected to sexist comments or unwanted sexual advances, and 34% said they would only run outside when it was light.

The study does have some limitations. 121 is a small sample size compared to the 2,000 surveyed by Runner's World, while only 80% of participants were white, the study's authors admitted. Moreover, they recommended increasing the number of male respondents. ‘Traditionally, street harassment has often been framed as a female issue,’ they explained, ‘which is unhelpful not only since men can and do experience it as well, but also since the overwhelming number of perpetrators of street harassment are men.’

Concluding the study, the authors said: ‘This study has shown that street harassment is a significant issue in London. Experiences of objectification, vulnerability, fear and shame resulting from street harassment create barriers to participation in outdoor activities’.

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