Tayebeh Alirezaee runs almost every day around the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn.
She runs for the fitness, happiness and the great outdoors — but some of those runs, and the onslaught of harassment that has come with them, have left their mark.
“[Once] this guy popped out … and was avoiding eye contact with me, few seconds after I looked back and realised that he had changed his direction and now is following me,” she says.
“I ran as hard as I could and called the police as soon as I was in safety — I run to be happy and when it becomes a scary experience it just doesn’t make sense anymore.
“For a few weeks I was scared to go running and I hated the world, once I even cried talking to a friend as I thought I was getting tired of being a woman in this world.”
Bec Humphries, a Brisbane-based runner, no longer exercises after dark by herself.
“I never worried about whether it was dark when I went running until I was out for a run one night around 8:00pm and I got followed by a man in a car,” she says.
“I didn’t even realise until I stopped to tie my shoes and the car stopped and he wound his window down and asked me if I wanted a lift in return for a favour.
“I have never felt so terrified and I ran to a house with the lights on and the family that lived there gave me a lift home.”
Mother-of-three Kim Cayzer has run in Brisbane, Canberra and Sydney and said she had experienced “non-stop harassment”.
“I’ve had guys run alongside me to smack my arse. I have had men run behind me chanting ‘I see you baby, shaking that arse’,” she said.
‘It is a highly gender-based experience’
But the experiences of these women are far from unique.
The study also found that 63 per cent of women ran where they felt it was unlikely they would encounter a person who might harm them, and 41 per cent ran where they thought they would be less likely to received unsolicited attention.
For men, the figures were 23 per cent and 9 per cent, respectively.
Thirty per cent of women reported being followed by someone — and 18 per cent had been sexually propositioned while out running.
The Runner’s World study took place in the United States, but Bianca Fileborn, research fellow at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University, said these intrusions were a problem everywhere, including in Australia.
“I think we do need to need to be conceptualising it as a form of sexual violence and violence against women because it is a highly gender-based experience,” she said.
Although there has not been any Australian research into the harassment of runners, Professor Fileborn said research suggested 90 per cent of women had experienced harassment at least once, with most experiencing it on a weekly or monthly basis.
Harassment often dismissed as ‘a compliment’
Professor Fileborn said harassment — while often dismissed as relatively “minor” — could have a significant impact on women.
“I think that’s something that’s really important to talk about because it is something that tends to be dismissed as some minor or trivial or, you know, ‘it’s a compliment’ or ‘it’s just a bit of friendly banter’,” she said.
Sydney runner Belinda Ramsay said she was yelled and whistled at by a car full of high-school-aged boys while she was running recently.
“[It] made me feel both physically threatened as well as uncomfortable and self-conscious,” she said.
Professor Fileborn said the cumulative impact of harassment over time could be particularly harmful.
“It’s not just that women are experiencing this once … it’s that they’re experiencing it on a weekly, monthly, sometimes even daily basis, so it’s that repeated experience again and again and again that can be quite harmful,” she said.