How to Handle Being Harassed on a Run

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Have you ever been harassed while running? It can be frustrating to want to go for a relaxing run and encounter unwanted comments or uncomfortable situations. Harassers can be relentless, and you never know when it could escalate. You may have experienced sexist remarks, body shaming, and even threats. Unfortunately, this isn't uncommon. 

So, what can you do to stay safe while running? There are a few things you can do, such as being prepared, trusting your instincts, and finding safety. Read on for more on these personal safety and self-defense tips. 

What is Harassment?

According to a survey of over 2,000 runners by Runner's World, 25% experience sexual harassment regularly, and 60% have been harassed at least once. The harassment includes:

  • Unwanted sexual attention or comments
  • Body shaming
  • Being followed
  • A person repeatedly trying to talk 
  • Sexual or gender identity comments
  • Unwanted physical contact
  • Race or ethnicity comments
  • Flashing

RunRepeat also conducted a survey and found over 45% of 1,350 women and over 17% of men experienced harassment while running. In addition, nearly 10% have been physically harassed. As a result, some changed their running habits (or stopped running completely), while others started carrying weapons for self-defense.

These surveys uncover a fear among runners because they never know when harassment will turn into an attack. Unfortunately, the reality is that sometimes attacks do occur. Running should be something everyone can do without fear of harassment or worse. 

Be Prepared

There are some ways you can be prepared. First, Look for a self-defense class in your area or online. It’s important to practice what could happen, so you know how to defend yourself. A skilled and experienced martial arts teacher can help you prepare. You’ll learn how to avoid dangerous situations and how to get yourself out of one. 

“I strongly suggest that anyone who runs or hikes outside, especially alone or in areas that are unpopulated or risky, invest the time to take a course in self-defense. The frank reality is that should you be in the unfortunate circumstance to need to defend yourself against any type of threat, you will have no one to depend on but yourself. This is by design and attackers always control the time, place, and method of attack. There is no substitute for self-defense training. It is like an insurance policy on your most important asset – you,” advises Victor Lampasona, a master's degree in Tang Soo Do and chief self-defense instructor for the COBRA self-defense program.

“The first lesson of preparation for harassment or a possible confrontation, whether running or in a self-defense situation, is this simple yet not simplistic mantra: 'Be aware.' You can often see, hear or even sense when trouble brews before it happens,” advises Tomislav Peric, a martial arts expert and a 2017 Masters World Jiu-jitsu champion. 

Pay attention to your surroundings using all of your senses. Avoid wearing earbuds so you can hear what’s happening around you. Know your terrain. Peric also recommends avoiding running alone. Instead, run where there are others and know that running during dawn and dusk increases your vulnerability. 

Lampasona agrees that you should run during daylight and “continuously scan your surroundings.”

Safety Tips for Running

  • Run with a partner or a group
  • Do not run with headphones or anything that will reduce your ability to use your senses to keep you alert. There are now headphones that go over the ear and use bone conduction so that you can still hear your surroundings while listening to music or podcasts
  • Do not run in unpopulated or desolate areas
  • Stay away from areas that have high crime statistics
  • Do not be predictable (change the time of day that you run; change the route you run)
  • Tell someone when and where you are running
  • If possible, carry your cell phone with your location shared with someone you trust
  • If you choose to run with a weapon, be sure you adequately train with it, including training in the running scenario while in your running gear and your heart rate elevated (as it would be while running)

David Nance, personal safety expert and founder of the SABRE Personal Safety Academy, recommends keeping your distance by keeping 10 feet in between you and others. “Distance gives you more time to consider possible reactions,” he says. 

Trust Your Instincts

Your instincts are real and valid. Sometimes it’s better to be assertive, while other times, it’s better to ignore the harasser. Listen to your gut. 

For example, if you feel like something is wrong, listen to that intuition. Go in a different direction and keep paying attention to your surroundings. If a harasser is catcalling you, ignoring it may be the best option. But if they start threatening you, record it and go to the police station to make a report.

When your gut tells you to be assertive, try saying, “I need you to stop talking to me.” If your gut tells you to ignore them, do so. For example, if someone follows you in a vehicle, immediately turn and run in the other direction. 

“Call attention to the situation. If you feel a threat is near, or a person is approaching, loudly state ‘I don’t know this person!’ or ‘STOP! Get away!’ or use a personal alarm or safety whistle to alert possible witnesses and call for assistance. This may be enough to scare the attacker away. If not, be prepared to use a personal safety product such as pepper spray or pepper gel which allows you to deter attacks from a distance,” Nance advises.  

Find Safety if Needed

“If you are ever in a circumstance where you feel threatened, do everything you can to remove yourself from the threat and get to a safe area. You can use your phone to call 911, but the reality is they will not likely get there in time to eliminate the threat. If a physical attack occurs, make as much noise as possible and fight for your life,” recommends Lampasona. 

Know your safety locations. If you have a regular route, mark spots where you can go for safety if you need it. One important location to know is your local police station. These professionals will help keep you safe, and you can make an official report while there.

Think about other places you can stop at along your route. Do you pass a friend or relative’s house along the way? Which businesses are open during your run? Keep these locations in mind as somewhere you can go if you need a safe space. If needed, call the police or ask someone there to call.

Remember, you are not obligated to be kind to anyone, especially someone harassing you while you’re on a run. It doesn't matter what they say or do. There are laws to help protect you, and you can report these behaviors to the police. Some examples are following, groping, flashing, and verbal threats. 

Avoid Getting Emotional

People who harass others are often hoping to elicit a reaction. Don’t give them one. Instead, remain calm and focused. 

“Don't respond to the harasser or give him more fuel to escalate the situation,” says Peric. 

Use Positive Affirmations

Sometimes being harassed can be a traumatic experience. For example, one study found that sexual harassment and assault are associated with high blood pressure, poor sleep, depressed mood, and anxiety.

Self-care is crucial for trauma and abuse survivors. Using positive affirmations can help. For example, if someone has shamed or embarrassed you, remind yourself you are strong and worthy. Use these affirmations daily to help rewire your subconscious mind, which is affected by trauma. Additionally, you may want to seek the help of a health care professional if you are struggling with trauma from harassment while running.

A Word From Verywell

Harassment while running isn't uncommon and can escalate quickly. However, learning self-defense and personal safety tips (as outlined above) can be helpful tools to empower yourself and feel comfortable while running. Run with a partner or group, avoid wearing earbuds, always take your cell phone, and trust your gut. Last but not least, you don’t owe any harasser your kindness. By using the tips here, you can keep safe. Keep a heart full of passion and your head on a swivel. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How often are people harassed while running?

    According to RunRepeat’s survey of 1,350 people, more than 45% of women and 17% of men have experienced harassment while running. Per a Runner's World survey of 2,000 runners, 60% have been harassed, and 25% experience sexual harassment regularly. 

  • Why should you vary your route when running?

    Harassers tend to stalk their victims by learning when and where they go for a run. Changing up your route and the time of day that you run can make it more challenging for someone to premeditate an attack.

  • What are the benefits of running with a buddy?

    Running with a friend or group increases your personal safety. Harassers are less likely to target more than one person. Safety aside, running with a friend or group can also promote community, improve personal connection, and challenge your pace.

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4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. RAINN. Street harassment.

  3. Thurston RC, Chang Y, Matthews KA, von Känel R, Koenen K. Association of sexual harassment and sexual assault with midlife women’s mental and physical health. JAMA Intern Med. 2019;179(1):48. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.4886

  4. National Domestic Violence Hotline. 5 Powerful self-care tips for abuse and trauma survivors.