#MeToo – Women Runners’ Experiences of Sexual Violence, Assault and Harassment

Caraway’s Story:

I was running through the Neukölln neighborhood of Berlin in the dark, in a blizzard, as you do. My footfalls left fresh tracks in the six inches of snow on the ground and the wind whirled the flakes through the air in little funnels. Everybody else was indoors.

I turned a corner and saw a group of five very large but obviously not very adult teenage boys coming towards me. Cross the street, said my brain automatically, as it does when I’m running alone and a man or men are in sight or within hearing range behind me. As I type this, it’s eight years later and I’m still castigating myself: Jesus, Caraway, why didn’t you just cross the damn street? Why not? Because as I was about to step off the curb, a different voice in my head said fuck this and it’s only 6 p.m. for god’s sake they’re probably not drunk and did you hear me? I said fuck this. You shouldn’t have to cross the effing street. Come on. Take back the early evening, Caraway. So I kept running in a straight line.

I belong to the group of assault victims who will yell, scream, fight back, and even chase my attackers, so that’s what I did when the group didn’t move aside or let me go around them. They started yelling at me and laughing. One grabbed my arm. Another grabbed my ass, and made an insipid grab for my breast. I saw the pathetic, laughing, dog-eyed “do you see how cool I am look what I’m doing” expression on his face as he turned and implored his friends to be impressed. WHAT THE FUCK??? I yelled in English, fighting free. GET THE FUCK OFF ME I screamed, and a bunch of other expletives, probably, planting my feet as firmly as you can in six inches of snow. Four of the boys moved away. “Come on, man,” said one to Giant Assault Puppy, who was frozen somewhere between lumbering away from me, and staring at me with even bigger eyes than before. I kept screaming, he turned away, and I ran away, still screaming.

I guess I thought someone would hear me, but the street remained dark and uninhabited. I sprinted home with my heart pounding. It didn’t even occur to me to contact the police. I wouldn’t have recognized the guys again, even if they could have been located, so what would have even happened? Even now when I think about it I can imagine the incredulous reaction: you were running WHERE? In the dark? What did you expect?

Well, I’ve never run in that neighborhood since, daylight or no. And I always, always cross the street.

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Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.

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6 comments

  1. Every day, I hear another story. Yesterday it was Kevin Spacey. This morning it’s the NPR New Chief. If every man who has ever sexually harassed someone got a news story for it, the news would be even more full of jerk guys than it already is, and I’m not sure how that’s possible. It’s never-ending. But maybe, just maybe, we can build up enough momentum that some men will think twice. Maybe we can plant our feet, take a stand, and push back. Push back against institutional sexism, push back against harassment being something we almost expect when we try to advance our careers, push back against men who think we’re out there running for their personal gratification (both by ogling us, or by us being in shape to look more attractive to them). Maybe.

    All we can do is try.

    1. I am so disappointed everyday as we learn about more prominent men who have abused, harassed, and raped others (not just women). It demonstrates a systemic problem and, more clearly than before, illustrates that this is about power. Every day, every time we call it out, every time we run, every time we refuse to be silent, we chip away and someday, hopefully soon, we’ll break through.

  2. I hate that you have to write this, but I am glad you did. The attitude that allows for this is so ingrained in our society, that it is difficult for most people to even see… “that’s just how it is”. If we don’t point it out, it’ll never be noticed or changed. That being said, once you do start calling guys out on their behavior you quickly go from being “nice” to “bitchy”.

    This happens more at work than when I am running. I work in a male dominated field that often requires working in remote locations. By 1 year into my career I had to report two guys for harassment who just wouldn’t leave me alone no matter how I asked. There were numerous others who were a little less persistent. About this time, a co-worker (guy) told me “you know, you were this really nice girl when you started, now you’re kind of a bitch”. At the time, that bummed me out and it felt like I couldn’t win. Now I am proud of the label, I hope it makes them think “don’t f**king mess with her”.

    1. Good for you for reporting them! Sorry you have to deal with them, though. I’m with you — I’d rather the bitch you don’t mess with than the girl taking their shit.