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

Sesame’s Story:

First of all, I just want to first acknowledge that all of this talk about sexual assault and sexual harassment can be tough to hear. I totally support people speaking up and bringing light to this issue, as it is truly an epidemic. I’m sure that women who weren’t comfortable sharing their stories previously have been empowered to simply state, “me too.” Victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment deal with a lot of feelings and issues and there is comfort knowing that so many others out there have been there and have felt and dealt with the same things. Other people have walked in your shoes and can truly empathize with what you going through. Your feelings are normal and are completely justified. The #metoo movement has definitely brought light to the fact that we aren’t alone.

I was out running on a Sunday afternoon after church when a man grabbed me by the arm and dragged me through the woods. He threatened to kill me if I didn’t do what he said. I was 20 years old and I believed him. I still believe that he could’ve easily killed me if he had wanted to. To this day, I feel extremely fortunate that he didn’t kill me. He did, however, rape me repeatedly. That is my #metoo moment and it changed the entire trajectory of the rest of my life.

I know without a doubt that nothing I did that day was my fault. Of course, I have questioned what I could’ve done differently, what I would do if something like this were to happen again, etc. It’s impossible not to replay those scenarios over and over again.

Here’s the thing: as women, we have proven our worth in society and shown that we are just as brave and intelligent as men. But even as we affirm female agency and strength, we can miss an equally important, albeit unsettling, reality: Women are vulnerable in the world in ways that men, as a rule, aren’t. This is harsh, but it’s reality. Women are as strong and as gifted as men, but if we gloss over our physical differences, we’ll also gloss over the dangers we face. All the gumption and intelligence in the world mean little when a man is intent on harming a woman. Nothing hurts me more or gets me more fired up than when I hear someone say that women shouldn’t be scared, shouldn’t be afraid to stand up for ourselves or shouldn’t let ourselves be attacked.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the “not today mother f*cker” story that went viral earlier this year. I am so thankful that this runner reacted the way that she did. However, the more this is talked about the more I feel like I did something wrong. My brain goes to places like, “Why did I let myself get attacked? How stupid am I?” This is not a fun place to be. In the midst of sexual assault, the brain’s fear circuitry dominates and all that’s left are reflexes and habits. Most victims will freeze, some will fight back, some will resist in habitual, passive ways, some will suddenly give in and cry, while others will become paralyzed, become faint, pass out or dissociate. Everyone’s brain reacts to attack and terror differently.

None of these responses entail consent or cowardice. These are all responses that we should expect from brains dominated by the circuitry of fear (just as we should expect fragmented and incomplete memories). May we NEVER blame ourselves for how we reacted or didn’t react and may we NEVER blame someone else for reacting differently than expected.

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Salty Running Editor-in-Chief. Ultrarunner, yoga teacher, academic, and feminist. I write about ultrarunning, feminism, and the intersection of running and life.

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6 comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.