It was a Monday that started out like any other day since I’ve lived in Spain. I lazily ate breakfast, worked on my laptop, and headed to my favorite coffee shop for an espresso. I was purposely putting my run off until that evening, because the hot water boiler in my apartment was broken and wouldn’t be able to get a post-run shower in until then. I didn’t mind this. I go on night runs all the time. After all, I’m the Saltine that wrote the post titled, I’m Not an F’ing Morning Runner.
As I sipped from the ceramic coffee shop mug, deep in thought about this and that, I didn’t know by the time I got to that shower, I’d be harassed three times and physically assaulted twice.
On my way back from the café, a British man, a notoriously questionable character that roams my neighborhood, ran up to me — RAN — and shouted, “Oh darling, where have you been all my life?! Look at that ASS!” If only at the time I knew that was going to be the least worrisome thing that happened to me that day.
I’ve always felt safe running in Spain at night because I run along a popular beach boardwalk where there are pedestrians, runners and bikers at all hours. So I thought nothing of it, when it was about 8:00 p.m. when I finally laced up after dropping my clean clothes and shower goods off at my boyfriend’s house, where I planned to pirate his hot water. I joked, “It’s too late for this shit,” before I smiled and walked out the door for my seven miles out and back.
Shortly before my turn-around spot, I passed a couple of boys on bikes. As the third one approached, I noticed he was getting closer and closer to me. In the past, boys on bikes have tried to intimidate me by getting too close, so I assumed that’s what this kid was doing. There was a light pole in the sidewalk, and I purposely ran to the left on the thin part of the sidewalk, separating me from the biker.
He slowed way down when he passed me, reached around the light pole, and grabbed my butt, sneering at me while he did it. He was aggressive, terrifying, seemingly fueled by violence and hatred. What happened next is such a blur.
I don’t know what words came out, but I screamed at him with all my might. He laughed as he biked away slowly. It felt like an out-of-body experience, when a voice in my head asked me, are you going to let this happen to you or what?
Within ten seconds I turned around and was sprinting towards him with fury. He was taken aback, but kept sneering, looking proud of his violation of my body. I was gaining on him. I was without a plan.
The coward sped up and got away. In the meantime, his friends were hanging behind watching the scene unfold. In the distance between the remaining two boys and me, there was a fellow woman runner. I caught up with her and informed her about what happened. She told me in English she was Dutch, and that she couldn’t speak Spanish. The boys had verbally harassed her in Spanish when they passed her. She sped up with me, and stood by my side when I caught up with the other two teenagers. I sprinted approximately 200 meters to catch these pigs.
I asked them if they could speak English. They said no, but I’m sure they understood what I was saying. They knew what they had done was wrong, but I could see they were more entertained than ashamed. I told them in Spanish that they could be so kind to tell their little friend I’ll be calling the police. Then they looked scared.
My new Dutch ally angrily shouted at them in her language when they laughed at us. That’s when I stepped forward and said, “Don’t fucking laugh at THIS.” That is when the second boy punched me in the jaw. His hit was a hybrid between a punch and a slap and it didn’t hurt as much as it scared me. He looked as surprised about it as I did.
His bike was on the ground, so I held it down with my foot while I tried to get some passersby to help, who all were unfortunately incredibly and disappointingly unwilling. The Dutch woman did not have a phone with her, so she could not call either. Meanwhile, the boy that hit me was pulling on the bike as I was stepping on the spokes. I was in fight or flight mode. He ripped the bike from under me, but his water bottle became unattached from the bottom. I kicked it into traffic as they biked away.
The Dutch woman ran with me a couple minutes in the aftermath, trying to keep me calm. I could not call the police because I could barely speak in any language, let alone Spanish in that moment. I also do not know what the police could have done exactly, as the boys fled the scene, and there were several boys on bikes on the boardwalk that fit their description.
The three miles I ran home were among the loneliest and scariest I’ve ever run. I got harassed a third time that day about a mile away from home. Another teenage boy began running next to me to make his friends laugh. I was still furious about the violence that had just occurred so I stopped running and stared at him, while he gave up and ran back to his friends, laughing.
When I got back to my boyfriend’s house, he helped me call the police and file a report. He assured me that I did the right thing by confronting them. I know that what I did was risky, and the could-have-beens haunted me until 3:00 a.m. that morning when I finally fell asleep. I did what I needed to do in the moment, and I came out relatively unscathed, at least physically.
As I responded to an acquaintance who told me I should not have acted out:
Please never tell a victim what they should or should not have done. You never know how you will react until you are being tested in the moment.
The worst thing was my purple left hand, and I’m still not sure how that happened. The aggressive grab to my ass and the punch to my face did not hurt physically, but certainly damaged me mentally. The violation of my body and the violence I experienced after defending myself was a reminder to me of the sick misogyny that still runs the world.
If I had to go back in time, I would do the same exact thing. I defended myself when the perpetrators thought they could get away with their harassment. I surprised them. I scared them. I hope that they will never think about violating another runner or woman again thanks to the great chase of 2017.
I am creating signs to hang along the boardwalk to warn other women. They will be in Spanish and in English, featuring caricatures of the perverts on bikes. If they are taken down, I will keep putting them up. Because this is not ok.
I wish I could say this is an isolated incident, but the disturbing part about harassment in Spain is that the men get much too close to me and my fellow women. They act like they are going to hit me with their bikes, they make kissing and sexual gestures and they lunge at me. Harassment in America is bad enough, but here it’s very much more physical, dripping with malice, and overtly sexual. But social norms don’t excuse this.
This incident taught me a lot about myself. If I don’t defend myself, who will? I will never NOT defend myself against perverts, rapists and men who hate women. Because I fought back, because I chased them and caught them, maybe they will think twice the next time they try to assault another woman. Because maybe that woman will happen to be a crazy bitch like me who will chase them too.
The next morning it was difficult to process all of my emotions, and I felt angry that these strangers had stolen so much of my time and peace when running. Yet, I laced up and went for a run anyway. I’m in a critical stage of my training, and I am also not about to let some misogynist punk teenagers negate all the hard work I’ve put in the last two months.
I hate that this incident happened, but I am stronger because of it. I refuse to live my life in fear.
Have you ever experienced harassment or violence on a run? How did you respond?