Women on running in Ireland: ‘I’ve been jeered at, catcalled, followed’
Is harassment of female runners ‘endemic’? Readers share their experiences
‘A very pleasant female Garda advised me to run on a treadmill instead, saying “You’re asking for trouble if you run in the city”. I haven’t run in the city since.’ Photograph: iStock/Getty Images
Writing in The Irish Times this week, Orla Muldoon described how she and two other women were harassed on three occasions while out for a run recently in Limerick.Her experience, and those of other women she has spoken to since, “suggests that on-street harassment of runners is an endemic problem in Ireland”. Research in the UK has found that nine in 10 female runners have experienced harassment.
Is such behaviour as widespread in Ireland? We asked readers to share their experiences.
Louise Mc, Dublin: ‘You’re asking for trouble if you run in the city’
I used to run twice or three times a week. On one occasion, I was on my usual route and I noticed a group of young men on the path ahead. They had their backs to me, but it was evident that they were intoxicated. I experienced that sinking feeling that so many female runners can relate to: that rising sense that you need to get away from this situation and the potential threat. I tried to be discreet as I slowed, considering my next move. Would I overtake the group? Would that leave me vulnerable to comments from these men? Or would I turn around and retrace my route, even though I considered this an unsuccessful run as I had mapped out a particular route that I wanted to cover?
These are the thoughts that frequently occupy the minds of female runners. In the end, I decided to err on the side of caution and turned around, rather than passing out the group. Unfortunately, one of the men spotted me. He shouted “Why are you turning around? Are you afraid of us? Are you afraid we’ll gang rape you?” The group laughed loudly. I didn’t turn around. They shouted a few more slurs as I ran away in the opposite direction.
Many female runners will relate to this fear that verbal harassment may escalate into a physical attack. I contacted local Gardaí. A very pleasant female Garda advised me to run on a treadmill instead, saying “You’re asking for trouble if you run in the city”. I haven’t run in the city since.
Clare Spain, Dublin: ‘I have been spat on by men through their car windows’
I’ve been running for about four years, mostly alone, sometimes with my husband, sometimes with other female friends. I’ve been verbally harassed on any number of occasions, always by men, never when running with my husband. It happens most often when I am running with another woman, usually by a man in the company of other men. I have never been harassed by a man who is with another woman.
On occasion I’ve stopped to confront the harassers to ask why they said what they did (always a comment on my appearance), and this has been met every time with shouted obscenities.
I have had the same verbal harassment while cycling, again always from men alone or in the company of other men, and always about my appearance. Where those men have been driving, their comments have sometimes been preceded or followed by aggressive driving to force me off the road. I have twice been deliberately spat on by men through their car windows while I waited at traffic lights on my bike.
Sarah Cormican, Galway: ‘A young man pretended to follow me’
Like most women who run outside in a city I’ve experienced this at various points. On the worst occasion a young man pretended to follow me and shouted abuse at me when I asked him to leave me alone; I changed my route after this to avoid running past the same spot.
Susan Fogarty, Dublin: ‘One of the boys started chasing after me’
I got into running when living in Japan. It was a nice way of exercising that I could do whenever I wanted. I never ever felt unsafe. I tried to keep this up when I came back to Dublin but it did not last long. I was jogging in my area in the evening. When approaching the entrance of DCU on Collins Avenue, I saw three boys ahead of me on the path, and I thought to myself, “I’ll give them wide berth... just in case”. I moved on to the grass verge before I overtook them. I had headphones on with music low enough so I could hear them laughing at me. Then one of the boys started chasing after me. He was so close that he was shoving me off course. I was able to give him a dig in the ribs and he slowed down but kept shouting. I suddenly got really scared that they might try to do something worse so I started to run really fast through the university grounds. I passed a security guard but I was so upset I just wanted to get home as soon as possible.
I didn’t run for about a year after that, and I don’t run in the evenings at all anymore. I’ve started running as part of my commute, but I do wonder what will happen when it starts to get dark. I don’t want to change my routine but equally, I don’t want to be intimidated. Isn’t that sad?
Claire Halpin, Dublin: ‘I have never been harassed while out running’
I have never been harassed while out running in Dublin. I live in Blackrock and regularly run the roads of Booterstown, Blackrock, Stillorgan, Dun Laoghaire and surrounds. And I run more frequently when it’s dark during the cooler autumn and winter evenings. This has been my pattern for past five or so years. I’m a 5’5’’ slim built, middle-aged woman. I have had both male and female pedestrians and cyclists smile, move out of my way, wave me ahead of them while running. I have had drivers pause as lights change to let me cross the road. Endemic harassment? Not even close to my experience.
Susan, Dublin: ‘I’ve been jeered at, catcalled from passing cars, followed’
I wouldn’t say it’s endemic, but it certainly is a problem. I’m rarely ever hassled running alone but when running with other women I’ve been jeered at, catcalled from passing cars, followed by groups of young lads, had a man body check one of our group off a pavement, been told we needed to run faster.
The boys and men that hassle seem to think it’s just a bit of craic when there’s a group of women to shout at; maybe they think it’s not as threatening when we’re in company, while they show off to their mates, but it’s still really unpleasant. Hassle may not be endemic, but ask any female runner if she thinks about her safety and constantly watches out for danger on a run, and the answer would probably be yes. I’d be curious to see how male runners would respond to the same question.
Martha Farrell: ‘Men don’t bother me while running’
I might have had a beep of a car once or twice over the last eight years, but no, men don’t bother me while running.
Eibhin: ‘As a woman running on her own, I felt quite vulnerable’
I’ve been harassed numerous times while out running in Dublin, from jeers, to verbal abuse, having my path blocked, and being physically pushed. I switched to running early in the morning to avoid hassle, and for a more enjoyable run. I think it’s something all runners have experienced at some stage, but as a woman running on her own, I felt quite vulnerable.
Maura: ‘In my experience, it just isn’t an issue’
I am female in my mid-30s and run about 40 miles a week, mostly in or around Dublin city including various parks, or by the canal or sea, at all times of day, morning and evening in the dark. I have never once been harassed or had any comment (whether good, bad or indifferent) made by any passer-by - apart from friendly wave from someone who knows me. From following media in the UK, it appears there is a culture of female harassment there. In Ireland, in my experience, it just isn’t an issue.
Bianca, Dublin: ‘When it’s just you and them is when I feel scared’
Sunday mornings when the city is quiet and it’s just you and them is when I feel scared. Honking horns, cat-calling… and once I was followed for a good while by a man in his car.
Catherine Lane: ‘I avoid running late at night’
I have had people shouting at me from cars. I generally wear earphones and listen to music so I don’t have to engage or listen to that. I am particular about when and where I run to avoid running late at night or in a less public or poorly lit route. I was running with my sister once and we came upon a group of lads who were drinking, that was quite scary. They tried to stop her running but we got away.
Máire Mc Cotter, Belfast: ‘We need to reclaim our public spaces’
I run the Falls Park as part of the Parkrun, and also on my own. On several occasions men of differing ages have verbally abused me with cat calls about my looks, age and gender. I ensure I run when there are other people in the park, mostly in the mornings and at weekends. By reclaiming our open spaces and challenging macho and sexist behavior, women will be able to enjoy what is a great form of physical and mental wellbeing.