Sunday, November 4, 2018

Male runners have privileges not experienced by women runners.

Give a little whistle
Not just a little squeak, pucker up and blow.
And if your whistle is weak, yell!

Jiminy Cricket

Last week I waxed poetic about running a single track trail along the Assiniboine River. I was in the moment and revelling in the natural beauty of this ancient river. I was approached from behind by a man who slowed to match my steps.  I knew he was there, I could hear his footsteps and his breathing. I knew he wanted to pass but the dense forest and narrow trail made this impossible.  We ran silently in single file for minutes.

I wasn't scared or concerned about my safety. At no time did I feel threatened or nervous.  After several minutes of silence we engaged in a pleasant conversation before he pulled out on a flat section and passed me with a friendly wave.

I have come to realize that, as a man, I am privileged. I run trails solo through dense forest or dimly lit streets, night or day without fear of sexual assault or hurtful, sexualized comments and threats.  Truth is, I don't give my safety a second thought.  I run without a plan. I often don't share my whereabouts with my wife, or my expected return time.  I just run, carefree, lost in bliss searching for perfection.

I expect all men share my relaxed attitude and run freely without a care. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Women and girl runners do not enjoy the same freedom. They run with a heightened sense of awareness of their surroundings.

And so they should!

Last year 180 women were sexually assaulted in Winnipeg. Manitoba has the highest rate of sexual assault in Canada, almost double the national average. In 2016 about 109 people per 100,000 reported being sexually assaulted to police (the national rate is 58 per 100,000).

A female friend recently found a woman on Harte Trail who had just been sexually assaulted. Her presence frightened the man and he ran away. The attack took place at about about 6:10 PM in light dusk. There were plenty of people on the trail enjoying the last moments of fall. Harte Trail winds through family friendly Charleswood, perhaps the safest neighbourhood in the city. If women can't feel safe on Harte Trail they .... sheesh, this is depressing.

I invited female runners to comment.  This is a sampling edited for clarity and brevity:
  • I lost my courage to run alone. Maybe one day it will come back. Please be safe.
  • I always run there as it’s a block from my house It is isolated in some spots and as a woman I always am extra careful on trails. I have my phone out and take pictures of everyone on the trail. I can’t keep up with runners at the running room anymore so have to run alone 😕 I’m just careful.
  • I usually run on the seine river trail depending on the day it can be isolated or busy. I most often feel safe but getting more concerned about running alone on trails.
  • I’m afraid to run alone in general. I stay where it is busy and light out. It’s unfortunate, i feel I have to stay away from trails.
  • I won’t run on isolated paths. I usually stick to main roads. I would love to run on trails but I just don’t feel safe.
  • I do not feel safe running alone on isolated paths at any time of day. I will run on trails/bike paths with good visibility during the day alone without ear phones, but not after dark. I am wary of my surrounding and will be extra careful under bridges etc. Realistically this forces me to run indoors during the work week for 6-8 months of the year.
  • I like the trails so one ear bud in and ready to groin kick the heck out of anyone who bugs me.
  • I was attacked just walking home not running but still the incident left me feeling hurt, uneasy, angry, scared, vulnerable and weak. I was fortunate enough to escape the attackers hold and thankfully a car passed by in time for me to do so. That was 10 years ago and I'm still jumpy and get easily startled. 
  • I run with a "personal protection device" and dog spray. Sadly, mace is illegal here so I need other forms of protection when out alone. 
  • If someone is attacking me, I'll use any means to defend myself.
Many woman runners offered safety strategies including: dog spray, running with a buddy,  have a plan, tell your plan, and stick to your plan.  Another common strategy -news to me... again, male privilege talking here- is running with a whistle to alert others when in danger. Three long blasts from a whistle is the international code for distress so use it to your advantage.

In response, Ted's Run for Literacy Race Committee will purchase 100 high quality whistles & lanyard with a top ten list of trail running safety tips for women. We will distribute the whistles and top ten list free of charge to any woman or girl that requests one.  We are partnering with a local company which will remain anonymous until the details are in place. Watch for details on Facebook and this blog.

Please do not view this as opportunistic. Our race committee is mostly woman (about 75%) and we truly do care about our community.

It's a good day to be alive.