The beauty of Austin’s many parks certainly beckons us to take our exercise outside, soak up the warm weather and enjoy all our city has to offer. But before heading out for an outdoor jog, women must consider a few additional things: Will the area be lit? Will there be others around? Will it be safe to have AirPods in?
Certainly, all people must take safety precautions, but according to statistics, women are disproportionately more likely to be harassed in some form while exercising outdoors. In a recent Runner’s World survey, a massive 84% of women said they have experienced some kind of harassment while running that left them feeling unsafe. That includes physical actions like groping or being followed or flashed, as well as subtler forms like catcalls, honks and lewd comments.
While we cannot eliminate this threat, we can take certain precautions that will make us feel safer when we’re exercising at the park or other outdoor locations. Regardless of what happens, how it happens or where it happens, it’s never the victim’s fault. Everyone deserves to feel safe, and here are a few ideas on how you can protect yourself on your next outdoor run.
- Well-Lit and Maintained Parks. If maintenance is needed at a park you frequent, such as overgrown trees, tall grass or insufficient lighting, contact the Austin Parks and Recreation Department. It’s within your rights as a local citizen to ask them to keep those trails safe and maintained; your voice matters.
- Have a Pack. As we all know, there’s safety in numbers and it’s a smart idea to run in a group. If you don’t currently have a run group, check out the Austin Runners Club. They have lots of groups around town, and the list is organized by how far they run and the area of Austin they’re in.
- Use Your Voice. Know how to shut down a harasser. People who make lewd comments to women thrive on intimidation. Right To Be, an anti-harassment movement, suggests that one option is to reclaim your space by telling the harasser how you want their behavior to change, like: “I need you to stop talking to me right now.”
- Be Smart With Your Smartphone. Always carry your phone and know its safety features. These vary from phone to phone but on an iPhone 8 or later, you can simultaneously press and hold the right-side button and one of the volume buttons to engage the Emergency SOS feature. After a countdown, the phone will automatically call local authorities as well as send your emergency contacts your current location and updates whenever your location changes.
- Ears (and Eyes) Open. Always be aware of your surroundings. This often means making the decision to not use your AirPods. While it’s annoying to not be able to listen to music or a podcast, attackers look for what they consider to be an “easy victim,” and not being able to hear them approach gives them an edge.
- Be Prepared. Carry a self-defense device. Pepper spray is always a popular choice. Oftentimes, just making a lot of noise is all you need to deter an attack. The Birdie Personal Safety Alarm is a great option. When threatened, you can activate Birdie’s loud siren and flashing strobe light to create a diversion.
- Take a Self-Defense Class. It can be quite empowering to take a self-defense class and learn some basic strategies for breaking free from an attacker. The skills taught in these classes are always beneficial for a woman to know. Check out Yelp’s Top 10 Self-Defense Classes in Austin.
And guys, we know most of you aren’t creeps who harass women. So here’s how you can help make all women feel safe when you’re out for a run.
- Make sure you don’t sneak up behind women. Give a friendly verbal warning as you approach: “Passing on your left!”
- Give a wide berth. If you’re able to keep a distance of about three feet, that’s ideal.
- Keep conversations respectful. Refrain from commenting on her appearance, expressing surprise at her pace or saying anything sexual, ever. While you may think you’re paying her a compliment, these interactions can feel patronizing or threatening.
Taking a few extra precautions can statistically lower your chances of being harassed or attacked while exercising outdoors. There’s no way to completely eliminate the threat, unfortunately, but follow these tips and stay aware. Be safe, feel empowered and enjoy the beauty of Austin’s parks!
About the Author
Whitney Otstott is the owner of GirlPower Fitness, a private fitness studio in southwest Austin that’s just for women. Whitney has been in the fitness industry for more than 25 years, teaching numerous group fitness formats and offering personal training in a way that helps women get stronger and healthier in a nurturing and empowering environment. Learn more at https://girlpoweraustin.com/.