As a woman who dares to go out in public, I am often subjected to all kinds of lewd, sexist, or simply just startling remarks--even at 5:30AM when I’m jogging the three quarters of a mile to grab my run-buddy on the way to Prospect Park. It’s not exactly a lie to say that I rarely, if ever, feel physically threatened while practicing my sport, but it’s also not entirely true to say that I feel totally safe as a runner.
It was this, the feeling of insecurity, that brought me to the Run Collective’s safety-themed “Be a Good Run Citizen” discussion at Lululemon’s Hub Seventeen during January’s Run Safety Awareness Week. The event was introduced by the NYC running consultant and coach extraordinaire John Honerkamp and facilitated by Adidas coach and founder of GIRLS RUN NYC Jessie Zapo. Panel members included Hannah Pennington of the Mayor's Office, Domestic Violence & Women’s Rights, Damara Gonzales, the Children's Program Coordinator at Sanctuary for Families, and self-defense coach Todd Williams. The talk was thought-provoking, educational, and inspiring.
The panel gave a range of advice for running safely. Topics spanned from how to be a supportive listener to runners who have experienced harassment to the types of self-defense trainings the panelists find most effective. With respect to the former, the panelists highlighted the importance of letting the victim speak about what happened, validating their feelings, and assuring the victim that what happened was not their fault. In terms of practical measures, the panelists emphasized the importance of preparedness, de-escalating potential conflicts and suggested taking a self-defense workshop series.
The panelists acknowledged that the topic of “runner safety”, and safety in general, can often feel frustrating for women who have to adapt their behaviors in response to the bad behaviors of the people who are making us feel unsafe. However, throughout the discussion, there were also many hopeful statements about work that is being done to correct this imbalance through the Mayor’s Office, Sanctuary for Families, and through educational initiatives targeted toward young people around issues of respect and consent.
During the Q & A, I explained that when people leer at me when I’m out running, their comments are often just obnoxious, but rarely do I feel in danger. I asked the panel if I should continue responding to these relatively innocuous comments, and if not, for some practical advice on how to bite my tongue. The panelists’ responses varied, ranging from commending me for speaking out to suggesting I call the police. After some consideration, I explained that as a white woman living in a neighborhood where the majority of residents are people of color, I do not feel that calling the police is the appropriate response to annoying yet nonthreatening comments, if I am considering the safety of the people making the comments. Again the responses varied, and Jessie’s reaction, that this is a complex and layered issue without straightforward solutions, resonated with me the most.
I’m not sure that I came away from the discussion with a clear answer to my question, but I think that’s because there isn’t one. Navigating the world safely, confidently, joyfully, and carefully can be a challenge for all of us sometimes, regardless of whether we’re in Nikes or stilettos. However, I did leave Hub Seventeen feeling safer in the knowledge that I’m not alone in my concerns or quest for solutions, and that the NYC running community has my back.
If you or someone you know needs help coping, text “WELL” to 65173, call 1-888-NYC-WELL or go to the NYC WELL website to chat. If you or someone you know may be experiencing domestic violence, call 1-800-621-HOPE or visit the NYC HOPE website to get help. For additional resources, visit the NYC Human Rights Commission’s website.
Image by PaFoua Hang.
Pictured from left to right: Yuen Chun, Stephanie Creaturo, Lindsay Ross of the Brooklyn Rogues
Pictured from left to right: John Honerkamp, Beth Dukes, Don Eschenauer, Jennie Matz