It has been an emotionally charged week in the UK, following the news of the tragic death of Sarah Everard, who was abducted as she walked home at night through the streets of London.
Since then, women have been sharing their experiences of feeling vulnerable walking alone through British streets and a campaign has begun to #ReclaimTheseStreets.
In an important piece, the BBC also shone a light on what it is like for women to train for their sport alone – and why it is so different from the male experience.
They interviewed two British runners, Sabrina Sinha and Mara Yamauchi to hear their stories, and they made for some compelling and distressing listening.
First Sinha. “I started running about aged 11, and since then I have been cat-called, shouted at, and had cars slow down by me,” she explained.
“This was only when I was on my own or with a female running partner or even a group of girls. It has literally never happened when I was running with a boy.
“I think for me it’s probably happened on more runs than it hasn’t happened.
“My sister is also an athlete and it would happen constantly when we were on runs together. We didn’t tell our parents until at least two years later, because we just accepted that this was a normal reality to face despite being really young.
“I didn’t know any better until I spoke to my parents and they said this is not acceptable. My father actually apologised to both me and my sister on behalf of men.
“Even though it is not OK, we’ve had to accept it. I’ve had to change my own behaviour.
“I try to limit running in shorts because I don’t feel comfortable, but once it gets to the summer it is so hot it’s really hard not to, therefore I’ll make sure that I wear a bit more on my top half, but I never run in a crop top.
“I just don’t feel comfortable in my own body because I know for a fact that I would be heckled if I’m running in shorts and a vest.
“I’m constantly on guard. I try to avoid secluded places but that’s quite hard because I do a volume of about 18km, if not more, on a run, so it’s quite hard to find routes that are constantly busy.
“If it’s dark and I haven’t found a running partner by that time, very often I don’t run, so it has completely changed my routine because I can’t risk the danger of going out on my own in the dark.
“I can’t believe how many of my male running friends have never even considered it a possibility, they are so unaware of what us females go through.
“They could go running at any time of day and feel comfortable, so just even raising awareness to say “this is what is happening” so that they are looking out and being aware how we’re feeling, but also for girls to know they are not alone.
“Sadly, I would actually say I’ve been very fortunate in my situation. My experiences have been horrendous, but I’ve been fortunate that nothing more has occurred. And that’s really sad because I shouldn’t have had to have been in any of those situations.
“A lot of the time, I blame myself because we’ve been raised to accept that what we are wearing is the issue, or what we’re doing or how we look.”
And now, Yamauchi.
“I’ll be out training and ahead of me there’ll be a man running a bit slower than me. I catch him up and when I draw level he won’t let me go past.
“He’ll latch on to my shoulder and then run right behind me for several minutes. Usually I speed up to try and drop him. Every time this happens I think, is this man just being competitive? Is he going to assault me? Should I stop and confront him? This has happened to me a few times and it happened to me on Thursday when I was running with a female friend.
“No woman being treated like this knows whether this man latching on to them is completely benign or not.
“Also, there’s a complete lack of consent from the woman. The man is effectively saying I’m going to gatecrash your training session without your permission – tough if you don’t like it.
“From hearing stories of women who run, it’s clear that women are not safe while they’re running.
“I’ve had the luxury of being a full-time athlete for many years so I always ran in the daytime. I don’t have to often run in the dark, but I completely relate to women feeling fearful.
“This can be solved so easily. Men can just not latch on to women. But also education is really important; men just talking about this with their peers, saying “you just can’t do this, the women don’t know what your intent is”. It’s totally unnecessary and creates unnecessary anxiety for the women.
“We can all do better. It’s easy to think “I would never do that, so it’s nothing to do with me”. But you can help other people to not do it.”
Two shocking accounts from women who compete at the very top in the running world and represent their country.
The idea behind Sportside has always been for people to connect and play – to join together for a shared sporting experience. The fact that this experience should be safe has always been presumed. But, judging from the comments from Yamauchi and Sinha, this must not ever be assumed.
We urge all Sportsiders to #ReclaimTheseStreets in every way they can using the app. Finding your regular running partner – whether you are a male or female athlete – is a step in the right direction of course, but Yamuachi’s point about educating men about how, without them even realising it, they can very easily intimidate and ruin a woman’s training regime.
Communication is key and Sportside is here to help in any way it can. Our ambition is to help create active – and safe – communities and we continue to strive to achieve that aim.
There was more positive news for women’s – and specifically girls’ – sport last week with the announcement that Countdown’s Rachel Riley is leading a new campaign to empower girls to get involved in sport to help them build confidence for their adult lives.
The 35-year-old mathematician’s campaign is to encourage more girls to stay in sports, highlighting the benefits that go beyond the field of play.
A recent report showed that lockdown has resulted in 68 per cent of teenage girls feeling more anxious about their future than they did before the pandemic but that, for 65 per cent of girls currently playing sport, it has helped them feel more confident about their future development.
The study, commissioned by Always sanitary towel manufacturers, found that women who played sports during puberty said doing so helped them build skills such as learning how to work as a team (45 per cent) and developing self-esteem (30 per cent) which have benefitted them in adult life.
In addition to participating in regular exercise and having fun, sports helped them develop important life skills including learning how to win and lose (36 per cent and become a better communicator (21 per cent). Another 25 per cent also said they believed sports helped their mental health.
Riley said: “I played so many different sports at school, from hurdles to football and the skills I learned helped me in so many ways.
“The biggest impact sport had was on my confidence, especially as a teen – it taught me to be more vocal and encouraged me to take the lead and this is something that has stayed with me in my adult life.
The worrying stats though, were that nearly one in three girls will drop out of sports during puberty, because they either don’t think they’re good enough (28 per cent) or don’t feel encouraged to keep playing (25 per cent). The survey via OnePoll also found that half of women who dropped out of sports as teens wish they had continued to play.
Progress in women’s sport has been rapid – but there remains so much work to be done. And Sportside can facilitate that work.