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Real Stories of Women Who Were Sexually Harassed While Working Out

Photo: Stephanie Keith / Stringer / Getty Images

Sexual harassment and assault have been getting more public attention than ever, thanks to the #MeToo movement (and now #TimesUp). And it's about time: Statistics show that someone is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds in the U.S., yet the issue hadn't been brought to light at this magnitude until now. 

The more we started speaking about these issues, the clearer it became that sexual harassment happens everywhere—including the gym. More than 5 percent of women and 1 percent of men report having been sexually harassed at the gym (including being touched or groped, photographed, joked about, followed around, commented on, or stared at), according to a survey of 1,000 people across the U.S. by Fitrated, a platform for gym equipment reviews. More than 10 percent of those people said gym staff or trainers were the ones engaging in these inappropriate behaviors.

Find that hard to believe? These real stories from women who've been harassed or assaulted during their workouts will drive it home: Sexual harassment is way too commonplace, and it's time to do something about it.


"He adjusted MY body with HIS hands."

I was using the Smith squat machine when a guy took it upon himself to start "coaching me" from behind and "spotting" a barbell-only squat that I could clearly handle on my own. (Worth noting, the Smith machine has a built-in assist and safety.) At one point he had his body against mine at the lowest point of my squat, to which I threw my head back to headbutt him.

Another time, I was teaching a TRX class and was demonstrating a basic squat and a squat jump. A trainer walking by came into my class and started talking about the importance of good squat form. He then decided to adjust MY body with HIS hands as he mansplained the same information I just went over. Top it all off, he ended with, "when you're ready to stop playing in classes and get some real results, sign up to train with me."

Harassment is the number-one reason I got out of the fitness world. Mansplaining is one thing—but not listening to a guy mansplain his reasons for coming into my closed class got me physically assaulted. Trying to work on my body got me sexually harassed too many times to count." Kelley, 31, New York City

"They yelled, 'Run, you slut!'"

The summer after I graduated from college, I was running midafternoon on a 90-degree day, trying to fit in some miles between my two lifeguarding jobs. I was running in a sports bra and shorts to keep cool during the heat. Toward the end of my workout, a car filled with either high school or college-aged guys slowed down and start yelling "run you slut" and "take the rest of your clothes off" before speeding away. I was furious and embarrassed, and couldn't believe that these kids thought it was funny or OK to harass someone like that. Guys work out or run without shirts on all the time, and I doubt they're harassed for it.

More recently, I was training for the Boston Marathon and was on a long run. I was toward the end of the run and in the zone with my music on low. An older man across the street had apparently been trying to get my attention. When I didn't turn, he literally barked (like a dog) at me. I heard that through my music and jumped because I thought there was an unleashed dog. When I saw him, he laughed, whistled, and then gave me the thumbs up.

I stopped running with music from when I graduated college until my recent marathon training, and even then I keep it on the lowest volume. Part of that reasoning was to better hear and control my breathing, but a major part was because I wanted to be more aware of my surroundings to be safe.

I also travel a lot for work and many times I won't run alone because I need to get my workout in early in the morning and I'm not familiar with the cities or which areas are safe to run in. It's something that a lot of my male coworkers have noted they don't think about on these trips, but it hugely shapes my training schedule planning.

I almost always run alone and after Vanessa Marcotte was murdered in Massachusets during her jog in 2016, it has had me and other female runners on high alert. No one needs unwanted advances or frightening occurrences like this to add to that already high anxiety." Meagan, 25, Boston

"He was naked and masturbating."

My trainer FaceTimed me multiple times. I ignored his calls because I thought it was strange and that if it was important he'd leave a voicemail or text/email me, but he kept calling (at least five times). Finally, I answered. He was naked and masturbating with the camera pointed directly on him. I hung up immediately. He then proceeded to Facebook message me, begging me to answer the phone, saying that it was "a form of flattering" to have him want to masturbate to my voice/face/gym results.

I avoided the gym for a while after that. For a few months, I even avoided walking on the same street as the gym to avoid any contact with the trainer. I finally got the courage to walk in and ask to speak to the manager and the owner. Once the manager heard my story (a woman) she had me talk to the owner. Sadly, the owner basically said to get over it because it happens in all gyms." Roxy, 29, New York City

"He 'couldn't help telling me that my camel toe turned him on.'"

I was at my powerlifting gym squatting early in the morning when some guy walked up to me. I usually had headphones on because I didn't want to talk to anyone but I had just taken them off to squat. He came up to me mid-rep and asked me if I was a member at the gym. I entertained his casual conversation and then he told me he "couldn't help telling me that my camel toe turned him on because it was so sexy." The good news: The gym kicked him out shortly after. Alyssa, 25, Boston

"I heard: 'Hey, running girl, nice ass.'"

One (of many) incidents that's burned in my memory: I was running through the downtown in a small city where I went to college. I was standing on a street corner with another woman waiting for the walk sign to turn. During the red light, a Jeep with four college-aged kids started screaming in my direction. I heard, "Hey, running girl, nice ass. You should go to formal with my friend!" Then they all started screaming about how I should go to this dance with this guy, who was apparently in the car. The red light seemed to last forever, while they yelled things like "You can wear that if you want," "Look at those legs," and "It's tomorrow night, can you come?!" I felt humiliated, and I looked to the woman next to me for some comfort in this shared moment. She didn't make eye contact, and avoided looking at me or the Jeep. When the light finally turned green, they screeched away, and I turned to the woman and said something like, "Wow that was embarrassing," and she looked at me, turned red, and quickly went away without saying anything. The worst part about the whole thing, honestly, is when I think back to the woman I was standing with. I hate that what those men did singled me out, and in turn, singled her out. Obviously, I don't ever want to be treated that way, but I also don't want men turning women against each other. Emily, 24, Arlington, VA

"He followed me outside and grabbed my waist from behind."

Last year, I was in the middle of my race season and went to the gym to do some incline training on the treadmill. A few miles in, I noticed that a man was watching me and continued to get closer. Eventually, he came over and leaned in to say, "Why don't you just stop running from me?" Immediately, I went to go leave, but he followed me outside and grabbed my waist from behind. He then ripped my earphones off and started asking why I was ignoring him. When I started screaming at him not to touch me, he proceeded to dump his entire bottle of Gatorade on me and call me every derogatory word you can think of. —Marissa, 24, New York City

If you or someone you love has experienced sexual violence, call the free, confidential National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673).


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