A new study has found that six in 10 women have been sexually harassed at least once while at the gym, leading many to avoid it
Exercise is a vital part of good wellbeing, supporting both our physical and mental health. But a new survey from personal training experts Origym has highlighted the barriers to women accessing gyms as, in a survey of more than 1,000 gym-goers, the report found that six in 10 women have been sexually harassed at least once while at the gym.
Sexual harassment can take many different forms, including physical and verbal actions. And the top ways women and those of marginalised genders reported being harassed by men include:
They stood too close to me (14%)
They made patronising comments (13%)
They laughed or jeered at me (13%)
They made inappropriate comments to me (13%)
They made sexual comments about my appearance (12%)
They flirted with me or made a pass at me (12%)
They wouldn’t take no for an answer when I didn’t want help or advice (12%)
They followed me around the gym (11%)
They brushed against me (10%)
They made sexual comments about my gym kit (10%)
With this in mind, the report went on to explore the ways that women adapt the way that they behave at the gym, finding that two in five women avoid exercising at the gym, 45% chose to go with a friend, and 43% go with a partner because ‘men make them feel uncomfortable’. Additionally, some women avoid certain areas of the gym, in particular resistance areas, flexible floor space, swimming pools, and free weights.
The findings come against the backdrop of a surge in searches for women’s only gyms, with 31% of women saying that they see the benefit of these spaces, speculating they would lead to women feeling safer and more comfortable. But while these spaces are increasingly available, the report puts an emphasis on the importance of taking steps to help others feel safer in the gym by assessing our own behaviour, and being conscious of the needs of others.
Amongst a series of recommendations, Origym suggests that men call out other men for harassment, give people space when they are exercising, and refrain from making comments on other people’s bodies – both positive and negative.
‘Gym-timidation’ is a term used colloquially to describe the experience of feeling intimidated and unsure at the gym, and it’s something that both newbies and regulars can experience. It may be triggered by others’ behaviour, or it could be more to do with the relationship that an individual has with themselves – but this experience can be enough to stop us from getting the most out of fitness spaces. Read more about our tips for overcoming gym-timidation.
Of course, sexual harassment doesn’t just happen in gyms, and it can affect those of all genders. Victim Support defines sexual harassment as ‘any kind of unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature that makes you feel humiliated or intimidated, or that creates a hostile environment.’
If you have experienced sexual harassment, Victim Support’s advice is to try to keep a record of your experiences, noting dates, times, and details of what happened, in case you decide to report it.
If harassment happens at the gym, you can report it to the gym manager. If sexual harassment escalates into violence, threats, or sexual assault, you can report it to the police by calling 101 and, if you’re in danger, call the police on 999.
Victim Support also offers a live chat and a phone line, which you can contact to explore the options that are available to you, and to get support.
Need to speak to someone? Connect with a counsellor using counselling-directory.org.uk