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Out There: Enough’s Enough

Susan Lacke thinks It's time for female runners to take a stand against catcalls, harassment--or worse.

Susan Lacke think it’s time we take a stand against catcalls, harassment—and worse.

Let’s file today’s column under “You GO, Girl”:

According to news reports in Pittsburgh last week, a man allegedly grabbed the buttocks of a female runner passing by, then pulled down her shorts.

Naturally, the runner screamed. But what came out of her mouth might not be what the assailant expected:

“Federal Marshal! Stop!”

She gave chase on her assailant, cornered him after a few blocks, and when he tried to get away, she struck one awesome, debilitating blow.

That’s right. She kicked that dude in the nuts. Her assailant was swiftly subdued, arrested, and sent to jail, where I presume he will get pantsed on a regular basis. Karma’s cool like that.

The line for high-fiving our bold marshal begins right here. Please form an orderly queue, friends. Be gentle, though. In the scuffle, she sustained one small injury to – of all things – her pinky finger.

Though the marshal was not identified by name in the news coverage of the event (standard protocol for victims of sexual violence), if she’s reading this, I would like to buy her a beer and thank her for being so rad. Somehow, just living vicariously through her bravery feels cathartic. As I’ve shared this story with my fellow runners over the last few days, they’ve expressed similar sentiments.

Recently, I wrote a column on my own experience with street harassment during a run, which prompted very emotional responses from Competitor readers. Overwhelmingly, there were readers – mostly women – who shared their stories of being followed, leered at, catcalled, groped, and worse during their runs. An obvious theme emerged: This kind of thing happens all the time, and we’re sick of it.

But there was also a counterpoint to those stories. Many people also said too many people are oversensitive about this topic; that we should be taking such behavior as a compliment; that if women didn’t want this kind of attention, we shouldn’t be running around in skin-tight shorts or a sports bra without a shirt. Their theme: This kind of thing happens all the time, and we should just get used to it.

Stories like what happened in Pittsburgh remind us there’s a third option: If we don’t want this kind of thing to happen all the time, we have to start fighting back.

I’d like to think that if I were in the same situation as the heroine of our story, I’d react in a similar fashion, nard-kicking and all. But truth be told, I’m not a particularly violent person. Even if I did know how to deliver a kick with enough force to subdue another person, I’m not certain I’d have enough cojones (pun intended) to chase a person down and actually do it. I hope I never have to find out.

But I can still fight back right now, and so can you.

I fight with my words, bringing awareness of this topic to my fellow runners and encouraging people to reconsider their lax approach to harassment. Others fight with their knowledge, teaching runners how to protect themselves in the event of an assault. Some fight with their example, teaching their children to treat others with respect. Some fight with their reactions, calling out inappropriate behavior when they see it – from friends and strangers alike. And some, like the Federal Marshal who chased her assailant, fight with their feet.

Yes, this kind of thing happens all the time.

But it doesn’t have to anymore.