Female gym-goers open up about sexual assaults by men

Female gym-goers open up about sexual assaults by men

By Meenakshi Sengupta

What makes women feel unsafe in the gym? Well, an unwanted stare, being stalked, or getting sexually assaulted. Addressing the harassment, one of the female gym-goers recollected how she got assaulted while using a treadmill in the gym. Charlotte Gordon, a 44-year-old married mother of two who works in mental health education, described how a man came behind her, stepped up on the treadmill, and kissed her on the shoulder, saying, “Good morning!” “I was absolutely stunned. I didn’t know what to do or say. He walked off while I looked around to see if anyone else had seen what had happened — but it was hard to tell. I didn’t quite believe it,” she explained.

Gordon said, “I’m fine to say a polite ‘hello’ or ‘how are you?’ but really, I want to be left alone. This man, a good 20 years older than me, would often come over to chat. He’d even sit next to me as I was working out and make little comments. Other women in the gym had experienced the same thing with him and we’d try to laugh it off, but it was annoying. I took to wearing my headphones and always cut off conversations with him quickly. He’d been a bit creepy with me in the past, previously leaning in to greet me with a kiss, but I’d backed off quickly.” Further talking about the sexual harassment, she added, “Jumping up behind me and kissing me on the shoulder crossed a line. I feared going back to the gym because I didn’t want him to do it again,” as per DailyMail.

‘Who do these men think they are?’

“I told my husband and he actually said I must have done something to make this man think he could do that,’ said Gordon, who then narrated, “I was so angry and we had a bit of an argument. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong but suddenly felt ashamed. It was my husband who said I should call the gym. I phoned and told the manager what time it happened. He watched the video footage while we were still on the phone. I heard the manager say, ‘Oh no, that’s not [ok]. I was so glad he said that — I felt vindicated. The manager told me he would ban the man from the gym. My husband was delighted, too. He could see I was shaken up by it.”

Gordon then added, “I discovered quite a few women who were all relieved when he was banned. Who do these men think they are? They can’t come into gyms and start touching women. I don’t know why we didn’t feel that we could do anything about it as a collective. If it hadn’t been for my husband urging me to say something, I’d have probably just changed gyms to stop the problem.”

‘He touched me really inappropriately’

Natalee Barnett, a fitness influencer with more than a million followers on TikTok, was sexually assaulted at her local gym five years ago. She was 18 at that time. Barnett, who is now 23, said, “I was sitting in front of the mirrors next to a male gym-goer, who I’d known for a while, and we were talking. As I laid back on one of the benches, he touched me really inappropriately. I don’t want to give exact details as it’s too upsetting. It was so rapid that at first, I questioned whether it had happened at all. I couldn’t believe a man would do such a thing to a woman in a public space. I jumped to my feet, without saying a word and kind of stumbled away. I was in shock. He’d never done anything to make me suspect he’d behave like that. I’ve no idea why he thought he could get away with it. I didn’t say anything to any of my family. I was upset and processing what had happened. I’ve got brothers and knew if they found out they would be very angry.” She added, “I didn’t go back for several weeks. Thankfully, I was soon heading off to university so I quit. But I’ll never forget how vulnerable it made me feel.”

Barnett also ran a survey via her Instagram account and received over 300 messages from women and girls describing what had happened to them. She said, “I’ve had girls as young as 16 saying men have slapped them on their bottoms. One woman told me that while she was working out on all fours, a man came up to her and said something lewd. Women just want to be able to go to the gym in peace and work out. Most men just want to work out, too, and leave us alone. But there are some who don’t understand gym etiquette and think they can assault or film women and that’s what we have to try to end.”

Why do some men think it’s okay to act like this?

Commenting on it, psychologist Dr Audrey Tang said, as stated by DailyMail, “There’s lots of research to show that testosterone — the primary sex hormone in men — rises in both men and women when they do strength training and this can heighten feelings of aggression or rage. Of course that’s in no way an excuse, but it could explain why some men behave in a more intimidating way in the gym. It’s also worth noting that men perform very differently in front of women than they do in front of other men, often trying to impress them rather than focusing on their own workouts.”

‘Report them’

Martha Whitehead, a solicitor from Olliers, explained, “Women often feel vulnerable to the unwanted attention of men, particularly in situations such as exercising, where men may interrupt, interfere, or disturb them by name calling, whistling, or commenting on their bodies or activity. Some men follow women, refuse to give space to faster runners or swimmers, taunt them by interfering with equipment, photographing them, and touching or sexually assaulting them.” “When I post about women-only gyms, I get messages from all over the world saying, ‘Open one here!’ because women want to work out in a place where they don’t feel threatened or harassed,” said Barnett. While personal trainer Sam McGowan, founder of The Strong AF Club, a fitness community aimed at helping women become fitter, said, “It isn’t up to female members of a gym to battle sexual harassment. The staff, organisations and other members who spot this kind of behaviour should be the ones to call it out and not allow it to happen. But any woman who feels uncomfortable because of another member should always know that it is well within their rights to report them.”


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