Lots of women feel unsafe running in the dark – so we give up something we love | Robyn Vinter

At this time of year, swapping fresh air for a sweaty gym, I yearn for a society in which we can go outside without fear

My normal running route takes me through the backstreets of the former factory town where I live, up winding tracks through farms and small clusters of sandstone houses to grizzly, grey-green moorland. It is a steep route, but the view from the top of the hill is breathtaking. On a clear day, it is possible to see forests, farmland, moors and lakes more than 30 miles into the Yorkshire Dales. I do the same run nearly every day, and it somehow looks different each time. I never grow tired of it.

I run because I enjoy the exhilaration of the fresh air and the outdoors. This time of year it is the damp smell of the leaves, the misty woodland and mushrooms. I like the rush of being on the moor, gazing as far as I can into the distance with the wind whipping my hair. I like coming home with muddy legs and nettle stings and cold, pink skin that prickles when I get in a hot shower.

I’m not remotely an elite runner, nor am I someone who pushes myself or strives for a personal best. But I have a busy job where I often spend all day talking to people, so going for a run is a treasured time when I get total space to be alone in my thoughts.

But this simple joy is coming to a halt for a few months thanks to the onset of darkness. By mid-October, many women are trying to find alternatives to after-work activities such as running, walking and cycling because they simply don’t feel safe enough to do them. And for a lot of us, this can be quite a big lifestyle change every time the winter months come around.
Last week, a tweet I posted about this problem received a huge response, clearly resonating with thousands of women and non-binary people of different demographics, and attracting sympathy from many men. But there was also some backlash. Speaking about this elicited the ire of a minority of men who encouraged me to “grow some balls”, and pointed out that men are at much higher risk of being attacked in other situations, including pub kicking-out time on a high street.

Let’s make this abundantly clear. We are not scared of being punched. We are scared of being raped and killed. Nothing about our fears is irrational or cowardly. Women who are afraid to be out alone when it’s dark feel this way because of the men who attacked Zara Aleena, Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa, Nicole Smallman, Bibaa Henry and Libby Squire – women who were walking home, going to meet a friend, or on a night out.

These tragic stories of women who seem so familiar to us – combined with a lifetime of being followed, groped, masturbated at, catcalled and harassed in public places – of course mean that we modify our behaviour. We take a taxi after going for a few drinks, even if the walk home is only 20 minutes. We use well-lit paths, avoiding shortcuts. And we stop exercising outdoors in the winter, which is a huge frustration.

I admit that this is not an easy problem to fix, though there are definitely things that would help: a higher rape conviction rate for a start, along with a move to take more seriously “minor” crimes such as flashing and stalking that can terrify victims and be a training ground for perpetrators who go on to commit serious sexual assault. There needs to be urgent accountability for bad behaviour inside police forces, as detailed in the Casey review into racism and misogyny in the Metropolitan police, to give women confidence that our safety is a genuine priority.

Scheduling competitive races for the autumn would mean women were under less pressure to train in conditions when they feel unsafe. I know many women were left frustrated when the London Marathon organisers chose to return to an April race for 2023 after a period of holding it in October, when runners could make the most of the long summer days for training.

To keep fit in the winter I run on a treadmill in a sweaty gym, though I have little enthusiasm for it. I yearn for the freedom that men have, to strap on a head torch and simply carry on without fear ruining their enjoyment of an activity they love.

  • Robyn Vinter is North of England correspondent at the Guardian

  • Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure discussion remains on topics raised by the writer. Please be aware there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.

Contributor

Robyn Vinter

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Calling all men: this is what we can do to help women feel safe exercising in the dark | Chris Boardman
We have to break the cycle of misogyny that makes women feel at risk: This Girl Can’s guide sets out steps you can take, says Chris Boardman of Sport England

Chris Boardman

30, Oct, 2022 @12:06 PM

Article image
Men must learn how to make women feel safe while exercising | Letters
Letters: Dr Kathy Dodworth says some men have no idea how intimidating their actions can be. Plus letters from Alison Chubb, David Winter, Frank Paice and Keith Irish

Letters

04, Nov, 2022 @6:18 PM

Article image
Young women are sick of being told to stick together and watch their drinks | Gaby Hinslif
When a night out involves the risk of getting ‘spiked’, it’s male violence that’s the problem, says Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff

Gaby Hinsliff

21, Oct, 2021 @4:55 PM

Article image
All women know they are prey – and that no one with any authority seems to care | Marina Hyde
Despite the horrifying levels of violence against women, there is no strategy to end it. Just promises to ‘learn lessons’, says Guardian columnist Marina Hyde

Marina Hyde

01, Oct, 2021 @1:51 PM

Article image
UK childcare is collapsing – and forcing mothers back into the home | Lucy Pasha-Robinson
Spiralling costs are leaving some parents with no option but to give up work, says the writer Lucy Pasha-Robinson

Lucy Pasha-Robinson

11, Oct, 2022 @5:00 AM

Article image
Rage, fury and noise – the new wave of feminist theatre is more vital than ever | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
Plays such as Maryland, written in the wake of the killings of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, are rallying points for protest, says Guardian columnist Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

25, Nov, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
If British police forces recruit abusers and criminals, good candidates are surely running a mile | Gaby Hinsliff
Thanks to disturbingly lax vetting revealed this week, there could be thousands of officers who shouldn’t be in uniform, says Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff

Gaby Hinsliff

04, Nov, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
The Guardian view on the police and women: face up to the problems | Editorial
Editorial: The murder of Sarah Everard has crystallised a crisis of faith in the service. It is time for a wider reckoning

Editorial

30, Sep, 2021 @5:50 PM

Article image
Anger management: why She-Hulk is such a powerful symbol of female rage | Emma Brockes
Unlike her male counterpart, this superhero has total mastery over her Hulk side, says Guardian columnist Emma Brockes

Emma Brockes

07, Oct, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
Spare me the Home Office-backed ‘safety app’: it wouldn’t have stopped my attacker | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
It’s just another facile response to the problem of violence against women. Only structural change will stop misogyny, says Guardian columnist Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

12, Jan, 2022 @6:00 AM