Harassment Against Women at the Gym

By: Sam Ross 

Edited by: Natalie Cowan

Going to the gym is an essential part of many people’s daily routines. Whether to improve one’s overall health, increase athletic ability, alleviate stress, or just have plain old fun with friends, the benefits of working out are endless! One of the most alluring features of the gym for many individuals is that it provides a safe, judgment-free zone to work on whatever fitness goal you’re trying to achieve. However, it can be rather difficult to feel safe in a space when you’re a woman who is constantly looking over her shoulder, paranoid about the possibility of being harassed. 

Although this is an issue that often goes unaddressed, gym harassment is a very real issue that (according to a 2021 survey) affects roughly 56% of women

Before delving further into this pressing matter, I think that it’s important to truly discuss what exactly constitutes the term “harassment”? We hear this word constantly in the workplace, the news, social media, or even in an email from the university. Yet, I found myself stuck figuring out how exactly to define “harassment” when writing this article. I think the reason for this is because of all the different kinds of harassment, and also the many degrees of harassment, ranging from cyberstalking to unwanted touching. 

The simplest way to define harassment in the gym environment is to provide examples of how it may present itself. Harassment at the gym can manifest itself in several different ways, including (but not limited to) verbal abuse, sexual harassment, intimidation, and stalking. Throughout this article, I will be drawing particular focus on the issues of verbal and sexual abuse.  

The gym can have competitive verbal abuse as a form of harassment that may fly under the radar, due to the competitive nature sometimes present in the gym environment. For example, this could present itself as an unwanted comment that attacks someone’s physique, skill or strength. As someone could be sexual in what they say, such as catcalling or making sexual comments about a woman while she is exercising, sexual harassment and verbal abuse can sometimes overlap.  

When the harassment escalates, sexual harassment can also become physical. Some of the most common complaints include being stood too close to or brushed up against. This instills fear into women in what’s supposed to be a safe place. A place where she shouldn’t have to look over her shoulder in fear of unwanted contact. This is not even to mention how triggering this is for those who have experienced sexual assault in the past. 

Because of the lack of awareness regarding gym harassment, it may be hard to imagine it affecting anyone you know personally. However, this is an issue that may not be as far from home as one may think. Queen’s University has the second highest rate of reported sexual assault in all of Ontario; a rather disturbing fact especially when considering how this university prides itself on its ‘safe community’. While the specifics of where this assault takes place are not specified, considering the high density of the student population that attends the gym per day, it is not out of the question to make some possible connections. 

Because the likelihood of this occurring on campus is significant, I believe it is critical to inform readers of the actions to follow if you or someone you know is subjected to sexual harassment in the gym. If you are a victim yourself, there are a few possible directions you could approach this problem from. You can take immediate action by reporting the misconduct to a staff member of the ARC who will deal with the issue right away. If you are uncomfortable with that immediate confrontation, there are sexual assault resources on campus that will provide support while guiding you through some potential next steps. If it is not you but rather a friend who finds themselves in this unfortunate situation, I would strongly encourage you to not only share their potential options/resources, but to also be there to offer emotional support. This is such a difficult issue to have to face alone, and having a friend be there to offer advice, an ear to listen to or a shoulder to cry on, can help significantly. 

It is my greatest hope that this article provides education to someone, or maybe provides a sense of comfort to another that has been personally affected by this issue, the knowledge that they are not alone. 


Works Cited

Image Citation: LocalFitness. “Free Gym Passes & Discounts up to 90%: Choose from 19,000+ Options Australia-Wide: Find Your Best Fit: Gyms, Swimming, Yoga, Pilates, Zumba, Cycle, Bootcamps, 24 Hour Gyms, Women’s Gyms and More!” LocalFitness.Com.Au , www.localfitness.com.au/.

Connor, Liz. “Sexual Harassment at the Gym Is Still a Problem. Just Ask Every Woman You Know.” Prospect Magazine – Britain’s Leading Monthly Current Affairs Magazine, 8 Mar. 2022, www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/society/38461/sexual-harassment-at-the-gym-is-still-a-problem.-just-ask-every-woman-you-know#:~:text=In%20July%202021%2C%20a%20study,comments%20and%20unwarranted%20physical%20contact.

“Gym Harassment: How to Deal with a Creepy Gym Stalker.” Tiger Fitness, Tiger Fitness, 8 Dec. 2022, www.tigerfitness.com/en-ca/blogs/news/gym-harassment-how-to-deal-with-a-creepy-gym-stalker#:~:text=Harassment%20includes%20violence%2C%20intimidation%2C%20offensive,another%20gym%20member%20is%20harassment.

Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Services. “We’re Here to Help.” Home Page | Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Services Queen’s University, Queen’s University , www.queensu.ca/sexualviolencesupport/.