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Here’s What You Should Do If You’re Sexually Harassed At The Gym

I'm here to pick up weights, not dates.


Chandré Davids |

Whether you’re sweating it out on the treadmill, doing some squats on the mat or trying to follow along in a dance cardio class, the gym can be a vulnerable environment. But for some people, the gym brings a whole other form of feeling uncomfortable.

Creeps In The Gym

A few weeks ago, a video went viral on Twitter of a man masturbating while he watched a woman working out in a Virgin Active in Stellenbosch. Virgin Active has since stated that they have banned him from all of their gyms. The case is also being investigated by the South African police. Sadly, incidences are nothing new,  you can find numerous stories online of women sharing the harassment they’ve faced while exercising.

This incident sparked conversation around sexual harassment happening in gym environments and what to do if it ever happens to you.

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Frightening Stats

In South Africa alone, the sexual assault and harassment stats are frightening, with it being estimated that over 40% of South African women will experience some form of sexual assault or harassment in their lifetime.

Another study in the US found that 81% of women reported experiencing sexual harassment. That’s double the rate of men. These experiences include, but are not limited to:

  • Verbal sexual harassment (e.g., catcalling)
  • Unwelcome sexual touching (e.g., grabbing their butt)
  • Cybersexual harassment (e.g., lewd messages)
  • Being physically followed
  • Unwanted genital flashing (e.g., dick pics)
  • Sexual assault

If these stats weren’t scary enough, globally, it’s also estimated that 31% of woman have been raped or sexually assaulted, though it should be noted that this is only reported cases, meaning this number is probably much higher.

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How To Handle Sexual Harassment In The Gym

So, what are you to do if you are in a situation where you’re experiencing sexual harassment in the gym? Firstly, unlike what one ignoramus commented, what a woman wears to the gym does not warrant her getting sexually harassed. Sexual assault and harassment can happen to anyone, and it’s not their fault- regardless of what they are wearing.

Whether you’re being filmed by a fellow gym-goer or a creepy trainer is overstepping the boundaries, your best bet is to report them to management. Most (if not all) gyms should have an internal policy on how they handle harassment. If this is not clearly communicated in your gym contract, you have every right to ask them about it.

This policy should clearly define harassment and sexual harassment, how they are committed to creating an environment that is free from harassment and discrimination, as well as how they carry out investigations regarding any form of harassment. In addition to filing a complaint with the gym, you can also press criminal charges and/or civil charges against the perpetrator.

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Try your best to gather as much evidence around the attack, this can be remembering what they were wearing, getting video evidence from the gym cameras or eye-witnesses. If a fellow gym goer or a trainer is making you uncomfortable, voice this to them. You might avoid confrontation but in incidences like this, it’s best to deal with it head-on. Be assertive about what you are doing, make it clear that you’re at the gym to train and that you’re not interested in their advances. If they are still persistent, talk to a manager about the incident.

It can be incredibly difficult for survivors to report sexual assault or harassment. If you or anyone you know has been sexually assaulted you can contact the Tears helpline on *134*7355# this number will direct you to your nearest care facility. 

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