Contrary to what one may think, the COVID pandemic has reduced the number of sedentary people. Walking, running, or cycling in the open air has been for a long time all over the world, one of the few activities permitted outside the home. A study by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) highlighted the fact that many people, thanks to this weird combination of factors, have re-discovered the pleasure and the importance of sport and PA for their own health. Moreover, during the pandemic, with all sports halls shut down, many amateur level athletes decided to train outdoors. Among these many young women, who experienced catcalling, in some cases, for the first time. Conversations around these experiences have recently been spotlighted by the second lockdown, which has seen many women expressing concern about the impact that gyms closure had on their ability to exercise. Moreover, shorter daylight hours in wintertime, have seen those women with full time working hours being compelled to choose between health and safety.
Studies about sexual harassment in sport are very few, and the majority address deviant coaches’ behaviors. Too little is known about the impact that verbal sexual appreciation by fans, the public or male peers has on women. So, this is the appropriate time to increase knowledge and to reflect on catcalling and related effects on women’s participation in sport and physical activity. Female runner harassment has been a global issue for decades, and while preventive measures can be taken to keep runners safe, safety will always be threatened as long as catcalling exists.
Situation in each country
Country’s Context analysis In 2019, in Italy there were 86 cases of sexual harassment complaints, involving athletes enrolled in 44 federations. The study of the CONI explains that »applying the parameter of the obscure number (out of 100 episodes only 35 are reported) the cases could be between three hundred and four hundred, but reporting them is not yet a given practice, not at all» cases are detected particularly in football, horse riding and volleyball. The majority of cases concern female minors. 1 in 7 athletes under the age of 18 declared having suffered sexual abuse, harassment, violence in Italy there are about 30 trials a year for abuse, but coaches convicted of sexual violence and child abuse are not stopped; the ‘dark number’ is the relationship between the reported crimes and those actually committed. It is estimated, in fact, that the crimes committed are 4 times higher than those reported, a light must be shed on this obscure number. Children cannot speak and silence engulfs the victims. In Italy 79% of women suffered ‘street harassment’ before the age of 17, and 69% said they had been followed by a man or a group of men at least once in their life by the age of 40, in particular when they were running, practicing physical activity or playing sports .
In Greece, according to the research “Experiences of Sexual Harassment by Men to Athletes in Greece” (2009) by Styliani Chroni (TEFAA, University of Thessaly) & Kari Fasting (Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Norway), in which 308 women participated 21 – 45 years) who are active at the international or national level or are regularly involved in sports, showed that 72% of female athletes reported experiences of sexual harassment by men inside and outside the sport. The form of sexual harassment most frequently reported by the participants was recurring unwanted sexual innuendos, looks, comments, jokes, etc. The most frequently reported psychological consequences were repetitive thinking about the event and reflection on the experience, which resulted in a negative impact on their self-esteem and increased anxiety. In addition, sexual harassment affects equal opportunities for girls and women to participate and achieve in sports, which in turn damages their quality of life. In Greece, an earlier survey by sports psychology professor Styliani Chroni for TEFAA Thessaly (currently teaching at a Norwegian university) and Kari Fasting of the Norwegian School of Sports Science showed that 47% of a total of 308 women surveyed had experienced sexual harassment by men within the sports world. Of the athletes surveyed, 167 did individual sports, 103 participated in team sports, and 28 participated in non-professional sports such as aerobics and dance. The forms of harassment they reported were unwanted physical contact, such as hugs, kisses, stings, etc., sexual behaviors expressed in words such as implication, immoral suggestions and teasing, and even sly looks, winking and obscene gestures. The total percentage of those who stated that they had experienced sexual harassment, inside and outside sports, reaches 71%, with 47% of them relating to behaviors that occurred in the sports environment.
In Poland School-aged athletes were assessed using a self-reported questionnaire. Multivariate logistic regression models were used to assess the association between experience of verbal or physical abuse and loss of motivation for the present sport. Variables considered in the models were sex, age, body mass index, presence of bodily pain, team levels, number of training days per week, number of training hours per day on weekdays and weekends, and frequency of participation. The prevalence of loss of motivation for the present sport was 8.1%. Experience of verbal or physical abuse was significantly associated with loss of motivation for the present sport and the adjusted odds ratios (95% confidence intervals) were 1.93 for verbal abuse and 1.76 for physical abuse.
Findings of this study suggest that experience of verbal or physical abuse from coaches is associated with loss of motivation for the present sport. Eradication of verbal and physical abuse from coaches and form the sport environment in general is important for young athletes to continue sport participation. Lack of studies on the issue of sexual harassment in sports makes it hard to estimate the number of people affected by the problem but the lowest estimates show that 8% of all women athletes were subject to some form of sexual harassment. The number presented is not coherent with the percentage of the overall population admitting to being subject to sexual harassment and it’s important to note that cases in Poland are not being reported properly due to inadequate mechanisms of sanctioning and a culture of denial when it comes to this issue in Poland. Despite the lack of official data, there is an increasing number of cases of sexual harassment in sports being reported, many of them concerning children.
Additionally, 53% of women were subject to unwanted sexual comments about their bodies or sexuality, often in a form of catcalling. There is however no official data on verbal sexual harassment in sports in Poland.
(Source: Grabowska M & Rawłuszko M. (2015). Powszechność i trwałość przemocy seksualnej wobec kobiet. Fundacja na rzecz Równości i Emancypacji STER)
In Spain There is very few data about sexual harassment and sexual abuse in sports. Statistics show that 20% of all kids and teenagers have experienced sexual abuse and most of them are never reported. Surveys, like “Sexual Harassment in Sport: the Case of Student-Athletes Reading for a Degree in Physical Activity and Sport Science in Catalonia” show that this is a bigger problem in sports and other highly competitive environments. Sexual abuse has been normalized to the point where most of the girls surveyed think that sexual abuse situations involve “sex proposals or sexual violence”. This problem in sports has not even been addressed until 2019, when some organizations; including the Spanish “Ministry of culture and sport” released #abusofueradejuego, a guide for detecting and preventing sexual abuse in the sports field.
In Bulgaria, the problem of sexual harassment continues to be taboo. Communism has encouraged women to work and achieve economic independence, but without fostering a sense of gender equality. As a result, today many Bulgarian men continue to perceive their position as leaders and bosses, while women are perceived as a supplement, like some “who has to do the job”. No research on sexual harassment in sport has been carried out so far. Media is slowly opening to report cases but mainly from other countries. A single case of a young football referee victim of sexual harassment by her superior was reported but it is rather an exception. In 2018 a 30-year journalist was raped and murdered brutally while doing her regular Saturday jogging in a park along the Danube river in Russe. The case was closed with a young man admitting the crime and discussions on installing video cameras in parks. Imagine how many girls and women stopped jogging after the case, feeling unsafe in public places. There is a deafening silence in the Bulgarian TV studios on the issue of #MeToo. Men and women who joined #metoo campaign in Bulgaria are very few, and among female public figures there is not one who has admitted any kind of violence by a superior. Instead, female singers, politicians, academics and employees prefer to share “in silence” among friends how they were blackmailed by the boss, professor, producer … With the presumption that “they are guilty” and never – the abuser.
The findings of the study “Incidents of Sexual Harassment in Turkey on Elite Sportswomen” by Nevin Gündüz, Hakan Sunay & Mitat Koz, revealed that 200 out of 356 sportswomen stated that they had been sexually harassed. The most frequent time of harassment was found to be after games or training, and the most frequently occurring location of harassment was the sports center. The relationship between branch groups, age, educational background, and the sexual harassment was found to have p<0.05 significance. The relationship between years of experience in sports, marital status, the gender of the trainer, and sexual harassment were found to be insignificant (p>0.05). The overall findings of this study show that elite sportswomen from different branches are exposed to sexual harassment. Out of 356 participant sportswomen, 56.2% declared that they had been exposed to sexual harassment the most frequent in the forms of ‘come-ons’ followed by ‘unwelcome jokes, questions and sexual utterances, unwelcome letters and phone calls.
As regards the sources of harassment, they mainly come from spectators and/or team-mates but also in some minor cases trainers were guilty of harassment. 45,5 % declared that the location where forms of harassment take place is either the gym or the field. Of the participants, 69.1% did not accept the existence of a relationship between the clothing and harassment, while 29.2% did. When questioned, 18.5% expressed a decrease in performance in the case of harassment and 53.9% declared that they did nothing to overcome the reactions. Only 1.7% acknowledged that they have seen counselors and 37.2% have reported the incident to a friend, 9.0% to family, and 5.1% to a trainer. Finally, only 29.8% considered the harassment as a larger problem. For 18% of the survey participants, it was no problem at all. All the above-mentioned data for diverse studies focus mostly on general sexual harassment and do not provide specific insights and evidence about Verbal Sexual Harassment and catcalling, both representing a barrier for women to stay fit and healthy in a safe environment.