‘Gym harassment is not a compliment’ BBC Stories
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Every day millions of us get our gear on and head to the gym. But why is it that some people are being made to feel uncomfortable
when they get there? Many will have seen, heard of,
or even experienced harassment at the gym. A quick look on social media shows just how common this type of behaviour is in gyms across the world. A recent survey of women in the U.S. by website FitRated suggests up to seven in 10 women have had an experience at the gym that made them feel uncomfortable. This includes being watched, flirted with, being given unsolicited exercise advice, being followed, sexually harassed, having people criticise or
comment on their body, or being touched. Statistics show that women in the UK
already exercise less than men. So I want to find out whether this
harassment is making the situation worse. Are women being forced to
change their behaviour? Or even quit exercise altogether? Rebecca from Cardiff
and Megan from Newport have both experienced some kind
of harassment at the gym. When I started going to the gym I didn’t have awareness of the people around me. When I started getting more
Confident in my training I started noticing a lot of PTs coming up to me and making comments and things and then when I moved gyms I was performing a bent over row and a man came up to me and said: “Bend over further darling.” There was one trainer who would come
and speak to me every single session ask me the same thing. He made a lot of
inappropriate comments, innuendo, things that made me very uncomfortable. And at the end of the session he
asked me for my number and I said:
“No sorry” “I’ve got a boyfriend if that’s
where this is steering” and he said:
“He doesn’t have to know.” At first you sort of shrug it off and you like to think it’s not
forwarded with that intention but as it becomes more regular you do start to get angry and self conscious and you do feel quite paranoid about it. So you’ve talked about
how this type of experience has changed your behaviour in the gym has it impacted your personal lives at all? As soon as I walk into a gym I already
have a bit of a front up. I’ll walk in and instead of just being like:
“I’m just in the gym” it’s like: “I’m in the gym,
game face on completely” “Where’s the changing rooms?”
“Where’s the machines I need to use?” “Who’s on them?”
“How can I avoid contact with anyone?” I think I’m like that, and I think I’m
probably very cold to people who come up to me, even if they’re being nice. You’re paranoid and just on it the whole time. I’m here for my mental well-being
and physical well-being I’m not here to be stared at
or looked at in anyway. The paranoia really does get shifted on to you that you should feel paranoid about it like you’re being over dramatic about it like you should take it as a compliment and that really gets me because
it’s not a compliment. No one asked for that attention. Yes I’ll wear crop-tops and tight lycra but for me it’s about seeing
how my body is developing rather than to have tight clothes on
for the benefit of someone else. Rebecca and Meg say the problem is
not innocent looks and exchanges but when the line is crossed into behaviour that makes women feel uncomfortable. I’ve had a few responses in my work where women have noted:
“You’re always on show” “There’s nowhere you can hide” “People can always see you.” Dr Luke Turnock has spent time looking at how men and women behave in the gym. From the research you did
were there instances where women had experienced harassment? Mostly to do with men staring at them sometimes it was sexual,
sometimes it was they felt as though the men were questioning what they were doing in their space. A lot of it is young men being insecure and wanting to belong to something. So it’s identity formation initially and online, on Facebook
and Instagram and so on that have these various
‘Lad pages.’ You wind up with these guys who are maybe a bit insecure and then they are kind of encouraged
to behave in that way. Can the gym layout affect men and
women’s experiences differently? I gave an example in a presentation of one gym where they had the dumbbell rack right outside the women’s changing room and when you had a group of lads coming they all wanted to crowd around the dumbbell rack. So it made it a very bad experience for women
who had to navigate between these lads in order just to get to the changing room. So in terms of just making
small tweaks to structure, moving some of the equipment around, I think that’s one of the changes
gyms can very easily make to minimise some of these issues. Hello you okay? Good thank you
How are you? Yeah good thank you. Where’s the first place you’d go
in a gym like this? Probably the first place
would be up to the balcony. I’d be looking all over here seeing who’s where and why,
what’s happening, what machines I could use, how I could limit moving around the gym. What would you do around the squat rack? Here it’s near the door so
I can see who’s coming in see who’s coming out and because it’s
facing this way there’s no mirrors so I can’t see anyone and they can’t see me, and even if they can I’m not so aware of it so I’ve still got that social awareness
of what people I’ve got around me and I try and get as much
use out of this as I could to prevent me from moving anywhere else. The next thing would be to
go to the area over there that would be the next bit of my workout. Let’s head over. I definitely would not go to
that corner over there because there’s two mirrors
I feel way more exposed than an area like this where
I can literally see one thing but this is good as well because
I can see around me but I’m a little bit more isolated
because it’s a corner space. If you find your safe space I feel a lot more motivated to stay there. It’s really quite limited
where you do your workout. We spoke to two lawyers about Meg and Rebecca’s stories they told us harassment is a criminal offence if a pattern of behaviour can be proved. But if the person being targeted doesn’t
make it clear that they are unhappy it could still be difficult to prosecute. Under civil law a gym is only liable
for harassment committed by their own staff or personal trainers. But if you’re touched
that is considered assault. The survey by FitRated also found that for women who had experienced
harassment at the gym fewer than 1 in 4 reported
the issue to staff members. Nearly half chose to leave the scene and less than eight percent chose to
confront the person harassing them. So what happens if you do report it? I reported it to a PT in the gym who shrugged it off and said
“You should expect that.” They basically responded and said:
“You’re lucky to be getting the attention.” I then rang the head office
of that gym who said that they were really sorry and gave me a refund for the time I’ve spent in the gym and said although they want
to take it really seriously there’s not a lot they can do
as it’s just one phonecall. So I left quite disheartened and whenever things like that have happened again I’ve brushed past it and not made comments as nothing seemed to get done about it. It’s clear from the people we’ve spoken to
that gym harassment is widespread but it’s difficult for the law to tackle. One of the UK’s largest gym chains,
Pure Gym, has over 1 million members so I’m here to find out what
they’re doing about this problem. Pure Gym has already made changes
at some of its gyms including moving equipment and ensuring easy access to women’s changing rooms. I think harassment can happen
in any walk of life whether in your workplace,
out on the street, or in any gym. Unfortunately it’s part of a societal issue
that we deal with nowadays. What is Pure Gym’s policy in dealing with complaints of harassment? We have a very clear code of conduct both for our members and
we have very clear code of conduct for all the people that operate in our gyms. If any member is found to be
acting inappropriately we will investigate,
we have very robust procedures and if necessary we will and we can terminate that members membership. Some of the people we spoke to told us that personal trainers are not aware
of what’s appropriate and inappropriate how do you deal with this in gyms? Our guidance of anybody
who operates in our gyms is very clear in how to deal with
members in a professional manner and that they are respectful in any way
when they are dealing with a member. Gyms obviously have a role
to play in tackling harassment but what about the rest of us? Paul Olima is a gym influencer with
more than 160,000 followers If there was an attractive girl in the gym seventy percent of the lads would stop and try and move
to the area that they are in I see it all the time. I don’t like it.
I’ve seen lads staring and you can see it makes a girl uncomfortable. Do you feel like you’ve got a responsibility
to educate your male followers in etiquette and how to behave in gyms? I do, that’s the thing I try with my stories I do it in a more jovial way. Where you’ll have a laugh about it but
you’ll also be thinking about it “Maybe I should…”
Do you know what I mean? I’m just going to show you this video …something along those lines
and I said: “I’ve got a boyfriend if that’s
where this is steering” and he said:
“He doesn’t have to know.” On that I’ve seen personal trainers
do what she’s just said around 70 times. A personal trainer will be like:
“We’re doing inductions” “and there’s a lovely girl at inductions today” If somebody has bad form you’re meant to help them but just not in a way that’s trying to get a number. We told ukactive, an association of almost 4,000 gyms and health facilities about Meg and Rebecca’s stories.
In response they said: While the industry says harassment
is a wider social issue the people I’ve spoken to have insisted that it is a particular problem in gyms. And if gyms want to keep up with the
pace of change in other public spaces then many argue more action
is needed and fast. The women we interviewed made
some practical suggestions of things which might help
tackle the problem. Such as clearer policy and posters on walls and ukactive agreed to pass on these suggestions to their members. I think people should feel empowered
when they go to the gym they should feel strong like
it’s just part of their daily routine. I think you should feel confident
and you should feel safe. You go in there to feel better about yourself and not to be intimidated and worried. You should feel empowered, confident,
really happy and motivated to go there. That’s how I would want to feel.

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