Earlier this year more than 5,000 members of the climbing community contributed to a survey called #SafeOutside, sharing their experiences, if any, with sexual harassment and sexual assault (SHSA) while climbing. The survey was conducted by longtime climbers Charlie Lieu and Dr. Callie Marie Rennison, with the goal of discovering how often and what types of sexual harassment and assault happened while climbing, and what might be done about it.
The survey’s results were eye-opening.
Nearly 1 in 2 women who completed the survey said they’d experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault at some point while climbing. For men, it was 1 in 6.
These numbers, according to the survey, aren’t out of line with what you might see in many other communities—climbing isn’t necessarily unique. But leaders and industry insiders in the outdoor and climbing community are doing their part by spreading the results of the survey, seeking to shine a light on the problem.
Most respondents were mainly sport climbers or indoor gym climbers, so naturally, those sites saw the heaviest reported instance of sexual harassment. The gym especially seemed to be a target for harassment or outright assault. Common complaints involved overly aggressive spotting, as well as men providing unwanted and unneeded advice, assuming women climbers lacked the skill or knowledge to make a climb, and using that as an excuse to approach them.
Overall, catcalling, verbal harassment, and following were the most often reported instances of SHSA, though physical assault including unwanted groping, forced kissing, and rape were also reported. Nearly 1 in 5 women said they’d experienced as many as three different types of SHSA in their climbing lives.
Famous climbers were accused. Sponsored athletes and brand ambassadors too. Trusted partners, coworkers, friends, and strangers also made the list.
55 percent of women who’d experienced SHSA reported they’ve altered their climbing practice because of harassment or assault, including climbing only with women after the incident, climbing less, avoiding climbing altogether, or avoiding talking to strangers at the crag or the gym.
Fat shaming and rude comments on social media were also cited as common problems, and ones that also affected where and how women who’ve experienced such issues climb.
The #SafeOutside movement hopes to use this information to spark real change, primarily it seems, by making sure the outdoor world knows that SHSA is a real problem in the climbing community and it needs addressing. At least one alpine club has used survey data to implement policy proposals they hope will combat SHSA within their ranks.
The #SafeOutside Initiative has provided a toolkit on their website for individuals and organizations who are interested in how they can step in to prevent SHSA.