Gym Harassment: How to Deal with a Creepy Gym Stalker
You didn't join the gym to gain a stalker. It's not a place where you have to tolerate harassment of any form. When you go for a run outdoors, there's less protection available to you compared to a gym, which has rules, policies, staff, and managers. There are ways to deal with unwelcome advances from other gym members and protect yourself against a stalker.
What Harassment at the Gym Can Look Like
Harassment includes violence, intimidation, offensive sexual advances, sexual abuse, and stalking. Any inappropriate behavior directed at you by another gym member is harassment.
Sexual harassment includes any unwanted verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. While people can have healthy social interactions at the gym, behavior or advances with sexual overtones are inappropriate and potentially illegal. A few examples of sexual harassment are when a person makes derogatory comments at you, invades your personal space, stares at you inappropriately, or demands a hug from you.
There are different types of stalking. If you have a gym stalker, it's likely someone you don't know from outside the gym who is seeking intimacy. Gym stalkers aren't always seeking intimacy, however. They can be voyeurs or, worse — predatory sexual offenders.
You may think a person has to make unwanted contact numerous times over a considerable period to qualify as a stalker. According to certain state laws, it only takes two acts of unwanted contact. Each incidence of contact may seem noncriminal in nature, but accumulatively they create reasonable fear in the person being stalked.
All 50 states have specific laws that address stalking as a criminal offense. There are also federal laws that deal with interstate stalking.
How to Stay Safe At the Gym
These tips are your first line of defense for avoiding unwanted contact or harassment at the gym.
Stay Alert and Aware of Your Surroundings
While you go about your business at the gym, stay aware of the people around you. Is someone continually watching you or glancing at you through mirrors? Does the same person always show up at the gym at the same time as you? Take mental note of suspicious behaviors, so you can use your gut instincts when needed.
Avoid Sending Unintended Signals
Take the analogy of boarding a plane when you're flying alone. If the stranger assigned to the seat next to you greets you and asks you how you're doing, responding reciprocally to them indicates you're up for chatting during the flight. Once you've sent that signal, it's awkward taking it back; you may be at a loss for excuses. If you board a plane wearing headphones and avoiding eye contact with other passengers, you can generally avoid interacting with other passengers.
Take this strategy with you to the gym by showing up with headphones (over-the-ear headphones are even more obvious) and avoiding eye contact. If you notice someone's smiling at you, don't return the smile or even nod in their direction. As long as you're aware of your surroundings, there's nothing wrong with ignoring social advances at the gym.
Bring a Friend to the Gym
There are numerous upsides to going to the gym with a friend, and feeling safe is one of them. Research indicates that working out in a group setting is beneficial, especially for your mental health. If you're avoiding contact with strangers at the gym, bringing a friend can fill that void. Go in with a plan for your workout — know the equipment you'll use and the activities you'll do, so you can keep it productive.
Hide Your Personal Information
Keep your personal belongings locked up in a gym locker while you exercise. Carry your phone fully concealed in your pocket, or leave it with your things in the locker. Avoid giving out your name or any information a potential stalker could use to find out more about you online or locate your whereabouts outside the gym.
5 Steps to Dealing with a Gym Stalker
There's no reason to discontinue your gym presence; you're there to use the equipment, whereas a stalker is not. You're clearly in the right, so going to gym management with the issue is your best bet. In some cases, it's necessary to take further action. Here are the steps you should take in order to get a stalker off your back:
1. Report the Stalker's Actions to Gym Management or Staff
Every gym has a written policy on sexual harassment and, hopefully, an internal protocol for investigating complaints. Beyond matters of policy, gym harassment is a retention issue for any gym. The gym has better reason to revoke a stalker's membership than to see victims canceling their memberships. Still, if you have any indication or fear that your gym's manager won't take your side or take you seriously, take your issue to a gym employee who you think will. They, in turn, can help bring your issue to the attention of the manager.
While you don't require evidence to report an issue at your gym, you can offer the date(s) and time(s) of any incident so the gym can review its CCTV footage. If you know of anyone else who's been harassed by the person you're reporting, ask them to go with you.
2. Confront Your Stalker with a Gym Manager Present
Depending on the incident, confronting the stalker with the gym manager present can be enough to scare off a stalker. Let them know you're aware of them but are not interested. Ask them to stop doing what they're doing, and the gym manager can back you up.
3. Ask An Employee or Friend to Walk You to Your Car
To send a strong message that you're on guard, have a friend or a gym employee walk you to your car when you're done working out. They can help make sure your stalker isn't following you in the parking lot.
4. Report the Harassment to the Police
If you're still being stalked after you've sought help from the gym, report your stalker to the police. Bring any evidence of interactions, such as messages or gifts you've received from your stalker. Detail your full experience in the police report, including interactions you don't have evidence for.
5. File for a Restraining Order
Restraining orders work a little differently in each state, but any victim of stalking can get a restraining order. If you can show your stalker has made threatening or unwanted contact with you two or more times, leading to reasonable fear, a court will grant you a restraining order at a restraining order hearing. Evidence could be a witness from your gym, CCTV footage, screenshots of text messages, and more.
Overcoming Harassment at the Gym
You have good reason to be concerned about a stalker because their behavior can escalate. You're right to fear not knowing what will happen next, which is why the law is on your side, even if a stalker hasn't physically touched you. Start by taking the matter to your gym's manager. Go to the police at any point if you fear your life is in danger or if your gym fails to deal with your stalker.