Have you experienced sexual harassment while roller skating? If you present as female or gender diverse, have rollerskates, and have ever skated outside, then the answer is almost certainly yes. Doubly so if you are a person of colour – BIPOC skaters receive more comments, abuse, and harassment from both passersby and police/park attendants/security guards than white skaters do.
For anyone who’s experienced this discomfort, annoyance, and even fear, we’re here to help!
Tip #1: Men: Read the Room and Don’t Engage.
Did you think we were going to write an article about how to stop sexual harassment on roller skates and spend the whole thing telling women and gender diverse people how to change their behaviour? HELL NO! The perpetrators of bothersome and intimidating experiences for roller skaters are almost always men and boys, so let’s start with y’all!
Menfolk: Please put yourself in the shoes (um, boots) of the people you engage with when they’re skating. Understand that for a lone woman, any unsolicited interaction from a man can feel intimidating or threatening, in any environment. We don’t know your intentions in engaging with us, and TRUST US, we’ve all experienced some very negative outcomes from “some nice guy who just wants to chat.”
Furthermore, while a skilled skater who starts to get “the NO feeling” from you may be able to simply leave the area with a speed advantage to move to safety, a beginner or very shaky skater is literally stuck, with no ability to physically remove herself from a situation that makes her uncomfortable or unsafe. Unsolicited conversation with a beginner skater can therefore feel very threatening to them, even though your intent may be helpful, positive, or otherwise benign. Like we said, we’ve all seen things take a dark turn.
So, when a thought rushes into your head like “hey, this awesome person is roller skating, that’s fucking cool, she probably wants me to talk to her about it, my whole body is just like, ‘say something about roller skating!’” STOP. Take. A. Breath. What are you adding to the situation by opening your mouth? Can you enjoy seeing someone rollerskate, without being a part of it? Is that a reality you can inhabit? Me thinks yes!
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Next, don’t substitute conversational engagement with leering, just because we’ve told you not to talk to roller skaters. Sitting nearby and watching a skater practice is impolite, annoying, threatening, and really ruins a nice thing she’s made time to do for herself. This is her time. GTFO. Would you want someone to stare at you while you learned how to golf or tried to untie a knot for 20 minutes? Nope! Or maybe you would – we can’t understand your mysterious ways. Trust us, the skater does not want to be watched. It’s creepy and rude.
Tip #2: Men: You Gonna Insist Upon Engaging? Here’s How!
Alright, so you’re really a nice guy (really!) and it’s really (really!) important to you to give some positive feedback to a rollerskater you come across. Really! OK, FINE. We don’t like it but we’ll hit you with some dos and don’ts.
DO: focus on the skates and the skills, and not on the looks. “Love the skates!” “I wish I could do that!” “ You’re so talented, thanks for making my day!” “I used to skate way back when, it’s so great to see skaters out here again! BYE!”
DON’T: Comment on her looks. Under any circumstances. This is the immediate threat signal to any woman or gender-diverse person. No to “you look great.” No to “beautiful smile.” A thousand times No to “hey, sexy roller skater!” or anything of the sort. See DO above.
DON’T: Ask questions. Wanna know where she bought her skates? Google “buy roller skates [my town].” Problem solved. You didn’t really want to know, you just wanted to engage with her and said the first dumb thought that arrived at your lips.
DON’T: Offer advice or coaching. Rude.
DO: THEN WALK AWAY. Right away. Like, smile, say your piece, wave, and then GTFO and let her have her space.
Tip #3: Skaters. What to Do When Someone is Bothering You?
This is the million-dollar question, of course. It’s clear that there’s no one right answer because every situation is different, every harasser has a different M.O., and every skater has a different personal threat-o-meter. But we have a few tips and tricks you can try, in different situations.
Someone talking at you? Put in headphones. Especially if they’re not actually playing any music (for your safety if you are being watched or feeling unsafe, we suggest turning off the tunes so you can hear what’s happening around you until the situation has defused).
Someone watching you while you practice? Take a break to make a phone call (real or fake). If you’re boring for a while, maybe he’ll leave.
Did you try to be polite and respond to someone who cleverly shouted something creative like “ROLLERGIRL!” at you, and now you’re stuck in a conversation you don’t want to be in? If it feels safe to do so, firmly let them know it’s time for you to get back to skating. “I’ve only got a bit of time for my practice session here, so I’m going to get back to it now. Nice talking to you, BYE!” (Here’s where the headphones come in handy for really sealing the deal.)
Feeling threatened? Hopefully, you’re in a well-traveled area and can find a passerby to request help. For example, move to sit on a park bench next to someone else, and quietly tell them “someone is following me and I’m not feeling safe. Can I please sit and talk with you until he leaves.” Safety in numbers.
If the situation is unsafe, your best bet is to move to a different location with other people around. Don’t hesitate to call the police if someone is being abusive, threatening, or of course, makes any physical contact.
Do you have more tips for avoiding or handling sexual harassment while you roller skate? Let us have it in the comments – we can all benefit from new strategies to stay safe and have the most fun on our roller skates!
New to rollerskating? Check out our Rollerskating101 online course. A six-week progressive program that will help you go from zero to rollerskating hero! Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get started! Join our Rolla Girl Gang Facebook Group to share your skating journey, get some tips and tricks, and compete for some awesome prizes with our Monthly Rolla Games Challenge!