We live in an outdoor mecca that draws thousands of visitors and fans each year—one where the allure of pushing one's limits in cycling, climbing, running, skiing, snowboarding and other outdoor sports plays large.
Inside that community lives a certain type of exceptionalism, in which many people tend to think themselves better, more evolved, more enlightened than others who don't push themselves to such physical extremes.
Yet the results of a recent survey reveal that like other communities, the outdoors community too has a long way to go in realizing that dream of exceptionalism and evolution.
The survey, released this week from Safe Outside and funded by the American Alpine Club, reveals latent issues inside one subset of the outdoors community. In the Special Report, "Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault in the Climbing Community," authors Charlie Lieu and Callie Marie Rennison found that among over 5,300 respondents within the climbing community, 47 percent of women and 16 percent of men had experienced some type of sexual harassment or sexual assault while climbing. Types of SHSAs, in order of prevalence, included catcalling, sexual harassment, unwanted following, flashing, unwanted touching, forcible kissing, unwanted sex acts and rape.
In the introduction, the authors state "Sexual harassment and sexual assault (SHSA) are so pervasive that the National Institute of Health considers these problems to be a public health crisis. While the topic has garnered much public attention in the wake of #MeToo, climbing communities—and the outdoor industry as a whole—are only beginning to understand the prevalence of SHSA in our environments."
The survey also reported that experiencing SHSA while climbing "changes the way people engaged with the sport, especially women." Changes included disengaging from the climbing community, reducing travel or elimination of travel for climbing and limiting climbing activities to specific groups of people. Often, the report states, women stopped climbing with men and would only climb with other women. As the report suggests, those behaviors limit the number of mentors a person might have—not exactly ideal in a sport that requires careful, knowledgeable decision making and good mentorship in order to avoid accidents. We'll leave off talking about the economic drawbacks of having women withdraw from the sport, lest it raise a discussion about overcrowding and the drawbridge mentality that already exists in our wider community.
Too often, people who engage in the outdoors community believe themselves to be set apart from others. As the report states, some believe they're "better than the rest of society." That notion of exceptionalism might have also played a part in Sunday's accident at Smith Rock State Park, where cops say a 21-year-old Virginia man fell 150 feet while free climbing a rock face not typically identified as a climbing route.
As part of its report on SHSA, the #SafeOutside campaign posted a series of recommended resources and interventions, including people being willing to intervene during an incident, if it's safe for a person to do so. It also recommends implementing a code of conduct among organizations, to acknowledge that the problem exists, and to clearly state that communities won't tolerate it. While this statement you're reading doesn't suffice to say everything, we hope it's starting an important conversation among our vast outdoors community in Bend and Central Oregon.