Combating Sexual Harassment in the Era of Social Media

Climbing community bands together to promote #SafeOutside initiative; aims to shed light and change on the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse in the climbing community.

On May 3, 2018, world-class pro climber and Insta-famous athlete and speaker — Sasha DiGiulian — ripped the lid open on the hushed conversation of sexual harassment and misconduct in the climbing community with a single post that began:

“As a community we need to uphold ourselves to higher standards than permitting defamatory, assaulting behavior.”

The post, which was accompanied by “rise against bullying” artwork, would go on to outline years of social media bullying at the hands of a male pro climber, and call out the climbing community to rise up to put a stop to it. The single post quickly racked up more than 9,000 likes and nearly 1,000 comments, and for the first time, in the decades that men and women had been scaling rock faces and conquering mountainsides, a real and loud conversation began about the dark underbelly of climbing. The bully in this particular story is Joe Kinder — a celebrated and (formerly) sponsored climber who repeatedly harassed female climbers on Instagram under a fake account name. DiGiulian wasn’t the only one fed up with Kinder’s unwanted words and repeated harassment. Shortly after she took to social media to voice her frustrations, fellow professional climber Courtney Sanders came forward with her own emotionally taxing story of combating Kinder’s cyber bullying, stating:

“I hope the climbing community can one day be less negative bc [because] at the root of sarcasm is cowardice.” 

In the days following Kinder’s public call-out, the popular climber’s professional world fell apart. Black Diamond and LaSportiva both severed ties with Kinder, who took to social media himself to publicly apologize to his more than 70,000 Instagram followers for his behavior. The posts that would follow on his account were seemingly heartfelt and positive tributes to some of the top women in climbing. But for many members of the climbing community, it wasn’t enough. Four months later, the #SafeOutside initiative was born.

Safety in Climbing Means More Than Just a Good Belay

In the Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault (SHSA) in the Climbing Community report funded, produced and released on August 27 by the American Alpine Club, out of 5,311 climbers surveyed, it was found that 16 percent of men and 47 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault during climbing activities. Catcalling was overwhelmingly reported by both genders, with 57 percent of women surveyed reporting verbal harassment, 40 percent of women surveyed reporting unwanted following, 29 percent of women surveyed reporting unwanted touching, and three percent of women and three percent of men surveyed reporting rape. The numbers are staggering and disheartening. In an activity celebrated for strength and drive, women and men are having to push past unwanted touching, bullying, and even rape on climbing expeditions and trips to enjoy their sport of choice.

A forward to the report by AAC President Deanne Buck, and AAC CEO Phil Powers, stated, “to ignore this reality [survey findings], to mislead ourselves that climbing is somehow immune from the problems of the ordinary world or that our camaraderie somehow precludes bad behavior—is irresponsible.” Initially activated by a grassroots task force formed around criminology researcher Callie Marie Rennison, data scientist Charlie Lieu, and Katie Ives — editor-in-chief of Alpinist Magazine, the #SafeOutside initiative would go on to publish survey findings and launch with a mission to combat SHSA with the following goals:

1.) Collect data

2.) Create safe space for, and inspire conversation

3.) Motivate organizational and individual action

4.) Drive deep policy work and education programs

The Numbers Don’t Lie

The Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault in the Climbing Community report shed light on an undeniable problem within the world of climbing. Many respondents to the survey reported a change in their engagement with climbing after experiencing SHSA. Disengagement from the climbing community, reduction or elimination of travel for climbing purposes and limited climbing activities to groups of people were all responses to experiencing SHSA. The 17-page report outlines recommended actions to help address these prevalent issues. The report highlights bystander intervention as an important step in creating a more safe community. The report also emphasizes that understanding the problem and confronting the problem has potential to change the world and make an impact on the issue at hand.

On August 27, participating organization from North America’s largest climbing organizations teamed up to publicly announce their support and commitment to addressing sexual harassment and assault in the climbing community. Moving forward, the #SafeOutside initiative will continue to work toward destigmatizing SHSA and facilitate a conversation using facts and education.

The report, and the task force pledge to use the data to create change, noting that our words have power and asking supporters to pledge to listen, believe survivors, end victim blaming, promote consent, respect boundaries and stand up against sexual harassment and sexual assault.

For more information on the #SafeOutside initiative visit:

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