Written By Lauren Galligan. Photograph by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona.
‘It’s not about creating divides, but about tackling this problem together.’
I sit waiting to chat to Nat, a third year medical student embarking on a 160km run this summer, beneath ‘Sarah’s tree’ in the meadows. The sun is just starting to dip, but the vibrant collection of coloured ribbons that hang onto the branches of Sarah’s tree give a nudge of comfort. It’s been a tough few months for women, with the devastating news of another woman murdered as she walked home from a friend's house only adding to the numbers of our friends, family and strangers experiencing harm on a day to day basis. And as the world slowly begins to open up again, we are bitterly reminded that there is another epidemic keeping us locked down: gender based violence.
Nevertheless, recent media attention has exposed a whole swarm of voices that chant ‘not all men’ in an effort to further stifle those who speak up against sexual violence. And while statistics such as 97% of women have been sexually harassed do not surprise us, they do shout loud and clear that not nearly enough is being done to protect women from harm.
Nat, like so many other women, is tired and angry, and wants to see change. We chat about her upcoming plans to run 160km over a three day period to raise money for Edinburgh Rape crisis. ‘I think for a lot of people, it was a really difficult time and brought up a lot of personal trauma,’ Nat tells me, referring to March 2021, with the tragic case of Sarah Everard and subsequent media attention drawing focus to gender based violence. ‘It was something I was quite struggling with.’ Having taken to running last year and after the cancellation of two half marathons due to Covid, Nat was simultaneously looking for her next big challenge. ‘I’m just so inspired by these people who run so far and thought it would be so interesting to just know what it feels like to push yourself to that,’ she says, laughing at how researching ultra marathons during lockdown made her into ‘a little bit of a running nerd.’
The summer run is, therefore, the result of Nat pushing herself as a runner, while also being an outlet for the grief and anger she feels over gender based violence. ‘I came up with this idea and it was such a good way for me to channel my energy into something positive,’ she explains, ‘it felt like the right timing—everything sort of came into place.’ The run itself is modelled off of the World Championships Ultra race in Slovenia— a five day long run which takes place in the Slovenian mountains. Nat’s adaptation, however, will take place in Edinburgh, but the distance and elevation gain will match what the runners would have ran in the Slovenain mountains. With 160km (about 100 miles) being run over three days, each day is longer than a marathon, and each day is longer than the last. In total, Nat will run 5,300km of elevation (with each day having a higher elevation than the last) which is around 4 times the height of Ben Nevis.
‘Sexual assault and sexual violence is something that is such a huge problem,’ Nat says, when I ask about Edinburgh Rape Crisis as her choice of charity, ‘None of my friends have never experienced it, it’s horrible. I’m sick of it, I’m angry, I’m tired of it and I wanna see change, and so I guess through this run I want to continue raising awareness, get people talking about why I’m doing it and engaging people in that conversation.’ Because, whether or not people want to talk about it, Edinburgh University alone is the third most mentioned ‘rape culture’ uni on a website exposing sexual violence. ‘It’s never just a one off, isolated incident,’ Nat explains, ‘we live in a rape culture, it’s all around us, and it’s become so normalised that people don’t necessarily pick up on all the things that are contributing to this.’
Edinburgh rape crisis, Nat tells me, offer incredible support to survivors and specific initiatives to support black, asian and minority ethnic women, as well as the LGBTQ+ community, and have a huge focus on the educational aspects of sexual violence and consent. This is particularly important for Nat: ‘what’s coming out more and more now is that this problem starts in schools.’ Misogyny that goes unreprimanded, sexual advances and jokes that are dismissed as ‘banter’, or typical comments such as ‘boys will be boys’ are breeding and fuelling the rape culture that we live in and, as Nat says, it is ‘all of these micro-things that happen which contribute to the bigger picture.’
The conversation about gender based violence and sexual assault is desperatley needed, and Nat is determined to open this conversation up. ‘I want to give myself a space to tell my story,’ she says, and more information about the ‘why’ behind her run can be found on her instagram @runningdown_rapeculture. ‘If you don’t see this as a problem, if you don’t think this is real, you’re living in a bubble, and the most helpful thing you can do is try to educate yourself and try to engage with it because we can only solve this by working together.’
You can donate to the justgiving page for Nat’s summer run here https://justgiving.com/team/runningdownrapeculture/ or find it on her instagram page (@runningdown_rapeculture), along with a justgiving page for rape crisis england and wales, for those who aren’t based in Scotland or would like to donate to these branches instead. If you want to support Nat, even just for 5k, or cheer her along or meet at the finishing line, she urges you to get in touch.
Some other support networks and initiatives in Edinburgh are: