Sound Stories. Sound Voices.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
You are on the KUOW archive site. Click here to go to our current site.

Harassment on the mountain: The cost to women climbers

Charlene Lieu
KUOW photo/Gil Aegerter
Charlene Lieu

In the world of climbing, a climber without a partner is like a jockey without a horse.

Which is why, for women climbers, talking about sexual harassment can be dicey.

“Climbing is a very tight-knit community,” said Charlene Lieu. “If you are with a group of folks who are not supportive of you coming out on controversial topic, you could be easily shunned.

Read: What the Seattle City Council learned just two weeks before the head tax vote

“If you can't find partners, if you're ousted from your group, it's a cost that makes you not able to climb,” she continued. “For a lot of climbers, it's a really high cost.”

Lieu is helping to lead a survey of people in the climbing world called #SafeOutside. It aims to find out how sexual harassment affects climbers and the organizations that serve them.

She’s working with Dr. Callie Rennison, a University of Colorado-Denver professor who studies victimization, and Katie Ives, editor in chief of Alpinist magazine.

There are other costs to harassment, Lieu said.

“There is psychological damage that happens even with something as insignificant for a lot of people as catcalling,” she said. “It's like death by a million cuts.

Read: 'We live in a jewel of a place that comes with wild risks'

“It's the additive effect of being harassed over and over again that really calls into question your value as a human being, as a climber, that you are not valued other than your physicality.”

Lieu has climbed for 25 years on rock and ice and in alpine environments, and she said she knows of harassment ranging from catcalling to outright assault. And she said she knows of perhaps a dozen people who left the sport because of it.

“And that is heartbreaking for me as somebody who loves the sport and has had the sport change the person I am,” she said.

Read: When wearing fragrance at work, use common scents

Lieu said this survey doesn’t come out of nowhere. The #MeToo movement has shaken the entertainment and media worlds, and other industries – like outdoor recreation -- have taken notice.

And Lieu said the survey has received wide support across the climbing world, from organizations like the American Alpine Club, The Mountaineers, the Mazamas in Oregon and the Access Fund, a climbers’ advocacy group where Lieu is on the board of directors. Publications like Alpinist, Climbing and Outside, along with business groups, have helped to spread the word.

“The climbing community and the outdoor industry as a whole is recognizing that this is not an isolated thing, you know in entertainment or literature or science -- it's happening everywhere and we want as a community to address this,” she said.

Results are expected to be released in August, timed to stories in climbing magazines. You can participate in the #SafeOutside survey until May 31 .

Year started with KUOW: 2015
Year started with KUOW: 2013