Handsy fitness instructor? Here’s how to address it

September 19, 2016

Q: Your fitness instructor likes to get a little too handsy. How should you handle it?

Not everybody can read signals clearly. Women, who understand nonverbal communication more effectively than men, think that a tight smile, an awkward laugh, freezing in place or pulling away from touch is enough.

So say it out loud and clear: "I notice that you are a very touchy, huggy person, but I am uncomfortable with that. Could you please honor my need for space?"

If the instructor still doesn’t get it, I would suggest a stronger message.

Be specific.

For example: "In the last three weeks, you have touched me in a way that I felt is inappropriate four times. I am telling you to stop; it makes me feel uncomfortable."

You should do this in public, not loud enough for other people to hear, but just so that you’re not in any danger and have someone who has your back.

— Patti Wood, body language expert and professional speaker

Fitness instructors should always explicitly ask for consent to touch participants or make physical adjustments for form. If you are comfortable, consider addressing the instructor directly. Say something like, "I would rather not be touched" or "I would prefer verbal rather than physical adjustments."

If contact continues thereafter, consider contacting the fitness director or other supervisor to communicate your concern. The issue goes unaddressed? Think about making a formal report to the facility.

If you feel safe doing so, you can contact law enforcement or an organization that specializes in sexual harassment for guidance and support.

Remember that any contact that makes you uncomfortable is serious and should be addressed.

— Colleen Daly, fitness instructor and director of communications for End Rape on Campus, an organization focused on ending sexual violence through survivor support



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