Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
In the past week three things have coincided. On Monday it was International Women’s Day – a day to highlight the achievements made by women globally and bring attention to the issues that many are still facing. On Wednesday, the UN Women UK’s survey revealed that 97% of women aged 18-24 say they have been sexually harassed.
Alongside this, the disappearance of Sarah Everard has been reported in the press throughout the week, with the heart-breaking news now revealing that police have found her body during their investigation and subsequently charged a police officer with her murder.
It has been a very difficult and pertinent time for many as we shine a greater light on the safety of women and girls across the UK and have serious conversations about the prevalence of sexual harassment.
I have been sexually harassed more times than I can count, or more accurately more times than I can remember, as it is so commonplace that I don’t even think of it as anything out of the ordinary now.
I never heard back from the police, which even at the age of 13 I already expected
Incidents range in severity, from appallingly frequent harassment in the street, to being followed and preyed upon by a man as I was walking home from school at the age of just 13. I only escaped this man after running into my old primary school, and subsequently had to go through the difficult process of filing a police report. Nothing happened.
I never heard back from the police, which even at the age of 13 I already expected, and my school never discussed it with me again, nor did they bring up the issue with other pupils – many of which walked similar routes home to me.
That one took a long time to recover from. For years afterwards I would turn around and look behind me compulsively every 10 meters or so when walking by myself; this inevitably made me look very odd.
One incident that sticks out as bothering me more than most is when I was sexually assaulted in a club a few years ago while I was dancing with my friends.
The details of what actually happened are uncomfortable to repeat, but I remember having an indescribable amount of rage and anger as I had been assaulted in a public space and there was nothing that I could do about it.
These things happen so often that she didn’t see it as anything out of the ordinary
The thing that hurt the most was that those who I told didn’t even seem to be concerned, with one friend saying these sorts of things happen all the time. When I later expressed a desire to not go back to that particular club, my friend would make jokes about it, and it hurt immeasurably.
I know she did not mean it, nor did she understand how violated I had felt, and that was the worst thing. These things happen so often that she didn’t see it as anything out of the ordinary, or something that was particularly unacceptable, but it was.
These are just two incidents of many, and my conversations with those around me concerning their own experiences of sexual harassment have only further revealed how for so many women, this has just become a part of life. Just writing that is hard, actually admitting that this is part of life and I just have to deal with it.
The constant awareness of our own safety, or lack thereof, is omnipresent
I shouldn’t say it’s part of life because it shouldn’t be, but it is. As part of the poll revealing that nearly all young women have been sexually harassed, a further 80% of women of all ages said they have experienced sexual harassment in public places.
Although it disproportionately affects younger women, it is not an age-discriminate issue and the fear surrounding it never leaves; the constant awareness of our own safety, or lack thereof, is omnipresent.
A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with my dad about how often I get catcalled when walking down the street in the town where my family lives. He was shocked at how frequently it occurred; I was shocked that he was even surprised in the first place.
Ultimately, it is not his reality and he doesn’t experience it, so he has never really realised just how often other people do. Some are stunned at learning the sheer magnitude of people that have been affected; others, including myself, are frankly surprised that it is not more than 97% of young women that have experienced sexual harassment – if I am honest, I suspect more have and don’t even realise.
Marina Hyde’s article for the Guardian about being harassed in the street last week as she went to pick up her son from school contains some familiar sentiments. ‘What happened to me was nothing – the nothing women know all too well’ she writes.
Every single other young woman I know has been harassed in similar ways
For me, I also often think of my experiences as ‘nothing’ as they pale in comparison to the atrocities experienced by many other women, but I shouldn’t ignore them.
Every single other young woman I know has been harassed in similar ways. Really, it isn’t nothing.
Many hold the sentiment that this is just part of life, and that women should learn to deal with it and adapt our behaviour to make ourselves less of a target. That isn’t good enough. I shouldn’t have to do that, but I do.
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