Warning: Triggers for abuse and assault
Last week a friend of mine was telling me about an incident that had happened when she was walking on her way to her local shop. In front of her were two girls. One in particular was stunningly beautiful and there were a succession of drivers that had honked at her in their cars as they had gone past. A man was walking in the opposite direction to them, but when he saw her he stopped and started heading towards her.
“Can I buy you dinner?” he kept shouting. She ignored him and carried on her conversation with her friend.
“Oi beautiful girl! Let me buy you dinner!”. By this point he had started walking faster in an effort to catch up with them. Again, she ignored him. Suddenly, he grabbed her on the arm and pulled her around.
The girl was startled, and lost her temper, screaming at him. (Note, I’ve toned down the conversation a little here…)
“Don’t touch me you perve! Who do you think you are? Do you think I’d want to go out with some random d*ckhead that’s yelling at me in the street? And what right do you have to put your hands on me?!”
Members of the public were starting to slow down and watch what was happening, and the man was embarrassed.
“I was only asking you if you wanted to go out!”
“No you weren’t, you were yelling at me and then you grabbed me when I ignored you? Who does that? Touch me again and I’ll call the police!”
The man pushed her and started calling her offensive names, but quickly walked off when my friend and other members of the public shouted, continuing to yell expletives at her as he did so. My friend had caught up to them by this point and asked her if she was ok, and her response unnerved my friend considerably…
“Yeah, thanks. That sort of stuff happens all the time.” When asked if she wanted to call the police, she shook her head and said that there wasn’t any point, and continued on her way. She had been the victim of an unprovoked assault, and yet didn’t report it. The man had got away with it.
It made me wonder what would have happened if she had been on her own and in a place that wasn’t so public.
I thought about my own experiences. I’m no supermodel by any means, but over the years I have had random men yelling at me in the street or passing by in cars, my bottom has been slapped and my wrists grabbed on many occasions in nightclubs, I have been followed home, and when sitting on a bus late at night a man sat next to me despite there being plenty of empty seats and repeatedly tried to put his hand on my leg, quickly grabbing my chest and getting off the bus when I yelled at him. Despite this, I consider to have been fortunate and feel safe when I am out by myself.
However, many I know haven’t been so lucky.
This morning I awoke to the image on the front cover of The New York Magazine, in which 35 of the 46 women who have come forward publicly to accuse Bill Cosby of rape or sexual assault are posed sitting on chairs with a uniform expression in black and white to highlight the similarities of these women’s stories. On the bottom-right of the image is an empty chair, representing other unseen accusers.
It’s an incredibly porwerful statement, highlighting the number of people (and I say people here as it isn’t just women who are assaulted) who remain voiceless. Consequently, my Twitter feed has been filled with thousands sharing their own harrowing stories using the hashtag #The EmptyChair, and they have affected me deeply. With over a third of women being the victim of an assault according to a 2012 Mumsnet survey, the culture surrounding rape, assault and abuse means that many don’t come forward because they fear they aren’t going to be believed, will be blamed for provocative outfits and behaviour or levels of alcohol and/or drugs in the system. Poor relationships with the local law enforcement, race and socio-economic standing mean that many have a lack of trust in the system. Even if a case goes to trial, the victim will most likely have every element of their personal life and credibility questioned, being forced to relive the event repeatedly in a public forum. In 2015, we live in a society where victim blaming and rape jokes are accepted and part of the norm.
We accept that we aren’t safe, and adapt our lifestyle to protect us from strangers. If I have been out in the evening to a local bar, one of my male friends will walk me home or The Bloke will walk down and meet me. If I’m in town my friends will walk me to a taxi station and will insist that I ring them when I am home safely, and I do the same for them. But it isn’t just strangers who committ assault, and there are so many that suffer abuse from family members and friends.
We shouldn’t have to fear walking down the street at night by ourselves, we shouldn’t have to consider what we wear in case it attracts attention, and we shouldn’t have to avoid eye contact or innocent conversations with people just in case they assume we are hitting on them.
Above all, we shouldn’t have to fear the consequences of speaking out.
It’s time we did something about it.
For those people, I wanted to share a simple message:
It’s not your fault.
It’s never too late.
I believe you.