I recently shared a post on my personal Facebook page following outrage over the death of Sarah Everard and the police handling of the public vigil. Since then I’ve noticed various other events of public protest in which the police handling appeared to be different. So I’ve decided to add my thoughts to my blog, updating and sharing below.
Like many women this week I have been doing a lot of reflecting. I didnt think I really had a story of serious assault, of sexual violence. I felt lucky because many I know, some close to me, do have those experiences, and struggle with the aftereffects. But I do have a story.
When I was approx 13 years old a boy seated beside me in Physics class, tried to blow into my ear & did other weird stuff in my personal space until I stood up & loudly told him to stop in front of the whole class and teacher (he hadn’t listened to my requests before). I went to a school reunion a few years ago and I admit to being nervous that he would be there too. I was extremely releaved he wasn’t there DESPITE 35+years in between. Also around that age an adult family member had pinched my bum but I’m told I told him off in no uncertain terms. I don’t believe there was intention behind it but I was still able to stand in my personal space and point to the boundaries. I like to think he learned a lesson from my displeasure and I am pleased to think that I was able, and felt safe enough, to call him out. In my twenties I worked in various pubs and nightclubs. This meant that I experienced various men leering & making inappropriate comments. One once leaned over the bar to watch me walking behind the bar. It made me feel very vulnerable but thankfully there were regular customers who I believed would step in if need be. I would not have been able to rely on the pub manager. He served a drunk and difficult customer after I had already told him that the customer had been told he was not getting any more that day. So I left that job shortly after that. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard: “Hello darling” from random strangers I didn’t know. They are usually not alone, but because I dared not respond this was followed by all manner of insults. I was too shy to reply to bigger men I didn’t know, usually when walking briskly to somewhere I needed to be, so there was all manner of indignant, rude, or abusive comments by blokes because I hadn’t stroked their ego. Also things like “smile, you’d look so much better” when I’m usually lost in thought or busy with something. Like WTF?
And today, I finally mentioned something in conversation that I had been deeply ashamed of. I had put it away and didn’t look at it much. But voicing it today has made me want to share it properly. Back in my 30s I got very drunk. So drunk I don’t remember even leaving the pub. But I did leave it with someone. In the morning I walked home and knew that sex had been involved becaus of how raw my vulva and vagina felt. If I was so drunk that I cannot recall any of that time I was in no fit condition to give consent. Do I know if I was even conscious when I was being penetrated? If there was no conscious consent it is technically rape, I believe. But there’s no way I’d ever report it because I had no recollection and no proof. I now have an idea of what other women feel like when considering whether to report their assaults. And why so many just don’t. Since the London murder and the Manchester assault there’s been a Freedom of Information request into police assaults on women and it is clear how prevalent the abuse of power is. So, whilst it’s not all men, it does seem to be that all women have a story. I didn’t think I really had much of one until I reflected more deeply this week. Many people will have stories. Some men too, at the hands of other men and at the hands of women. I can’t remember when but a while ago I stopped sharing posts which objectified men. You know the ones? Perhaps the sexy fireman in a state of relative undress? If I am angry at women being objectified I have no place leering over men either. Through the conversations happening now awareness is growing and I truly hope that humans continue to reflect and learn from this so that future generations develop mutual respect. So many institutions are ingrained with sexism, misogyny, patriarchy. I haven’t even brought in the subject of racism yet because this post has been just about women’s experiences but that must also be added to the list. It will take grass roots movement to make a difference. We need to be so much kinder to each other.