Every morning, I pull on my walking gear and head up into the hills for a good stomp across the countryside.
It’s only in the past few years I’ve felt comfortable enough to go off the beaten track alone, I’d normally have always stuck to the main road where there are people.
I don’t have my keys in between my knuckles, to be honest I’m not entirely sure how effective this is despite it being something I’ve known to do since being a teenager. What I do have is the carabiner from my metal water bottle hooked around my finger, ready to give it a good swing if needed.
Every time I pass someone; I lift my chin defiantly, look them straight in the eye and bellow hello with a smile. I can guarantee it’ll be a shout because I have my headphones in and they’re quite loud despite every single piece of safety advice telling me not to do this.
I’m not sure what my actions say about me, I like to think it says; “fuck with me at your peril”.
It more than likely says; “yes, you’ve just caught me singing but I don’t really care”.
It also means my appearance has been noted by multiple people that morning.
Even if it does signal that I am not to be messed with, let’s be honest, it’s an act because if it came down to it and I was attacked, I have no idea how I’d respond. I can guarantee every single self-defence move I’ve ever been taught will magically leave my brain; despite the fact they are clear in my mind as I write.
Now, to be clear, I don’t walk around in a permanent state of fear, I am however, always aware of my surroundings and on my guard, hence having the metal water bottle good to go. It is a fact of life, a lesson I’ve had drummed into me from a very young age, I don’t like it but it’s where we are.
I’ve debated writing this piece many times over the past two weeks. I’ve started it, deleted it, given up, put it to one side and come back to it.
I’ve sat and watched as women shared moments where they’ve been attacked, harassed, stalked and made to feel uncomfortable, it is a part of everyday life. I’ve also watched the arguments, claims of fear mongering and the shouting on social media and decided against writing, which, probably says something in itself.
A couple of things I’m going to address now, before I go on…..
I don’t hate men – shouldn’t need saying but for arguments sake there it is in black and white.
I am also aware that it isn’t all men. Believe me, we know it’s not all men, no one is calling out all men, no one is seriously suggesting a curfew for men, what we are saying is “lads, we could do with a bit of a hand here, see things from the other side”.
Violence against women isn’t rare. I have interviewed enough families, stood at enough crime scenes, sat through enough court cases, worked on enough horrifying stories and seen enough police appeals drop into my inbox to know that it is not rare, it is depressingly common.
Every woman I know has dealt with harassment, from being teenager. Every one of my friends has felt unsafe just going about daily life, they all have multiple stories, I have multiple stories.
They don’t play on my mind, they’re pushed to one side and forgotten, treated as a daily occurrence, it’s just what happens and on we go. Many women will do exactly the same.
What has been good (not sure if that’s the right word) to see is a discussion, an acceptance that a lot needs to change around education, the justice system, victim blaming culture and sentencing.
I don’t find my stories shocking, in the grand scheme of things they aren’t, they’re normal, run of the mill and that’s the problem….
Aged 12 I’m at a school disco, a lad who I don’t know, have never spoken to before, isn’t in my year and who to this day I couldn’t tell you his name grabs me waist from behind and…well, I don’t think I need to go in details about the action he attempts to carry out…..
My response at 12 is to turn around and hit him across the face; at this point I’ve still got some rough edges, I really couldn’t care less about getting into trouble, I’ve been taught and told to stand up for myself, so, I do. Crucially, I don’t tell anyone and move on.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “it’s just kids messing about, no harm intended”. Maybe he didn’t intend any harm, maybe he was just trying to get a laugh from his mates, either way, it was wrong. This boy was older and a complete stranger and yet still he thought it was okay to put his hands on me. Why has he not been taught that actually, that’s not okay? Why hasn’t anyone ever taught him about boundaries? Why hasn’t he been taught that you can’t just grab girls like they’re your property? Looking back, I’m glad I gave him a crack.
A few years later, I’m about 14 and walking home alone. It’s about 9ish, it’s not too late, it is dark. I become very aware of a car pulling up alongside me.
INTERNALLY: “It’s okay, they’re probably looking for an address, don’t look just keep walking, pick up the pace and keep walking”.
They weren’t looking for an address, the car continues to drive slowly alongside me.
INTERNALLY: “Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit”.
I am terrified and starting to panic. There’s plenty of houses about but I can’t see anyone around.
The window winds down and he starts trying to talk to me, trying to convince me to get into the car, it’s at this point I run as fast as I can, I don’t look back, I slip into a side street and hide for what feels like an eternity.
I never tell another living soul about what just happened. Why? I think it’s my own fault for having the audacity to walk alone in the dark, I think it’s a stupid thing to have done and for some reason that I still can’t fathom, I’m ashamed, I’d rather forget it, let’s move on.
At 21 a peeping tom has taken to lurking on our drive in Leeds, he looks through the windows he’s turned up every night for the past week. It’s been reported to the police each time. Each time I’m given a reference number, told to make a note of when he turns up and that someone will be in touch to speak to us about it and take a description I’m also told; “it’ll probably be alright”.
I don’t know why I readily accept this response, but I do; “there’s nothing to fear, the police said it’ll probably be alright”.
It’s not until I mention it in passing to a lecturer that I start to think differently:
“You all need to be careful. That is a potentially very dangerous situation, these aren’t nothing crimes, be very careful when you’re coming and going from your house”.
Shit! I knew what he was saying was true, a bloke lurking around your house at night is dangerous, I know this. Why haven’t I kicked up more of stink? Mainly because I’m learning. I know nothing will be done and our concerns won’t be taken seriously.
I’m now 26, I’ve taken up running in the mornings. Unfortunately, my new routine (that I had been enjoying) now also involves an elderly man, who I know, kerb crawling me (something I very much do not enjoy). He’s also, on occasion, taken to licking his lips at me which is every bit as disgusting as you can imagine. I assume he’s trying to intimidate me, he never shouts anything at me, just drives slowly alongside me, though I can see he’s mouthing something at me.
So, what do I do this time?
I start running down the road instead or I go earlier, or I don’t go at all. I know he’s not going to attack me, to be honest I’m more concerned that’ll end up with a criminal record for kicking his wing mirror off. I change my routine because I simply cannot be bothered dealing with his shit first thing in the morning.
Of course, I never report it because what is the point, someone *might* go and speak to him, he’ll deny it, back off for a few weeks and then start again, what is the point? I’ve also just learnt that kerb crawling isn’t an actual crime, so I was right not to waste my own time.
35 and I first think about writing about some of this stuff, it’s October 2020 and I’ve have had some tiresome days voxing, here’s a snapshot…
“I’ll look after you love, come and sit on my knee” – er I don’t think so.
“I’d love to see what you look like under that mask” – that’s a new one.
“I’m having your number” – you’re so right, my life was incomplete until I walked into this pub to ask some questions, take my number, take everything I own, you are now my king….bore off.
Do I use a witty comeback? No, I do not.
I pull a tight, polite smile, which is ridiculous considering I’m wearing a facemask.
You see, I don’t want to upset anybody, I don’t want to cause a fuss, I don’t want to anger anyone; after all I’m going to be stood reporting on the street alone all afternoon, I don’t want these guys to get drunker and cause me problems later on, so I smile, say thank you, I might even say “it’s been nice talking to you” (it has not) and head off.
I’d like to say comments and things like this while I’m working are rare, they aren’t. My biggest headache should be idiots who think it’s funny to jump in the back of my camera shot, it’s not, catcalling is, and my god it is annoying. You might think you’re the new king of comedy but really you aren’t.
Thinking about some of those incidents and I’m struck by how normal it is, a friend told me she was flashed at when she was 8 and I didn’t bat an eyelid, I just thought “yeah, sounds about right”.
It’s why we aren’t overreacting or fear mongering by talking about feeling unsafe on the streets, we have all felt uncomfortable on multiple occasions. We all have to accept that there is a problem, it isn’t all men, but we need you to be as pissed off as we are.
Education needs looking at, respect needs teaching. Catcalling in the street isn’t funny, grabbing someone you don’t know isn’t acceptable, women and girls aren’t objects – it really is that simple.
Men we need you to be angry that sentencing is laughable and conviction rates for rape and domestic abuse are abysmal. We need you to ask why it’s acceptable for a rape victim’s sexual history, clothing and actions in general to be raked over in court. Think about it, if you’ve been burgled you aren’t torn to shreds for having a fancy telly.
People need to have the confidence that when they’re reporting flashers, peeping toms or harassment that it will actually be taken seriously, because “it’ll probably be alright” isn’t good enough.
Thanks for reading xxx
I’d love to hear what other people think on this and have a debate in the comments
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm