One of my earliest memories of sexual harassment would probably be when I was around 13/14. I say ‘one of’ because there were instances that I probably regarded as ‘normal’.
I had just come from Church Confirmation classes on a Sunday afternoon in November. My friend had come to meet me afterwards and we cut through our local park as we ordinarily would do. We bumped into a boy my friend had a crush on, along with another boy we assumed was his friend. As teenagers do, we stood chatting about nonsense (probably) until dusk started to fall. My friend and her crush said they were just going to the shop on the corner which was no more than 10 meters away.
So there I was, stuck with this random boy, whilst waiting for my friend to come back. Before I knew it, darkness had fallen and here I was stood outside of the park still waiting for my friend to return.
I began to feel awkward. I didn’t know this boy and to bhquite frank, I had no interest or desire to continue a conversation with him. I said goodbye and turned to walk towards the shop to find my friend.
I suddenly felt him tug at my arm. He was trying to pull me into the park which was pitch black at this point.
When in this type of a situation, your brain doesn’t immediately compute that something is wrong. So although I pulled back I automatically thought he was being silly, until he started to pull me aggressively.
Luckily I have always been quite built, even as a young teenager, so I was able to use my body weight to free myself from his grasp. I ran towards the shop to find that my friend wasn’t even there!?!
I panicked, as he had now began to chase me. It felt like I was running for my life and I was no athlete.
Luckily another group of boys were walking towards me and he appeared to fall back on his pursuit. Puffed out at this point and filled with fear, I continued to make my way down the long road in the dark. He was still following me so I quickened my pace as much as I could. I suddenly began to hear the thud of his footsteps behind me and was startled when he grabbed my arm again and said ‘Here, take my number!’.
At some point he had managed to write his number on the back of an old paper bus ticket. My hands physically shook as I took the paper from him and he turned and walked away like nothing had happened. He almost made me feel that I had overreacted, the way he candidly handed over his number.
Still very shaken up, I ran the rest of the way home and didn’t tell anyone. Although not wanting to appear weak (not even to myself), I cried when I got in my room.
I could’ve been raped.
Had I not weighed more than him, he would’ve been able to force me into that park and who knows what could’ve happened? I couldn’t tell anyone because the first question would’ve been, why I’d been outside a park with someone I didn’t know. Whilst I could explain that this wasn’t my intention, people will always look to the girl or woman to explain how she’d even allowed herself to be put in such a position.
So I said nothing, because I blamed myself.
This incident shook me up for a long time and I became very wary about the places I went to. That park was not used as a cut through for many years afterwards.
As parents, we need to do a better job of allowing our children the space to be open with us. I know too many women who have been raped, molested and sexually abused by people known to them, but yet, they have never told their parents or the police.
What is it about this culture that is so keen to protect the perpetrators and almost have a willingness to silence the victims?
I was lucky. Very lucky. I count myself lucky everyday that I have avoided being in a situation where I have been seriously sexually assaulted. I say ‘seriously’ because in my eyes a grope, or an accidental brush of the breast or slap of a bum cheek is mild in comparison to what some other people have gone through. Nonetheless, it is still an infringement of my body and space.
This is my body, not yours!
This week I am joined by Paris who is Domestic Violence Support Worker & is also studying towards her PHD. We discuss her experiences on sexual harassment, rape & her research on FGM.
Listen to this weeks podcast below or visit our ways to listen page for your listening options.
Take care of yourselves and keep that door open for your daughters.