A Personal History Of Sexual Harassment

by Ly H Kerr

I’m just casually scrolling through Facebook when a post gets my attention. I’m not surprised by the post, it’s nothing new. Nonetheless, it makes me feel a tad ragey.

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My first thoughts run to the sheer entitlement of this man. He wants to do something & no one else’s feelings on the matter count. These thoughts are swiftly followed by exhaustion at constantly having to explain why this is not okay. His dismissal of rape culture as something made up by ‘angry women’ & his total refusal to accept women’s safety concerns are appalling. The problem, of course, is that these attitudes are pervasive. Men routinely behave this way.

I am aware that I am not the first woman to raise these issues, but I really think it’s important that we share our experiences. One in five women in the UK have been sexually assaulted at some point in their life. To be honest, I’m surprised this figure isn’t much higher. Women and girls are harassed daily. It’s infuriating, frightening, humiliating, stressful, and so much more. Still, girls are told by teachers that “boys will boys,” and schools put the onus on what girls wear rather on male behaviour. We are told cat-calling is a compliment and police downplay our reports of sexual assault.

Men, it seems, have no concept of the female experience. They will never understand the extent of the harassment we endure unless we speak out. Basically, we need to ram it down their throats.

With that in mind, I want to share some of the stand out moments of sexual intimidation that I have experienced.

1. I am approximately ten years old and wearing my favourite outfit. It’s one of those heat sensitive T-shirts that change colour and a velvet skirt. The T-shirt reads “hotspot,” and I think this was the coolest thing ever. At a family gathering an adult, an male family friend slaps my bum and says, “That’s your hotspot.” I am ten years old. The incident confuses and frightens me so much that I didn’t tell a soul it happened.

2. I’m eleven or twelve and have just started secondary school. The boys in my class routinely try to undo girl’s bras through their blouses. I don’t wear a bra yet, and so am mercilessly mocked.

3. That same year, myself and a friend are followed off a bus and right to her house by a complete stranger. He’s a middle-aged man, and we are terrified.

4. On my way home from school one day, a man approaches me and warns me that there is another man playing with himself ahead. A week or so later, the same man does the same thing. On speaking to the police, it turns out there have been dozens of complaints.

5. By 15, my flat-as-a-pancake figure has ceased to be. My breast growth has gone into overdrive and my boobs are large. My lifelong battle begins. Boys at school grab me and make crude comments. Adult bus drivers make disgusting comments, despite my wearing a school uniform. For the first time, I hear the male theory that big breasts mean I am a slut.

6. At some point in my mid-teens, I go on holiday with a friend’s family. Throughout the holiday, my friend’s mother alludes to the size of my breasts. My refusal to hide them under tent-like apparel, means that I am “not a nice girl.”

7. When I begin clubbing at around 16, I am confronted with the fact that my body is not my own. Men in clubs consider the female form to be fair game. I am groped, slapped, pinched, and rubbed against over and over again. When I complain, I am verbally abused and told I shouldn’t be wearing revealing clothes if I don’t want this. I’m a bitch, a slut, frigid, a tease.

8. I’m 19 and on my way to meet a friend for drinks. As I walk down a busy street, a group of young teenage boys surround me and shout about my breasts. One boy thrusts his hand into my dress and violently grabs my nipple. None of the passersby make any attempt to help me. When I report this incident to the police, the first question I am asked is what was I wearing. No action is ever taken. I am left feeling dirty and angry.

9. In my mid-twenties, I faint at street market. When I come round, a man is taking a picture of my cleavage.

10.  I try internet dating and am bombarded with sexual comments. If I ignore these comments, I get abusive messages telling me I am rude and stuck up. If I say no thanks, I receive messages telling me what an ugly, fat bitch I am and how dare I reject this prize of a man. Several times, I block men, only to have them create new accounts so they can continue to abuse me.

11. At an early pos- graduation job, I must wear a blue shirt provided by my employer. I request the largest size, but it still gapes at the bust. I am summoned to HR to talk about how I am dressed inappropriately.

12. I am leading a sexual health workshop with teenagers. Their teacher requests my card and then adds, “you look like you could improve my sexual health.”

13. By my early 30s, I am thoroughly disgusted with all this abuse. I am collecting my prescription from the chemist when an old man looks me up and down, shouts “nice,” and proceeds to squeeze both my breasts. I automatically harshly push the man away from me. Later, when reporting this to the police, I am questioned about how I pushed him, how much force I used, and why I hit the man. Again, no action is ever taken.

14. A man I dated briefly over ten years ago periodically sends pictures of his penis despite me telling him not to. When I block him from one way of contacting me, he finds me somewhere else and continues.

These are only a tiny taste of the aggravation I have endured. My experience is by no means unique. So, next time you want to complain about women being on the defensive or not appreciating your advances, have a think about why she is reacting that way. Before you laugh at a friend’s unsolicited comments to a female stranger, consider how much of these “compliments” she must deal with.  Ask the women in your life about their exposure to molestation (verbal or physical). Hopefully, a glimpse of the reality of the female experience will alter you view point.

Top photo: stoptellingwomentosmile.com

ly is a freelance writer & blogger from Glasgow. She writes on a variety of topics, but specialises in mental health, body positivity & social justice, all with a feminist slant. You can follow her onwww.somethinginthewayshemoves.me, Instagram or Twitter.

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