To mark International Anti-Street Harassment Week, we are writing about our experiences of street harassment.
The walk home from school was short, and the strip of shops with the little green on the way was even shorter.
But it petrified me.
There was a bench just on the green, and two or three men (old men) would sit all afternoon, drink cans of beer and shout absurdities at little girls walking by. ‘Hello sweetheart’, ‘you’re beautiful’ etc etc.
But it wasn’t their words, it was that feeling of being watched that upset me. The gaze searing into my skin, my back, my legs, my bum, my breasts. It weighed so heavy on me.
I changed my route.
But they were everywhere. Men everywhere staring at me, saying things, making me feel obliged to hide, or respond faintly, in the hope that it would just go away.
I was only eight or nine years old, and it hasn’t let up since. I have felt real fear so many times I can’t remember, but some of them I can. I remember telling men my age (‘but I’m 13, but I’m 14, but I’m 12 YEARS OLD. TWELVE!’) and it never seemed to matter. Aaliyah’s hit tune ‘Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number’ was the bane of my life. It gave these lecherous men the fuel they needed, fully sanctioned paedophilic harassment. But my friends and I were strong, when I reflect on it, we batted them all off and would walk away saying ‘nonce’, ‘paedophile’ and laugh at how sad these men were, pitying their wives, glad we weren’t their daughters.
We didn’t really think about it being a crime. It was a daily thing, two or three times daily, sometimes hourly. On the way to school, to college, to the shop, in the shop, in the bar, on the way to the loo – why do some men wait outside the women’s toilet, that’s not attractive, is it? Ok, actually, I know why. You get to ogle ALL of the girls in the club that way.
Anyway, the last time a man thought he deserved my number for talking to me when I hadn’t requested it, sent no signal, was just walking down the street was within the last seven days, and there have been some days this week that I haven’t left the house because I’ve been kinda busy. So t hat’s very telling.
I usually manage to just pretend I didn’t hear anything, but on one occasion I couldn’t. I had to stop and listen. I had to look him in the face, in the eyes. I had to stand there and do what he said. And I hated him for it. On my way to university, late evening, heavy bags, dashing from one platform to another on the Underground, an Underground worker spotted me and gave me That Look. He motioned to me, maybe he said something like ‘hello’, but, I’m running for my train, it’s in sight, I don’t have time, so I did the usual see-no-evil-hear-no-evil, but when he clocked that I was ignoring him he called me up on it. ‘Hey, hey. STOP! I want to see your ticket’.
What? What? Now? I couldn’t believe it. I pretended I couldn’t see him, I pretended I couldn’t hear, but he shouted louder and people could hear. I had a valid ticket, but I stopped. He sauntered up to me, spoke slowly, requested to see my ticket, inspected it on one side, and then on the other. Then when he was sure that my train had gone, just as it had pulled off he said ‘next time, stop immediately when you are called’. And with that he turned and left, triumphant.
I missed my train back to uni, so I turned away and went back to my parents eaten up with rage chewed up by that complete abuse of power that I felt I could do nothing about. Oh, the frustration! Oh the fury! The kind of feeling that drives one to think those intrusive thoughts we are ashamed of – you know, BAAAAD thoughts.
That’s what some men do to me.
Now I know that if a man consistently harasses me, on the street, on the Underground, on my way to or from my destination (home, school, work, shopping), wherever. If he does it twice and I have evidence (witnesses, CCTV, anything that can show he has harassed me on two or more occasions) he is committing a crime that I can push for prosecution for quite easily under the Protection from Harassment Act, 1997.
Once bitten, but twice and he’s nicked (and an arrest, jail and fine could be on the cards).
That’s how I’ll live my life from now on.