With 97% of women experiencing sexual harassment during their lifetime, I never had any expectations of being the exception.
However what shocks me is the fact that the more I read about these stats, about these things that we’ve all experienced at one point or another – like having to take a long route home or holding on tightly to your keys – I never realised just how casually I thought about the whole situation myself.
Like it’s something absolutely normal for me to take a longer route home, not walk the dog after sundown, run as fast as I could after I turned a corner or walk home with the keys in my hand. I may have unconsciously trained my brain to think that I am just a paranoid person and one to overthink about possible dangers around any corner. And so I do all these things to make myself feel better and safer. But surely, no one else does this and if I actually mentioned it out loud, I would definitely be the strange exception and not the norm.
And reading all these stats, it’s reassuring to hear that I wasn’t being paranoid, that every woman feels the same. But at the same time, that’s the very sad truth. Every woman feels the same. Every woman is scared for their safety.
And I don’t know if it’s because I’m older now and view this situation from another perspective than my younger self, or the fact that I am raising a daughter now, but it made me think of times that I’ve been harassed myself. And the more I thought about it, the angrier I felt.
I should have not have felt validated as a young woman the first time a car beeped and I heard a wolf whistle when walking on the street by myself as a 14 year old. However, I did. I felt validated because all my friends had been through it and I felt uglier and fatter because no white van man wolf whistled at me. How stupid is that? I’d love to be able to speak to my 14 year old self and explain how stupid that thought was. I’d also like to explain to the stupid van driver how underage I was as well.
I’d like to be there for me on both the occasions I got followed home during my time as a student. I can’t remember how I got away but thank God that I did. Thinking about it, they may not even have been following me, but walking ever so closely behind me in the dark made my blood feel cold as ice and got my heart racing. I remember holding on to my laptop bag so tightly and I remember thinking that I would need to sacrifice my laptop in case I needed to defend myself. Wondering how that would pan out as I would most definitely not be able to afford a new laptop. Which meant studying in the library on the university computers and then having to walk home alone at night again. Again, looking back at it, very hard hitting thoughts for a 19 year old away in a strange country where she had no one but herself to count on.
However, the one recollection that makes my blood boil is this one. And my hands shake with so much anger as I write this.
During one of my first jobs in the UK I used to collect international students from the airport. We had a contract with a coach company and a coach would collect me from the university at stupid o’clock and off I went with a stranger driving off to the airport to bring in the new excited groups of students.
Don’t get me wrong, I met a whole bunch of fantastic drivers. One particular one treated me like his adopted daughter and invited me to spend Christmas with his family so that I wouldn’t be alone. Not that I did, but that’s to show that beautiful, compassionate souls are out there in this world and that we do randomly bump into them.
But then there’s the nasty souls too that unfortunately pop up along the way. This one particular airport pick up, I was along with this hedgehog-y looking driver. You know the type, spiky hair, thick gold chain sort of character.
He drove to the airport and instead of dropping me off at the terminal as he was supposed to, he took me to a random poorly lit coach park at the airport. When questioning him about this change of plans, he casually answered that he thought I may had given him a blow job. I don’t actually remember my answer to this, but what shocks me to remember is how casually I laughed it off. Thinking he’s just making a stupid joke. Now luckily nothing else happened, but he did make me make my own way to the terminal to collect the students. In the dark, all alone. Just because I refused him, I suppose.
What makes me ridiculously angry about this situation is that I genuinely thought it to be a joke. Not once had I thought how dangerous that was. I told another driver on a different trip about this story, I suppose explaining why I didn’t like the hedgehogy driver in the first place. And that’s when he said I needed to tell someone about this. I needed to inform my work as it was a serious matter. So I did. And this is what also makes me ridiculously angry. I explained the situation and do you know what the result was? Hedgehog man was not allowed to be the driver on a job that I needed to be on the coach with the students. He still did airport drop offs, which meant that I only needed to see the students on the coach but not accompany them and return all alone with this man. There wasn’t a complaint to my recollection, I don’t suppose he even got a slap on the wrist.
And looking back on it, through my 30 year old self perspective, my heart mourns for how I thought this was a normal occurrence and shook it off so casually. How I was so oblivious to the actual danger I was in. But then again, maybe my casual response and laughter was what saved me from that situation. It’s most certainly something that I would never want to see anyone else go through, and especially keep my daughter safe from.
And that’s why I wanted to voice my experience. I don’t want anyone named and shamed, I’m not writing this with a vendetta towards anyone. I’m simply putting this out there as examples of harassment from just one woman’s experiences. Now think how many other stories are out there, and how many of those stories have more sinister endings. How many of these stories are out there and how many buried deep down, blocked from thoughts due to embarrassment, or doubt of voicing them in case you get accused yourself of starting it. Of asking for it. The only thing I can say for certain, I certainly didn’t ask for it. Because no one ever does.