I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been harassed and not just on the streets either. In the workplace, on buses and trains, and in shops and bars too. I’ll list some of those incidents I remember best.
The earliest I can remember is a trucker shouting something about my breasts as I was walking home aged 16. I was really upset about it and kept going. Thinking about it now, I looked younger than my actual age at the time so as far as he knew he was harassing a child.
On a long bus journey a man sat next to me while I was gazing out of the window very much in my own thoughts. I felt something on the side of my leg and assumed it was a bug or something. I scratched and thought nothing more about it, until a few minutes later when it happened again and I realised it was this man who was doing it. I pulled my leg away in surprise but this guy had picked the wrong woman to harass. I had my umbrella on my lap which had a hard plastic handle with a metal piece sticking out of the top of it for a long lost wrist strap. I tightened my grip on the umbrella and waited. Sure enough a couple of minutes later he did it again and I hit him hard on the back of his hand with the umbrella handle. I’ve never seen anyone move so fast. He raced to the front of the bus and got off at the next stop.
At work I persuaded a harassing colleague to desist too. He had a habit of putting his arm round me and one day I’d really had enough of it. I put my hand over his and dug my long nails into the back of his hand. To his credit he didn’t even wince outwardly but he never touched me again.
A man touched my breast as I sat on a bus. A man grabberd for my crotch as I was simply crossing a road in Manchester city centre.
When I was 18 I had a boss put his hand on my thigh when I was alone with him in his car, and one boss in particular harassed me constantly for several months when I was in my early 20s. Eventually when I got so upset that I turned on him verbally and got my coat to walk out he threatened to sack me if I did. I was forced to carry on but at least the harassment then stopped.
At a bar in the leafy Cheshire countryside I had a man come harass me while my then partner was in the toilets. He put his hand on my knee and I did the same trick again of digging my nails into the back of his hand before I lifted it and dropped it away from me.
Another bar incident was in a pub with incredibly loud music on. This guy started to talk to me but I couldn’t hear what he was saying and kept asking him to repeat it. He put his arm round me and I told him not to. He went away but, feeling upset about the incident, I went looking for him a few minutes later. By then he’d managed to persuade some poor blonde woman to let him paw her and he was sitting with her. I tried to tell him how his harassment had made me feel but he just started shouting obscenities at me. I snapped. I threw my fresh drink at him (what a waste of Martini) then realised an empty glass was no use to me so I threw that at him as well. Not to attack him, more a case of discarding it. Thankfully for both of us it didn’t break, but it must have hurt when it hit him. I then walked out and walked all the way home. I’m just grateful there were bouncers on the door as I suspect they may have stopped him following me.
One day I was getting the train to work at about 8/8.30am and a fresh train was setting off from within a double platform. It’s complicated to explain the set-up but basically the nearest part of the train was the end of it that was backed into the station. Most people naturally got on the rear carriage as that was nearest but, not liking crowds, I went for the second carriage. Just one other person got on with me, a man who was middle aged and creepily sweaty. He spent the whole journey to the next stop peering down the carriage to see if anyone else was on it with us, and I knew he was just trying to make sure it was safe to attack me. I formulated a plan for if he did. I was carrying a heavy book (complete works of Oscar Wilde I think) and I placed my hands under it so I could snap it shut quickly and then hit him with it. Thankfully my plan was never tested as the train was one that stopped at every station on the route and before this man had taken the resolution to make the attack we’d pulled in to the next station and lots of people were getting on. It was an incredibly frightening experience though, I genuinely thought I was going to have to defend myself from being raped.
Physical harassment seems to be less prevalent in the UK now, but the verbal still continues and it makes you very wary when someone says anything to you. I’ve got to the stage where I’ll sometimes give a guy hassle for even staring. Like when a man was walking up my local railway station road and looked back at these two young women who’d just gone past him. I said to him (in front of his partner and daughter who were with him) that “they’re only kids, you pervert”. I’ve done similar with men who’ve been staring at my legs or breasts too.
That doesn’t mean that I feel I’m invincible or that I don’t get scared on the streets sometimes. I think I just learned bolshiness and that I feel far better when I do stand up to these jerks than when I don’t. It’s still scary but at least I’ve not allowed myself to be silenced or to be put down. I don’t react every time but I do try to at least say something – usually loudly. They have far more to lose being called on their harassment than I do in making that call.
That’s not to say that everyone should do the same. We all have to decide for ourselves how we’re going to tackle each incident, and your own safety must always come first. I think what I’ve learned is that it’s best to have a plan. Plan what you’re going to do and to say in certain incidents. It really helps.
Location: Northwest England