An insight – my experiences on sexual harassment

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By Anna Burt, EDI Champion.

I’ve been experiencing sexual harassment since I was at school and throughout my adult life, like most of my friends and peers. Every woman I know has multiple experiences of harassment; everyone has stories and they are usually quite horrific.

I have been targeted in bars and clubs with unwanted attention and inappropriate touching. I have been cat called from vans whilst in my school uniform and wolf whistled during a job interview. I have been followed, chased and had someone expose themselves while I was walking with friends.

When I experience harassment like this, it really negatively impacts my mental health. I always come away wishing I had done more or said more, but when faced with a situation which is quite frightening, I find I shut down or withdraw. I am a fairly outgoing person and happy to have a natter with someone on the street, but being at the receiving end of harassment like this destroys my confidence and power. I feel small and vulnerable, and as if any kind of agency I had has been taken away. I find myself becoming mistrustful of everyone and unnecessarily judgemental. I hate feeling this way, but have learnt to adapt to survive.  

This kind of behaviour happens so regularly throughout our lives that my friends and I have become completely accustomed to it. We talk about it casually when friends ask us how our week was, they become part of our shared memories: ‘remember that night out where that guy…’ or ‘when we lived in that flat near that man…’. We know how to report it; we’ve told staff, we’ve warned friends. We detach ourselves from the trauma with humour and complacency.

We are so acclimatised to a constant low-level threat that it becomes part of our daily life. Autumn is my favourite time of year but I struggle with the darker months as it feels like I have a curfew as soon as it gets dark. If I’m ever going anywhere, I let my friends and family know and put my live location on. I share my journey with friends when I’m in an Uber and always try and sit near the driver when on buses. I carry a power pack in case my phone loses battery and I can’t contact anyone. I don’t walk with headphones in or my phone out and have learnt to be over-vigilant when walking alone, always looking ahead and behind me and for any easy exits. I have made myself late for appointments because the bus was too crowded and I felt trapped near someone who was acting strangely. I trust my gut and intuition above all, but often this hyper vigilance when I’m just trying to get home can be exhausting.

It’s second nature in my female friendship groups to state how far away we are, when we’ve got home safely and to put our keys in between our knuckles when we leave the house. We wait for others to get in their taxis or get on their trains. We schedule face times and over-plan our routes. We buy alarms and sprays, torches and whistles, all to simply get home.

I’ve had a few men make jokes about how women always go to the toilet together, not realising it’s a way we’ve learnt to keep ourselves safe.

Every day women in this country carry out these little rituals in order to keep themselves alive.

Sometimes I get lost in the mundanity of it all, but it’s so important to take a step back and realise: No. This is not ok, this is not acceptable and it shouldn’t be happening.

All this being said, allies and advocates do help. In all the harassment I have experienced, I have also had people help. When walking home at night, some men have pulled back so they aren’t walking so close to me, or crossed the street to show they aren’t a threat. Friends have carefully manoeuvred themselves to block me from people in clubs. I’ve had family members stay up late to make sure I got in ok or offer a lift home. Bar staff have contacted security for me and trustworthy strangers have watched my drink when I’ve gone to the toilet or asked me ‘Is this person bothering you?’ if I look cornered.

I’m also learning to be more vocal myself, despite how scary this can be. If anyone makes an inappropriate joke or says something that makes me feel uncomfortable, I try to call them out by parroting what they’ve said back to them – to highlight their sexism.  Sometimes, to challenge stereotypes, I play dumb by saying ‘I don’t understand’ or ‘I’m not sure what you mean by that’. Forcing them to repeat their ‘joke’ and diminishing its humour. It’s not a lot, but it’s a small way to get my power back. Its these small acts that help to combat this behaviour and reinforce what’s always in the back of our minds but not said; No. This is not ok, this is not acceptable and it shouldn’t be happening.

The Spiking Epidemic

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by BA(Hons) English Literature with Writing student.

I was eight when I first experienced a form of sexual assault.

Eight.

I was fourteen when I experienced my next form of assault. I was walking back home with a group of similarly aged friends when a man stopped us on the street in broad daylight and took out his penis in front of us.

Fourteen.

Since then I have experienced countless amounts of catcalls, gross comments and awkward touches. Most of them have been in broad daylight with groups of people around. None of them would say anything, even fewer would blink an eye.

Approximately one in five young women and girls will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, while one in twenty men will be abused once in their life. Yet our judicial system, one who claims to stand and support survivors of assault, is failing us. Only one in one hundred cases in 2021 were recorded by police, with most cases tucked away to be forgotten about (Rapecrisis.org).

This topic, one so taboo, is also a growing epidemic. British drinking and clubbing culture has led to an increase in spiking cases, so how can we stop this from escalating further?  

Some ways that you can prevent spiking in the case of you or your friends include:

  1. Always buy your own drink and watch it get poured
  2. Never leave your drink unattended or in the presence of strangers 
  3. Go to clubs with groups of friends or people that you trust
  4. Make sure to go to places in pairs, never leave to places alone or with people you don’t know
  5. Cover your drinks! 

Following these tips can help in preventing instances of spiking but, if you do believe you or a friend has been spiked, go to a trusted friend or family member that can take you to safety and call 999 to report it as soon as possible.

Rapecrisis.org also offer a support helpline, available Monday – Thursday: 13:00 – 17:00, 18:00 – 21:00 and Friday: 14:00 – 17:00. Call 0808 802 9999 or chat to them online.

Sources:

“Statistics about Sexual Violence and Abuse.” Rape Crisis England & Wales, rapecrisis.org.uk/get-informed/statistics-sexual-violence/.

I’m striving to be a better ally, and you can too!

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by Rahul Aswani, Vice President Community and Welfare, The Students’ Union at UWE Bristol.

As your VP Community and Welfare, I think UWE Bristol is a very exciting place to be, with many experiences for you to enjoy and have. I am passionate that UWE Bristol is a community where we all feel welcome and safe.

From my personal experiences here at UWE Bristol, I am striving to be a better ally to ensure we stay safe together. I am looking at my own behaviour to make sure I am not making anyone feel uncomfortable.

I am a vocal advocate for anti-spiking campaigns and I support my friends to seek support if they have experienced any form of harassment.

In my role this year as your VP Community and Welfare, if there are spaces where you feel unsafe or want to see change, please do get in touch as I am here to represent you! As part of my manifesto, I am lobbying UWE for funding to provide first aid training to more students and bringing greater awareness to the emergency contact numbers at UWE Bristol.

Get in touch by email – VPcommwelfare@uwe.ac.uk

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