I’ve said before on my blog, in a post titled ‘I wore make up, am I single or cheating?’ that I don’t think about feminist issues much. I had believed that as a woman living in Britain, my concerns regarding attitudes to women were best placed to those living in countries with poor human rights records.
Then I realised that I have been sexually assaulted 4 times in my short life.
Sexual assault is defined by the Centre Against Sexual Assault as, ‘any behaviour of a sexual nature that makes someone feel uncomfortable,
frightened, intimidated or threatened’. This includes the un-consented touching of a person, being touched on the breasts, bum, legs etc.
Two of my experiences include having my thigh stroked; once by a university lecturer and once by a driving instructor. On both occasions I felt vulnerable, dirty, violated, but most importantly, terrified that if I told anyone else, man or women, that I would not be taken seriously. I did not want them to touch me in that way, and I didn’t expect it from people I had put my trust in.
These incidents happened 5 and 3 years ago, but the memories of them and the emotional reaction that I had are still so clear to me, that I do believe that I am still tormented by them. In the case of the university lecturer, I avoided his modules, and would clamp up if I heard my friends talking about how great he was.
Unsure if this was normal behavior to dwell on these incidents I turned to the internet to see how other people felt about being inappropriately touched on the thigh. I had found news articles of arrests of men who stroked teenagers legs on buses titled as ‘sexual assault’ however the comments were full of people saying that these were not cases of sexual assault. I began to feel guilty for my thoughts towards these men, and put it down to them trying to comfort me, or make me feel at ease. But I would never, ever touch another person, including a friend, on the thigh. It made me feel incredibly uncomfortable and now I wish that I had told them to stop touching me, and to never do it again.
On another occasion, getting my first and only tattoo (also on my leg) before I went to university, the tattooist’s fingers wandered under my underwear and had a good feel about. This was my first experience of ever being inappropriately touched and I wanted to cry. I also didn’t want a ruined tattoo, and couldn’t believe that the person I was trusting to permanently change my body had done that to me. I have told no one, until my current boyfriend, over 5 years after it happened.
I wish I had stopped him, confronted him, and walked away.
Last year at work, a much older man who I had a good friendly working relationship with smacked me on the ass and laughed. This time I did confide in my boyfriend and a female staff member who told me that either I confront him, I tell a senior member of staff, or they were going to the head manager to report it. They also told me that I was not the first person he had done this to. Scared of people in the work place saying that I had brought this on myself, or making personal judgements about me, I chose to confront him. He accepted that he had overstepped the line and would not do it again. He has not spoken to me since.
Months later I still feel uncomfortable being left alone at work.
Why am I telling you this? I have a running record of regretting the actions that I have taken in response to these incidents. I wish that I had the courage to confront them when it happened, and I wish that I had reported all of these to senior staff, or my parents who could advice me on the best course of action.
Why did I not do any of that? I was scared of the shame that this would bring to me, especially by accusing people in positions of great power, with positions in learning environments.
I will not make that mistake again. If you have been made to feel uncomfortable, do not wait until you’re alone to cry and get angry, react to what is happening to your body there and then and take action against it.
Note: I also, 100%, believe that these experiences can and do happen to men. Same to you guys, don’t be afraid to admit when your body is touched in a way that you did not consent to.