Sexual assault: things haven’t changed

// 12 October 2012

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This is a guest post by Isobel Greener. It includes descriptions of sexual assault (groping).

 In the pub the other night, my dad, my brother and my dad’s work friend and I were sat near one of the huge TV screens. Jimmy Savile’s image came onto the screen and the work friend sighed.

“A lot of people will have been really disappointed in that man.”

Heads nodded in agreement around the table. My dad replied,

“Yes, well, back in the seventies there was a whole culture that believed girls were ‘fair game’ to be groped or whatever. Especially if they mixed with certain crowds. Things have changed a lot.”

(Because, of course, that culture has gone away completely, hasn’t it?)

I felt my cheeks growing hot.

“I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been groped.”

Utter silence. My dad’s face dropped, as did his friend’s. I turned to my brother.

“You remember that time we were out in town on that opening night?” He remembered it. A new bar had just opened its doors and my boyfriend, my brother and a few friends had decided to check it out. I wasn’t feeling too well that night, and I was designated driver, but I made the effort. After a short while out in town, it was all too much and I went to tell people I needed to leave.

The pub was hot and crowded, and as I climbed up the steps to the dance floor someone put his hand up my skirt and grabbed me, something akin to the way you might pick up a bowling ball. I kept moving, I just wanted to get out, but by the time I reached the door I was in floods of tears. I’m pleased to say the doormen took my complaint extremely seriously and one of them went to patrol the part of the bar where it happened.

This was many years ago, long before I considered myself a feminist. At the time I swallowed wholesale the idea that it had probably been my fault. I would never have dreamed of telling my dad that story back then. I would have felt ashamed. But somehow, hearing him brush off the idea that men would still behave in despicable and abusive ways, I felt suddenly furious. I told him another one.

Just a few months ago, my partner and I were staying with a friend in Wales, for a small festival at which I was performing. On the final day of our stay, we needed to do a little bit of travelling around, and one of the other festival-goers, with whom we had become quite friendly, offered to give us a lift. We were hugely grateful – I’d been suffering some camp-bed induced back pain and found it hard to walk for long periods. After our day’s engagements, we hugged and thanked our host and were preparing to make our way to the train station. Our kind new friend (I’ll call him John) once again offered us a lift, which we again gratefully accepted.

As we exited the car outside the station, I thanked John and hugged him goodbye. He hung on a bit too long, made a disgusting noise and grabbed both my breasts. I was too shocked to even argue. Here I was, a guest of his friend, standing there in my jeans being groped. Not that I think it would have been okay if I was in a miniskirt, of course, but it simply didn’t cross my mind that anyone would treat me this way under those circumstances.

So yes, dad, that culture still exists. I know it would be lovely to think that it only happened in the past, that only a trench coat-wearing flasher would ever think to behave in such a way. It certainly isn’t nice to think it could happen to your little girl, and it could happen anywhere.

Photo of a hand print in the frost by robpatrick, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Comments From You

Cycleboy // Posted 13 October 2012 at 8:39 am

“Because, of course, that culture has gone away completely, hasn’t it?”

To be fair, I don’t think many people – yes, even men – would claim that there is nothing left to do. And, I doubt your Dad thought things had changed ‘completely’. Perhaps the very fact that Savile is being discussed so openly implies that at the very least society is now talking about the issue.

Whether or not anything will change obviously remains to be seen. However, the more people like you who take the brave step of telling us men who would not dream of behaving in that way, that things still are not right, the better the chance is that society will change.

Mr. Rude Word // Posted 14 October 2012 at 3:42 am

Things have changed in terms of how abuse is regarded…the phrase “sexual harrassment” was not in use in Savile’s heyday. In order to treat a problem, you need to first recognise it & identify it. Women still suffer the types of physical & sexual abuses they have always faced from men…what has changed & continues to change is both our tolerance & understanding of it. People need to be taught that any inappropriate touching, let alone abuse & rape, may be about “sex” for the abuser, but for their victim it is about invasion, abuse, shame, degradation.

Society needs to stop fixating ( as it is with Savile ) on the abuser & instead attempt to better understand the abused.

Angryoldwoman // Posted 14 October 2012 at 10:29 pm

No, that culture hasn’t gone away completely – even though more procedures may be in place to prevent sexual harassment, attitudes are slow to change. Most of the comments I heard from men when the Jimmy Savile case first broke were along the lines of ‘can’t they leave him alone when he’s not around to defend himself?’. Only the extent and severity of subsequent allegations silenced those remarks. Yes it’s good that the issues are being discussed more openly nowadays and behaviour like Savile’s condemned. But once this particular case dies down, how many other women’s experiences will continue to be trivialised or ignored?

Munachik // Posted 15 October 2012 at 4:37 pm

That culture definitely hasn’t gone away and I think ask any woman, in a safe place, she’ll tell you a story or two…or three or four. Not only will she tell you a story or two, she’ll probably also need to fall back on the discourse in which she blames herself a bit for making a wrong decision, wearing the wrong clothes, not knowing better, not telling anyone at the time….it’s not often you’ll hear a woman, particular those under 25, say it was the perpetrator who was 100% out of order.

I agree with Mr Rude Word that we shouldn’t fixate on the individual perpetrator but I’m not sure we need to understand the abused more than we need to defy the culture that allows this to happen time and time and time again. If we can challenge this effectively, raise our girls as humans and not objects, allow females to thrive and achieve and celebrate those achievements – then maybe the number of the ‘abused’ would be massively reduced.

Some friends and I were debating who should be made responsible for Savile’s actions with some believing that by blaming the institution (in this case, the BBC and the NHS – convenient for the current government, but the topic of another debate) you take away individual responsibility. Although I agree with this to some extent, I also believe that an institution that repeatedly turns a blind eye, silences and refuses to acknowledge or hold to account should definitely be held to question by it’s public.

For too long have women of all cultures and throughout history been at the receiving end of male abuse in some form or another. I, for one, have had enough. Although I hate what has happened to women and girls at the hand of this despicable human being I also am thankful that this has inspired public debate and that more and more women are coming forward and telling their stories.

Cycleboy // Posted 16 October 2012 at 5:20 am

“blaming the institution … you take away individual responsibility.”

True enough, I guess. The only trouble with that is that the perpetrators clearly are out to break society’s rules on this issue, whatever the rules or institutions say. Presumably, most of them do not feel guilty about their behaviour. Therefore, it does come down to individual institutions having rules in place, and society as a whole, to control these errant types. Rather like the arguments on crime; it’s the likelihood of detection that is more of a deterrent than the actual sentence.

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