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Being a woman

Updated: Nov 5, 2022

It is tough to express how it feels to be violated, and one that I do not think any person could fully understand if they have not personally experienced it.

I encountered it the other year, heading back home one evening from seeing my friends. I was tipsy, given we had met at our favourite Spoons, minding my own business sitting on the district line train. I was wearing a short denim skirt as it was a warm day and my outfit made me feel very cute. I looked up and noticed a male, maybe in his late 40s, who had his phone pointed directly at my skirt and realised he was taking a photo of my legs and where my skirt had lifted slightly to reveal my underwear. In that moment of realisation, we made eye contact, and I froze like a deer caught in the headlights. Any of my friends will tell you that I have no problem confronting somebody if I feel that it is right- I always thought that I would have that same energy if I were ever in a scenario like this. But I froze. Any thought of making a scene and alerting people to his disgusting behaviour was caught in my throat because I knew he could see how incredibly uncomfortable I was. His eye contact informed me that he did not care; he gave me a half-smile- his way of telling me that he fully knows that I am aware of the act just partook, the level of discomfort that I was in and that he enjoyed causing this level of distress within me. The train came to my stop, and I got off. The fact that he had a photo of me on his phone bothered me very little. What sickened me to my core was that this man, for a moment, had stripped me of my autonomy, leaving me vulnerable and exposed while standing above me in a position of dominance and power. He knew that I had realised and frozen; that was what he had enjoyed, with the bonus of a photo of my underwear he could touch himself to at night remembering the feeling of power he had accomplished over me.

Every single person will react differently to being sexually harassed or assaulted, and every single reaction is valid. Some people may not have been bothered by this situation. Some may have been able to shrug it off. For me, it took me right back to when I was ten years old, innocent and unaware, as an older male took advantage of me- touching my body and making me feel parts of his body. I usually try to not think of that experience. Still, the look that I exchanged with that man on the train reminded me exactly how my abuser would have felt as he stripped away my innocence when I was young, unknowledgeable and afraid.

I again experienced the loss of my autonomy a year later when I was groped another male while passed out at a party. The next day on the way home, I broke down on the DLR platform and sat sobbing for 20 minutes, unable to calm down. I had more and more experiences after that, which left me feeling violated. Every assault has reminded me that my body was used and discarded at the age of 10. It is with a heavy heart to say that I have now experienced sexual assault and harassment so frequently that I have become so desensitised to it.

Was I drunk in some of my experiences of being violated? Yes. Was I wearing revealing clothes for some of the experiences? Yes. But that was not why I was assaulted. I was sexually assaulted because the male enjoyed the feeling of power that he had over me. He placed his own sexual gratification above my sense of safety and being a human being in control of my own body. There is never an excuse to harass, assault or abuse sexually. If the recipient of sexual advances is not giving an enthusiastic yes, then it is not consent.

It saddens me that so many people have had similar experiences, and to become desensitised. I know some women that will respond with “oh just the usual catcalling and being groped” to the question of if they have experienced sexual harassment. Rape culture is so ingrained into society that many women view this as normal, to be expected and something that they should shrug off during their lives, from female genital mutilation to forced marriages often with child brides, sex trafficking, sexual abuse from police officers- the people placed in society to protect us. People are so often treated like commodity and property, rather than a conscious human being. Sexual abuse, harassment and assault does not discriminate on which gender you are, and any person can become a victim.

I hope that the future holds a more promising society without the normalisation of sexual assault and harassment. We must keep fighting for this; call out your friends or family members that have unacceptable views on consent. Do not defend any friend’s predatory behaviour. Do not blame or shame victims or ask about what they were wearing or if they were drunk. Speak out about your experiences if you are comfortable to do so. Not being a sexual predator is the bare minimum and not enough- we must rise as a force that is actively anti-rape culture.

Written by Âine

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