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Real Talk: Sexual Assault & Harassment

This post has been a long time coming and it is going to be long, a ramble, a rant, and a collaboration. A few months ago now I mentioned writing about this over Twitter and asked if any one who had unfortunately experienced any sort of sexual assault or harassment would be willing to share their stories and thoughts on the whole thing so that this post wouldn't just turn into a "story time and angry rant by Amyleigh" kind of post (at least not solely one of those anyway). Thankfully, you guys were fantastic and opened up to me about your experiences and situations and I honestly cannot thank those who did share with me enough. Shout out to you all for being incredibly brave, strong, and helpful. Thank you so much. It seemed more relevant than ever to post this now as there has recently been a huge discussion on sexual assault - particularly in the realm of Hollywood - and it seems to have stimulated discussion about how difficult it is to report, be taken seriously, and what the consequences and repercussions are for all those involved.

The discussion surrounding sexual harassment and assault is nothing new and seems to be almost stalemate in it's ingredients. It often unfortunately involves more victims than you'd first care to think and many more individuals who seem to advocate such instances with their choice of words or opinion. Back in 2O16, a study showed that 64-68% of women (depending what source you read) reported being sexually harassed at some point in their lives and this was across a wide band of ages. I would be willing to argue that it is in fact a greater percentage than that but lets not quarrel over numbers - that still leaves over half of the UK female population alone saying they've been a victim of this. This isn't even including anyone who identifies as another gender and the study oddly didn't even consider to question men about their experiences too. The reason I believe that the statistic is probably in fact higher in truth is because I think a major problem with harassment and assault is that there's still not enough education about it.

Step back to the 197Os and if you were a hardworking office assistant, you were expected along with your paycheck to receive pats on your backside from your boss and wear heels, skirts, and stockings so as to look "presentable". Of course I'm generalising here however, it's no exaggeration that misogyny was ever present back then as it is now. Nowadays we see women fighting back more with their voice and thankfully, we also see many more men feeling confident and supported enough to speak out about it too, but why are we still having to fight it? I think it has so much to do with the lack of education around the subject. I can remember watching a brilliant TV show that detailed sexual activity to young students and they were free to discuss each scenario and whilst that was great to see, it was also harrowing to see just how many of them thought drunk girls were "asking for it" and "no answer doesn't mean 'no' really". Seeing young people convince others in their cohort that actually if you went to a party then sat on a bed with a guy as a young girl, and you passed out, you'd already given him the green light to do what he wanted to you was not only disappointing but terrifying. It made me and no doubt many other viewers wonder just how many individuals think that way and is that the reason it is still such a prevalent issue in contemporary society?

From speaking to you lovely folk on Twitter, it was interesting that everyone who opened up identified as female and that for most of us, our experiences were not singular, one time events. Interesting may have been the wrong word to use there, but it did make me ponder if it was a statistical thing, just that more women and girls had happened to see my tweet and/or wanted to respond, or if there was any other reasons. Speculation does not always serve us well but it's worth mentioning here so I can be transparent about the sources I'm collectively talking about in this post.

Another reason I'm mentioning the fact that my "sources" were all individuals who identify as female is because I want to talk briefly about the stigma around men and sexual assault allegations. Just as an example, the actor Terry Crews came under rapid fire on various social media platforms and on the internet in general from thousands of people who relayed that disgustingly misguided comment "man up" to him when he bravely shared his sexual assault story. It was as if due to his stature, his personality, or even just the fact that he's a man, his story wasn't relevant or serious. It wasn't accepted. If that is the attitude many men experience when they come forward, when they shine the spotlight on this topic which is unfortunately as prevalent as ever in an effort to host solidarity or bring about much-needed change, is it any wonder that male victims can become quiet during these discussions?

Every claim and instance of sexual assault or harassment is as valid as the next. I had a big ol' rant recently about a comment Angela Lansbury said and my general point was that no victim is ever responsible (in any measure) for any assault or harassment they have received. I don't care if you wear absolutely no clothes, run naked down the street screaming and shouting - you are not remotely responsible for someone touching you. I argued with so many people over the Angela Lansbury "female victims are partly responsible" comment because I feverishly believe that any sexual attention of any description (whether it's a verbal comment or the act of sex), it must be invited by the individuals involved. Any parties involved must be on the same page, inviting each other in, comfortable with the sexual interaction and thus consensual.

Something that I think we need to crack down on (as if many people haven't been trying to do this already for *years*) is cat calling. Cat calling is weirdly accepted in the UK in the sense that people tell you to just get over it or to not take it to heart so much, but how is that solving the problem? It's not. It's constructing it as a social norm and something that isn't ideal, but we just need to accept. This seems to filter into social media and the internet in general too. I recently had a rant (once again, hello, I swear I'm a nice patient and calm person in real life) about the way many heterosexual men act on social media and how many of them wouldn't dream of being so forward or grotesque with their words in real life yet, they're happy to do it virtually. The idea of someone sending someone else a message on a dating app for example, not getting a response/not getting a response they wanted/not getting a response within the time frame they've decided applies, and then sending an abusive or defensive message again to that person sounds ridiculous right? Yet it seems to happen on a very regular basis. This virtual cat calling/abuse needs to be quashed and if you've got any ideas on how we cut it out, I'm all ears!

Something that I really wanted to touch on in this ramble of a post was the fact that almost all of the women and girls I spoke to about sexual assault and harassment shared that it happened to them on a night out or at a gig. Gang, I cannot stress how infuriated I get about sexual assault at gigs and nights out. When people are enjoying themselves, spending money on creating a memory that they'll remember fondly then someone can ruin it within a matter of a few seconds. My first true experience of sexual assault was at a gig. I was 14, seeing Trivium at the Newcastle Academy. I went with one other female friend and we bumped into a "friend" of hers and his friend. You can imagine how this story goes. My friend and her "friend" were ahead of me, working their way through the crowd to get a good spot near the front, I had the friend of the "friend" trailing behind me, trying his best to make small talk in a crowded gig where I couldn't hear and quite frankly, couldn't have given less of a shit about being polite to. Apparently me pointing at my ears and shouting "I can't hear you?!" then frantically pointing at the stage in an attempt to translate "dude, I've saved up weeks and weeks of dinner money from school to see these guys so can you chill?", was an open invitation to touch me. Standing gigs are crowded. People push through the crowd and you can get pretty cramped. But a hand down the front of your jeans and hands all over your breasts is not someone trying to "get by".

To all the ladies who emailed me, DM'd me, and just generally told me your experiences - I'm so sorry you had to endure such an assault. I'm so sorry that when you were out enjoying yourself listening to live music or dancing away in a club that someone took it upon themselves to force themselves on to you. There's some fantastic movements out there like Girls Against who are fighting against sexual assault at gigs for all genders. It needs to be taken more seriously and it needs to be tackled. Thankfully, there are also amazing people in the music industry that won't stand for this at their shows. The wonderful Sam Carter from Architects recently interrupted their set to call-out a male fan he saw grabbing a female fan's breast. *That* is a step in the right direction for fighting against sexual assault at gigs and he's paving the way.

Festivals have seen an increase is assault and rape instances too and it's so disheartening to see and hear about it happening as not only do the individuals responsible not see it as an issue in many instances, others in the general public normalise it too. Sexual assault or harassment of any kind can be scarring and can impact victims on many different levels. Society has taught me to keep my head down, hold my breath and look away if a white van drives past because the inhabitants will 9/10 shout something sexual or abusive out of the window. Society has taught me that having my bra straps visible as a teenager in school that I could be "a distraction" for male staff. Society has taught me if I have a grown man in a bar put his hand up my dress that I should just "move away from him" if I ask a member of security for assistance. Society has taught me all of these things that are categorically wrong, but it has also taught me that there's many of us out there and whilst the number of us who have been victims is overwhelming, it is somewhat oddly comforting to know that there's a lot of people to talk to out there who have shared similar experiences. #metoo applies to too many people, but I'm increasingly pleased to see how many people are talking about it and demanding change.

If you need support for sexual assault, rape, or abuse, here are places to start:
- Victim Support
- Safeline
- NHS Choices
- Rape Crisis
- Mind
- The Survivors Trust

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