Sexual assault: things haven’t changed

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.

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