* Trigger Warning* This blog post contains stories on sexual harassment and sexual assault. And to many friends and family of mine who don’t know what I’ve experienced around this, please think before reading. I am sharing solely in the hopes of making other women feel seen and supported.
ORIGINALLY POSTED MARCH 11TH 2021
The news from this past week seems to have hit many of us like a ton of bricks - first up we had International Women’s Day and were all celebrating and lifting up women, praising those before us and sharing stories of women who inspire and empower us… Then the Oprah interview with Meghan and Harry hit the UK TV… Meghan spoke about having suicidal thoughts and how did the UK press respond? They accused her of lying! As if we hadn’t already learnt a dark lesson with what happened to Caroline Flack.
Fast forward a few days and after social media and surrounding towns clubbed together to help find a girl called Sarah who had gone missing, we discover her life was sadly taken… she was walking home.
At what point do we look at our world and the people in it and say women SHOULD NOT be learning how to ‘keep safe’ when alone or walking home, but men [not all men might I add] SHOULD be thinking and learning about how they can stop us from being unsafe.
Why is it that in 2021, 97% of women have been sexually harassed?!
Hand up if you’re one of that 97%? I know I am, and not just on one occasion either! Today I decided to speak up on my stories over on @ourlayeredhome and throughout the day my inbox has filled more and more with women stories of harassment and assault. Some stories terrifying and dark, others that have occurred in work places where colleagues have laughed and shrugged it off, some in the safety of their own home, and others a regular occurrence… when does it stop? Where does it stop? How do we stop it?!
My little boy Henry is 4 next week, but already we have discussions about how to help people, how to support others in need, how to talk to people politely… he WILL be an ally to women when he grows up, and that’s because he has a great role model in Joe, and a Mummy who’s determined to bring a gentleman up in this world. We need to educate our sons. Not accuse our daughters of ‘leading a man on.’
I actually came out to my studio tonight to do some work, but then I looked at my phone, and I saw more women popping up in my inbox with their stories of sexual harassment and it fuelled an anger in me. My youngest sister is 10 years old, I fear for what she’s yet to experience that I desperately want to protect her from… so I’ve decided to share my story. If it’s read by one other woman and makes them not feel alone, then the purpose of this has been fulfilled.
My first vivid memories of sexual harassment start in year 7, when I just started high school [something my little sister will be doing in September!] These days kids are much more clued up on the whole sex thing, but back then I didn’t really even know what a ‘snog’ was, let alone much else.
I remember a group of lads from the year above me surrounding me on the yard asking if I’d go out with one of their mates and would I kiss him. When my answer was no… it didn’t take long for ‘she’s frigid’ to get around school. Situations like this were regular at high school, and not just for me. Back then, and still today, if a woman says no to a guy she’s ‘frigid’ and if she says yes, she’s a ‘slut.’ We can’t win!
Forward a few years to about year 9 and I used to dread going to school. I had wonderful friends, wonderful teachers, I enjoyed classes. But I didn’t enjoy the bits in-between, they would make me feel sick to the stomach. There was a lad in the year above me who wouldn’t leave me alone and if ever he saw me alone he’d pin me against a wall and put his hand up my skirt. Some of my lessons would finish right next door to his, so I’d try to hang back or be first out, or hide myself amongst as many people as possible. I remember after about a year of this, sports day came around and my best friend has spotted what was going on. She told a teacher, who somehow managed to handle it without the lad knowing it was anything to do with me. He’d threatened me so much about what would happen if I ‘told’ that I was terrified. But it helped. My friend helped. My teacher helped.
You’d think after that, that I’d learn to speak up, but I didn’t. I could stick up for people being bullied, I could speak up in class, I came across as a happy and strong young girl. But with stuff like this, it’s like there’s a separate voice, and once it’s turned off, it’s really hard to turn it back on.
Now, there’s been plenty of times in my life I’ve been heckled, or some guy has thought it OK to rub against me. But there’s just two more parts to my story that I’ll share today, because I’ve been quiet for 12 years now and it feels like the right time to help make sure no other young girl feels the way I did or blames herself for something that happened to her…
IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT
I remember starting college and feeling so excited, I was going to meet MY people who loved all the same things as me and I was going to be able to leave high school behind, bar some of my amazing friends!
But when you’re 17, that’s really when your eyes can be opened to the world of sexual harassment.
I remember it being winter and I was walking to the bus stop for college, it was dark because I had to set off at 6.30am and the bus stop was a 30 minute walk away. I always had a heavy bag packed and would put my ear phones in and power through that walk. But one morning I thought I could hear heavy and fast foot steps coming up behind me, I quickly turned around and there was a man holding onto my dress [which sat half way down my shins] - I managed to grab it too so he couldn’t pull it up like he was trying to and after a short tug of war he ran off in the other direction and I ran as fast as I could to the bus stop and rang my Dad.
I was shaking, I was in shock. By the time I got home that afternoon there was a police woman at home wanting to talk to me, there’s not really anything they could do, but my Dad said we had to report it. The police woman said I wasn’t to walk wearing my headphones anymore and that I was to pick a different route to walk every day [though my Dad started dropping me to the bus stop for a bit].
I remember the not feeling scared for long, once the mornings were lighter again that helped, but it did make me always from that day on feel nervous about walking anywhere alone in the dark and I’d run through scenarios in my head where I’d just knock on any random house if I felt I was being followed. And still to this day I cross roads if there’s only me and a man crossing paths.
The police officers advice though, it makes sense… no headphones so you can be fully aware of your surroundings, and changing up your route incase someone is pre-planning anything. But in 2021 this needs addressing… why should women always need to learn the steps needed to stay safe? And why aren’t men educated in how to stop making us feel so unsafe?
I BLAMED MYSELF
A few months later I was invited to a new college friends party at his house, because college was far away, so was where he lived which meant I would have had to sleep over. He was gay, so I was very comfortable around him, he never made me feel uncomfortable, but I’m a creature of habit and I really just wanted to stay home and sleep in my own bed. But another friend rang my parents and said her Dad would drive us there and my parents organised that with them without me knowing, so off I reluctantly went to this party, about 30/40min drive from home, but what would be a 2hour journey home the next day on trains and buses.
It was the worst night of my life. And I blamed myself for it all.
I don’t want to go into too much detail, because if by this point you are still reading, then it’s because you’ve experienced similar in your own life, and this could be triggering. But the short version is that there were two lads there that I’d never met before, they were home for the weekend from the army barracks and they took a shining to me. These two lads drugged and raped me. A story of mine that very few know.
If ever I was at parties or out with friends I always had to check in with my parents hourly to let them know I was safe and ok. I didn’t this night and to be honest most of it is thankfully a blur. It’s the worst thing that has ever happened to me, but I’m grateful they drugged me first so that I don’t have to remember too many details. I remember bits - enough - but not all of it.
I do remember waking up with all my clothes torn and feeling extremely sore, and hundreds of missed calls on my phone from my parents. I remember having no money for the morning after pill which I knew I desperately needed, and for a few years the girl I went with was the only person on earth who knew what happened. Because she took me to Boots to get one and I paid her back the next week. I remember that journey home, a broken person. I remember my Dad shouting down the phone and telling me how much trouble I was in. I got home, apologised and accepted my two month grounding, because that was better than talking about what had happened.
I blamed myself.
I blamed myself for allowing other people to touch my drinks. I blamed myself for allowing myself to be so vulnerable - my parents had taught me better than that. I blamed myself incase I’d led them to believe this would be OK. I blamed myself for wearing a low cut dress [which was a maxi dress, but low cut!] I blamed myself time and time again. But one thing I knew, was that the last thing I wanted was to let people know how stupid I’d been…
But Monday came around and things got worse… People at college had found out ‘something’ had happened that involved me and two army lads and it wasn't long before the whole of college had heard and I was being called a slag and a slut. I remember girls I went to school with circling me and calling me names and pushing me around. At one point, I didn’t want to exist anymore. I’d hit rock bottom.
I’m now reaching this point of my story and wondering if I’ll ever hit publish. It’s quite hard revisiting a part of your life that you push down so far inside you. I remember all the girls names, and I remember thinking ‘if only they knew, would they be treating me like this?’
What happened to me changed me as a person, forever, and it’s something I can’t undo. In relationships I’ve always been a hopeless romantic, but before this point of my life I was tactile and affectionate too. Much like how Joe is - he’s always moaning at me for not wanting cuddles all the time - it’s just not something I can get back. Trust me, I’m a hugger and I shower Hen with constant kisses and cuddles. But ever since then, I just like my space.
It was 1-2 years before I eventually told my parents, and I’ll just always remember my Mums sob [ok now I’m starting to cry!] This thing had happened to her baby that she knew nothing about and could do nothing about, and now that I’m a Mummy myself, I can only imagine the pain she felt when I told them.
They didn’t pry, they just wished I’d told them sooner so that it could have been reported. And now, as a grown adult, I would encourage anyone and everyone to SPEAK UP and REPORT sexual assault - it could bring you an element of peace, it could stop it happening to someone else. But as a 17 year old girl, I was afraid. And living with being grounded for two months, and all the name calling and bullying at college - for me was much better than people knowing what had really happened.
Then when me and Joe started dating my Mum encouraged me to tell Joe, and after that, over time, a few other friends have found out about it too. But until now, it’s not something I’ve shared…
I’m sorry if my story makes any of you sad, or brings back any bad memories of your own experiences, but I’m not sorry if it makes you mad. Because if history keeps repeating itself, like this weeks new cycle has shown us, then we have ourselves to blame! We need to SPEAK UP about injustice, we need to EDUCATE the boys and men in our lives about how they can be an ally and not a predator.
I’m sure I’ve more I want to say, but its 9.45pm and after writing this my head is a bit scrambled. I hope that when my youngest sister is older, I can share my story with her in s positive way that gives her courage to stand up to whats’s right and stand against what’s wrong. I hope to give her the voice I lost.
My experiences changed me as a person, in some ways I’m aware of and others I’m probably not aware of. But from the amount of messages and stories I’ve received from other women today, I know I’m not alone, and if you’re reading this and need to hear it…
IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT
YOU’RE NOT TO BLAME
YOU DON’T DESERVE IT
YOU DIDN’T BRING IT ON YOURSELF
And incase anyone who used to call me names at college because of this is reading this… I don’t blame you and I forgive you.
HERE FOR YOU
Apologies for the lack of images and the massive amounts of text, but I wasn’t really sure what images to include in a post like this ha… but just know, my inbox is always open to anyone and everyone who wants to talk and here are a few helpful sites if you do need to seek help.
Remember, everything that has happened to you in life so far has been part of shaping you into the person you are today. You’ve also survived it all!