• Meg Campbell

Do You Know Where Your Sons Are?

It's the early hours of the morning. I worked a late shift, and I've just gotten off the bus. I'm wearing my work uniform: a black polo shirt, black jeans, black shoes, with my grey hoodie thrown over myself to keep off the chill of the night air. It was a warm day, but the sun is gone now. I'm on the street my accommodation is on. I can see the sign above my front door a few buildings along the road. I can also see a clearly drunk man, wearing an England shirt and heading straight towards me.

I clutch my keys between my fingers, ready in case I need them. I'm so used to carrying them this way that it's second nature to be in the defensive position with them. Watching him closely, I move closer towards my building, dreading the moment I have to pass him. He spots me and calls out. He's so drunk I can barely understand what he's saying, but he wants conversation and attention, and I don't know what to do. I've seen enough "friendly" introductions go wrong when girls don't show interest or behave politely enough, so I ask, "What was that?" He comes closer and tries again. I can barely make out what he's saying, but I'm so uncomfortable. I squint, trying to show my confusion. He's asking if I'm going home. I tell him, yes, and actually, I have to go now.

Before he can say anything else, I speedwalk to my building, and he shouts after me. I begin to worry he's following me and thank God that our security system needs a fob like mine to open the door. It's handy for me to get inside in a hurry too. Once I'm inside, I go to the lift and send a voice message to my boyfriend, telling him I'm home safe like he'd asked me to. I wonder what people would have said about me if he'd been a little less friendly, a little less drunk, a little more coordinated, and my behaviour had caused him enough offence to attack me.

"Why was she out so late? What was she wearing? Why didn't she fight him off? Did she fight him? Did she hurt him?" Would I face criminal charges for actually using my keys had it become necessary. I heard that can happen. When I close the door of my studio behind me, I lock it quickly, then I cry.

Less than 24 hours later, I'm getting the metro to the shops to pick up some groceries. There are some rowdy lads in my carriage, and I hope they don't get off at my stop. They're making me nervous. The sun is out, but I'm wearing a hoodie, joggers, and trainers, and my mask is covering half of my face. I don't want any attention today; I want to get in and out of the shops without any trouble.

I get off at my stop, and I feel myself filling with cold dread as I see them get off too. The lads walk ahead of me and then linger around the steps to the bridge needed to cross the railway line and get to the store. I take a deep breath and make my way through the group, keeping my head down and chewing the insides of my cheeks out of nerves. After a few seconds, I hear movement. They're following me.

Before I know it, the group covers all of the bridge. I'm surrounded. They're shouting jokes about me between them, jeering, clapping, and then shouting their insights about my body in my face. I don't know what to do. I know what they're doing is wrong, but I can't very well stand up to all of them or call the police. They wouldn't take me seriously if I called them even though what they're doing is illegal. I speed up and push through a gap between two of the lads. One of them grabs my bag and pushes me for the insult of not wanting my position as their entertainment. Another moves forward and leans forward, continuing to shout into my face until we're within sight of the store. I don't know if he was bored, or he'd spotted the couple I'd just managed to spot and didn't want to have an audience.

I rush forward ahead of the couple, so they're between the group and me. When I get into the shop, I send a message to my friend, telling her how angry I am, not just at them but myself, at how helpless I was.

When I get home, I ask myself what I'd done wrong. I already know the answer. I didn't do anything wrong at all. It was the people who harassed me and scared me. The blame I'd put on myself resulted from years of society teaching me that the girl is the blame and boys will be boys. After years of unlearning these beliefs, I still have to correct myself. I am furious.

I should have been protected from this. The Protection From Harassment Act 1997 and The Public Order Act 1986 makes it an offence for them to engage in conduct they ought to know will cause alarm or distress and to cause intentional harassment, alarm, or distress. Their behaviour is not normal or acceptable. It is wrong. It is against the law, but they didn't care about the consequences of their actions because they know they'll probably never face the consequences. Society allows this behaviour to happen and normalises it. We're made to believe that this is just part of life, and it isn't. It's not right.

We always end up blaming the victim, who is usually a girl. We tell girls they need to wear more appropriate clothing and that they shouldn't be out at night, even if we're getting off work, but we also shouldn't rely on a man for income because that's sexist and selfish, and we shouldn't go on benefits because then we're scroungers.

We know what we wear doesn't matter because in my cases and in so many other cases, clothing couldn't possibly be a factor in why we were picked out. In any case, what we wear is not a valid excuse to harass someone. If someone wore a shirt saying, "please kill me now", the person who killed them would still be treated as being in the wrong. Why should this be different?

We also know the time of day doesn't matter either because although nighttime makes it easy for predators to pick on victims, they don't have an issue doing it in broad daylight.

Harassers, stalkers, and other predators behave the way they do because they like it. They enjoy intimidating people, and they know they can get away with it because society has taught them that it is acceptable and convinced the victims that they are to blame or "it's just a compliment". It isn't a compliment, though, and I guarantee none of the men who followed me and harassed me had the intention of making me swoon, get down on my knees, and beg them to take me on a romantic evening with them. They'd probably shit themselves if I did that.

To summarise. I am angry, and rightfully so. This is life as a woman, and I will not allow this to continue to be the norm.

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