Amanda Cassidy speaks to women of all ages and backgrounds about some of their everyday experiences around sexual assault and intimidation.
"When I was 16, a 30-year-old man on holiday pinned me against a wall and tried to kiss me. I turned my head but worried I was being rude. I apologised to him and then cried in the bathrooms. He joined my parents for dinner that night."
"A boy in a club slapped me across the face because I laughed when he asked me to dance. The bouncer told me to stop causing trouble when I reported him."
"At 18, I was working as a chalet girl. We shared dorms. One day when I was sick in bed with flu, a male co-worker came in and I asked him to please bring me some water. He came over to my bed and started stroking my crotch. I was so weak I couldn't do much but try to push him away. A friend interrupted and he then left. I never got my water. He winked at me the next day."
"I was 19 when a man pushed me into the toilets of a pub and closed the cubicle behind him. My back hit off the cistern and I pushed him off. He laughed and strolled out, another man, a stranger, laughed as he walked in. Some of my friends also laughed when I told them. That's what happened back then. That was our normal."
"Two guys tried to get me to have a threesome. We were the last three people back at a house after a party. I was extremely uncomfortable but they were being really pushy. I said no but they tried to undress me and told me to shhhhhh and that I'd like it. I tried to call a taxi but they hid my phone. I ended up running out without my shoes or coat. They told their friends that I'd done it anyway and I had a horrible nickname for years.”
"When I was 20, I was offered a lift home from my friend's brother's party by three guys I knew. I was with my best friend. The trip should have taken 5 minutes but took an hour as they locked the doors, sped past our homes and joked that they were taking us for a surprise trip. They pulled up at an abandoned business park, jumped out and mooned us in the headlights of the car. It was the funniest thing ever for them, we were clutching each other terrified in the back because we didn't know where any of this was going. We got out and ran and hid. They chased us and then got bored and drove away. The next day they told everyone that they'd had sex with us in the car. We were called sluts.”
"I was raped at a friend's house by a guy everyone liked. I didn't tell anyone because I knew they liked him more than me. I was just 17. I've recently been thinking about going back to address it, now with the confidence of age (I'm 42), but then there is a voice in my head that says that that would just be silly."
"I was a promoter in a club when the owner told me he needed to speak to me in his office. He offered me a promotion but said he needed a favour first. He walked over and pulled up my top. I froze... afraid to seem rude to this man who was my boss and much older. I said I felt sick and walked out and left the club and ran back to my apartment. I never went back, not even to collect my final wages."
"I started wearing shorts under my dress or skirt at nightclubs because of groping hands on the dancefloor and of boys filming up our skirts."
"When walking home from town after a night out, I'd wipe off my lipstick, tuck up my hair and coat collar and walk like a man so I was less vulnerable."
Sexual assault, rape, intimidation and victimisation are not ok, not by anyone, regardless of gender or background.
The recent #MeToo movement has allowed a platform for those who have experienced it to open up and to share the effects of such trauma. Because that is what it is, trauma. Now, also online, more women are choosing to call it out, bravely sharing how they were so badly treated in certain industries. For too long, casual abuse of power has been normalised.
I want my children to be outraged by even the smallest incidence of such intimidation I was exposed to throughout my life. I want my sons, as well as my daughters, to know about respect and consent and just sheer decency.
Growing up, we did think that's just what happens — that men had wandering hands that we'd have to just bat off. That we were always the minnow in the water, waiting to get swallowed up unless we walked with our keys in our hands pointing outwards, to jab off hairy men with the strength to pin us down or take us by force.
Author Eithne Shorthall wrote about her experiences for a recent novel Three Little Truths. "In writing this book, I thought about how my trip to Skellig Michael was ruined when the boatman "helping" me onboard ran his hand across my ass. I thought about the time a stranger in a pub put his hand up my skirt. I thought about that incident on the bus. And I thought about how, every time, I said nothing. I am not the kind of person who says nothing, and yet there it is."
Perhaps if certain men could walk in our shoes for a bit, they might just understand a little better what it is like to always take a taxi home alone at night with your finger hovering over your emergency person number. Or understanding that sickening fear of being cornered in a club or pub, the femininity that we wear with pride, also an unwelcome beacon for those who think they can take what they like, whether we like it or not.
This week I saw too many tweets about women being blamed for being drunk when sexual assault happens. "Lesson here is not to be so drunk, folks," wrote one person after a victim shared her harrowing story about being sexually assaulted on a night out. "So you are condoning rape?" snapped back someone in her defense. "Pity you have your morals so badly skewed."
And maybe that is what it really comes down to: Principles, morals, the act of being a decent human. That is what I teach my five-year-old: Don't grab. Don't be mean. Don't bully. Don't take what isn't yours.
This doesn't have to be the story of men as the baddies, versus women as the victims. It is about empowering everyone to raise the bar when it comes to this. To call it out, to name it, to shame it, to find better ways to go about the world in the places we find ourselves, doing the things that we love. Without fear.
It isn't so complicated really. Don't take what isn't yours. And have a bit of damn respect.
Image via Unsplash.com
*Many of those we spoke to preferred to remain anonymous.
Read more: Brave and inspirational: Family praised for speaking out over sexual assault
Read more: My experience of minor sexual assault will stay with me forever