It Was Something
This morning, something happened. Something that happens on a daily basis to women everywhere, maybe not all at once, but it happens. I could have, like many others, brushed it off as nothing, something women just have to live with. But I chose not to.
I was on the train, minding my own business and naturally playing Candy Crush on my phone.
I heard a voice whisper something that sounded like "You're looking nice. Where are you going?" Then, when I looked up, a man in his 20's grabbed himself and made a grunting noise almost directly in my face.
My first thought was that it happened so fast I'd imagined it, but I knew I hadn't. He went into the next carriage, and I sighed with relief because the carriage I was sitting in was entirely empty again.
I was prepared to just let it go and shake my head about stupid boyish idiocy, even though what he did in that few seconds is a crime by itself.
Then, as I went to get my bike off the train, I heard his voice whisper behind me again.
"Are you...getting off here...I'm getting off here too..."
Just a whispered question that could have been totally innocent. It could have been nothing.
But it was something.
I was slightly on edge, and my heart rate shot up. You know how you feel when something scares you? That adrenaline-filled fear that says "RUN"?
I know that I'm not the first woman to say to myself: "Stop. This is nothing. Ignore it. He will leave you alone. Don't draw any more attention to yourself."
He got off the train after me, walking next to me like he knew me, asking where I was going. Were it not for the muttering obscenities meant for only my ears, it would have seemed just a polite question. It was not a polite question. It was threatening and intimidating.
I walked in a weird circle around the train station away from where I saw he was going. I knew I needed to go that same way, but instead I pretended that I was going out a different way. After a minute of that, I decided to leave, thinking it was nothing. I needed to be somewhere in a few minutes anyway.
When I left, thinking he was gone, he wasn't. He was on the same street I was going down. He flashed me a wink and crossed the street where I was was headed. I immediately went the other way, on the pavement, past a load of old people who probably thought I was a terrible person.
In truth, I was trying to get as much distance between me and the terrible person as I could.
I was really shaken, and not much frightens me (short of tree frogs). My heart was still racing for hours after. I was trying not to shake as I gave a talk to a room full of 18-year-olds on consent, sexual abuse and the effects of pornography on relationships.
The irony of me talking to them about consent less than an hour after someone made me the victim of what the police call "unwanted sexual behaviour" is not lost on me. It's just sad.
The thing that hurt me the most? One of my friends, a co-presenter on this programme, as I explained what happened, just said "Well, you are wearing shorts today."
And that was it. With just one statement, she rationalised the thing that happened to me into nothing. It wouldn't have happened if I was wearing trousers. It was about what I was wearing, not the guy that harassed and intimidated me.
But I thought about Ella, and I thought about the 3 precious Parr girls that I see every morning, and the girls in my Sunday School class. I thought of the hundred or so teenage girls who were filing into the hall about to hear me talk, and I steeled myself.
It was not nothing. It was something.
When I got back to Poole, another younger guy, minding his own business, wearing a similar outfit, walked past me. He didn't say anything except "Excuse me" when he wanted to get past me. That, for the record, is nothing.
I went into the ticket office, determined to do something. I had to repeat what had happened to me in front of a queue of people just wanting day tickets to London, my face flaming and my eyes filling with tears. The ticket agent just looked blank and said "Why didn't you find the manager on the train?" It was nothing to him, just another person in the queue.
"Because it happened as I was getting off the train. What do I do? Make a report? Do I call the police?"
"I guess I can get you the number for the Transport Police."
I got home and googled the number for reporting a crime or unwanted sexual behaviour, and it's a good thing I did, because the number the ticket agent gave me was wrong anyway.
I have to hand it to them, the British Transport Police were so professional and helpful. They took my information and a PC called me back within 20 minutes. Both men that I spoke to asked me how I was feeling, in addition to the facts of what had happened. They assured me of help, support and that I was right to say something. I didn't feel criticised or at fault. I didn't feel like a victim. I felt like I was doing something to fix what happened.
It wasn't nothing. It was something.
If something like this has happened to you or happens to you in the future, it is not nothing. In an emergency call 999, but if you are safe, call and report the behaviour to the British Transport Police on 0800 405040 or text them on 61016. They are trying desperately to stop an epidemic of "unwanted sexual behaviour" but with only 10% of these instances being reported, it's really hard. Until most people report it, it will still seem like nothing to the general public.
Here is some more information about how the BTP and Transport for London are trying to fight this.