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I have infinite experiences of verbal and physical street harassment with threatening, sexual undertones- but these occasions stood out to me.
I was at a festival with a group of my friends, the age demographic predominantly being about 16-21. At one point, as my friends were all in a tent, i lingered directly outside- packing some things in to my bag before i joined them. I was literally centimetres away from my group when a hulking man in his mid 30’s- evidently stronger, bigger, and able to over power me if he wanted- entered my personal space and began saying “your friends have all left you, they told me to come and get you- come to our tent”. Not only was this man clearly to old for the age demographic, which in itself made me feel uncomfortable, but he was actually lying to me in an attempt to get me to come to his tent. He had seen me in a vulnerable position, on my own, and taken the opportunity to try and deceive me into leaving with him. I felt genuinely threatened, as at that moment, it could have been possible for him to forcibly take me without anyone initially knowing or able to locate me. Considering the reports of rape at this particular festival, and his sleazy remarks towards me- it comes as no shock that i felt completely intimidated.
At this same festival, i woke up in the morning to find two men, both considerably older than me, sitting in the entrance to our tent (which they must have opened themselves). One of the men was groping my thighs and stroking my legs in a sexually threatening way- saying “i’d love to wake up to these legs”. Feeling utterly repelled, i responded with a look of clear disgust and told him to ‘get off’. He had the audacity to look shocked and offended at my remark, saying “oooohhhh she didn’t like THAT!!” and asking me if i was a lesbian. I don’t know how you are supposed to respond when you wake up to a complete stranger touching you *WHILE YOU SLEEP* without you even vaguely hinting towards wanting any attention.
In the next situation i am about to outline, i didn’t feel threatened, but i think it is a horrific demonstration of how social conditioning from acts as a catalyst for the objectification and street harassment of women. I was walking home from sixth form, when a group of boys ranging from the ages of about 9-10, shouted sexual remarks at me- outlining what they were ‘going to do to me’. Shocking. These are CHILDREN. Evidently then, they did not actually intend or even desire what they shouted at me. Clearly then, these kids have watched this behaviour in older men and copied it, influenced by the pervasive objectification of women as ‘things to hurl abuse at’- not fully understanding the meaning of their behaviour. It’s a vicious cycle- the observable harassment of women permeating the minds of young boys and presenting itself as acceptable.
My Dad explained to me that he did not realise or comprehend the impact of ‘normal’ street harassment towards women, until he was approached in exactly the same way by a group of gay men- all bigger than him- and he was put in the vulnerable situation that women find themselves in every day. Unwanted sexual advances like this are NOT compliments. They are THREATENING, INTIMIDATING and DEGRADING.
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