International Women’s Day, One Week On

*TW: Sexual Assault*

Scrolling through social media this week and just about every other post was about sexual assault, specifically towards women, and how the lives of us women revolve around making specific decisions and changing certain plans just to lower our chances of being a potential target.

Reading all these seemingly unique stories, knowing that they are all so familiar to all too many people, I was upset. I think (specifically) as a woman it’s hard to not be affected by reading about others experiences. With each passing tweet, I was feeling more and more overwhelmed. Originally, I had honestly tried to block it out due to personal reasons. But I quickly remembered that this is not something that I can just choose to ignore.

As women, this is our reality. We have been conditioned since our childhoods to do and not do certain things. Revealing versus modest clothing. Holding keys between fingers when walking alone at night. Calling someone so you always have a witness even when alone. Being careful of strangers. But also being careful of those we know because we are statistically more likely to be harmed by someone who knows us. Not being flirty in case they expect sex from us. But also not turning them down for fear that it angers them. There are so many unspoken rules of life for us, just to stay safe. A lot of which are contradictory. And a lot of which we know too well will still leave a loophole to excuse someone harming us.

Waking up to find my body being used for somebody else’s pleasure should not be an experience so many of us share. The fear of the look in some men’s eyes, a look of hunger, lust, too many of us know exactly what I am describing. It’s terrifying. Living in this constant fear is exhausting.

Ever since I read that statistic that 97% of women between the ages of 18 and 24 have suffered from some sort of sexual harassment, I couldn’t get it out of my head. All I could think about was all the times myself or my friends have experienced something. Trying to think of who hadn’t experienced sexual harassment was actually more challenging than it should have been. And to all those people out there preaching “it’s not all men!” YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM!

We all know it’s not all men. But when saying “no” is just seen as an open door for negotiation, it makes you part of the problem. When you think sending unsolicited dick pics is okay, it makes you part of the problem (side note: we know they were not an accident). When you talk casually about all the things you would do to a woman, knowing full well she will never fuck you, and you and your friends are happy to get off on that group discussion, it makes you part of the problem. When you and your friends are happy to let someone ‘joke’ about rape, and just standby without saying something, it makes you part of the problem.

To absolutely anyone who dares to argue against any of this, just don’t. In my own experience of being one of the women in that 97% statistic, I have been groped, followed, sexually harassed, assaulted and raped. I have had close friends of mine drugged, spoken to inappropriately, catcalled. AND THIS IS OUR NORM. So just do not tell us that we are being dramatic, attention-seeking, that we are ruining men’s reputation, being biased or anything. It is simply our society that has caused this. Not us women. If you are annoyed at me while reading this and want it to change this then change your goddamn behaviour because as I said above, it is you who is part of the problem.

The most scared I think I have ever been was a few years back when I went out for drinks with my best friend, for both of our birthdays on a quiet weeknight. It had been a long week and we just wanted to have a good time. We sat together, fully emersed in our own conversation when three slightly older men took it upon themselves to join. We brushed them off, making it obvious that we were not interested. They left but came back a few minutes later to bother us again. This time we just grabbed our stuff and went up to the bar, thinking we might feel more comfortable there.

Time passed and my friend had to go out and call her boyfriend. As she walked outside, I saw one of the three men follow her out through the door. Before I could react, however, the instigator of this group sat down on the barstool beside me. He looked me dead in the eye and whispered to me that he would take my friend and I to a forest and rape us. “You are doomed” he told me. I will never forget those words. I will never forget the cold look in his eyes. Even now as I write this in the safety of my bedroom, far, far from that creature, I feel that same pit in my stomach.

Few times have I felt fear like I did at that moment. I remember screaming to the bartender sharing what I was just told. The bartender looked between me and the man, as the man apologised for my behaviour explaining that I was just drunk, which I wasn’t. Time stood still as I pleaded to the bartender to save me and my friend. Thankfully he had the men removed and my friend was okay. But god, if he hadn’t cared or believed me, or if we were not by the bar, maybe this story would have had a very different ending.

The saddest part of that story to me is that it is not unique. None of these stories are. But the only way to ever change that is to stop the perverted behaviours that run the way we treat women. We should be able to go for a walk alone after it gets dark without fearing for our lives. We should be able to do a whooole lot of things like that.

We just want to live our lives, the same as everybody else. If we could only be able to truly believe in the importance of consent and respect, in standing up to our friends when they make some derogatory remark or consider doing something inappropriate. So many of these seemingly little changes to our behaviour could open the door to some incredible changes as a whole.

To be complacent is to be part of the issue. Please remember that.

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