What is sexual assault?

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past week or two, you’ll have seen the extensive media coverage around famous film producer Harvey Weinstein, and the increasing number of allegations against him of sexual harassment, sexual assault and even rape.

You may also have seen, on social media, the trending hashtag #MeToo, which women around the world; normal women with normal lives and normal jobs as well as celebrities, and everyone in between, are using to highlight the fact that they too have received unwanted sexual attention of some sort. Started by a tweet from actress Alyssa Milano, the idea is to highlight what an alarming and extensive problem unwanted sexual attention is in all walks of life.

“Suggested by a friend: If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

MeToo

In the wake of all this, it was with interest that I read this article, which begins with the statement “Around six or seven years ago, I was sexually assaulted on the way home from a night out. Except I didn’t realise I had been.”

If you don’t want / don’t have time to read the article, then the crux is that a woman was approached by a man who made suggestive remarks, put his hand under her dress, tried to grab her and restrain her. She managed to get away and didn’t consider it sexual assault, because she hadn’t been raped. However, on phoning the police to let them know “just in case” the police officer had a very different view, asking how she’d feel if this same man had gone on to rape another woman because his behaviour hadn’t been reported? The police took the account very seriously, and the guy ended up being prosecuted and jailed because he’d done it to many women.

How many women are out there who, like the author of the article, think that such behaviour isn’t serious enough to be reported? That it’s just “blokes being blokes”. That, as women, this kind of behaviour is just something we have to put up with?

Women are expected to be a lot of things in life; mother, professional, wife, girlfriend, home maker. I’m not saying the same isn’t true of men, in some cases it is. But generally it’s women who are subjected to the most expectations, while similarly being expected to look great too. And, to some men (not all, of course), a woman is there as a toy for them to manipulate, because they can. Powerful men, such as Harvey Weinstein, pray on the fact that they have the power to behave how ever they want to women; whether it be making suggestive lewd comments, touching them inappropriately, or forcing them into unwanted physical behaviour. He knew he had the power to make or break an actress, and that’s why this has been allowed to fester and spread through Hollywood; because no-one wants to lose their job, their career and their future by being the first one to stand up and be counted against someone who can deny the allegations, take on an expensive lawyer, and crush any accusations into the ground.

Except this time it’s different. This time it’s happened to so many people, so many women in the public eye, that it’s created an uprising. An awareness. Women realising that just because it “wasn’t rape” it doesn’t make it any more acceptable or any less serious. Women realising that enough is enough. Our bodies are ours – to be touched and enjoyed how and when we want, by who we want. We’re not public property for men who can’t control their urges. We don’t have to suffer physical and mental exploitation in order to be successful in our careers. When we say no, we mean no.

For too long, lascivious men have gotten away with their behaviour purely be being men. That it’s just what men do. They’re sexual beings and women should be complimented by the attention. It’s just a bit of fun. The women wanted it, they were just playing hard to get.

And women too have played their part (and this isn’t victim blaming in anyway). We’ve thought that, as women, we have to put up with such attention. It’s just the way of the world. And so we’ve kept our mouths shut in a just grin and bear it fashion.

We don’t have to put up with it. We need to stand up and be counted. Men need to realise that a bit of “harmless banter” and a cheeky grope is a serious matter.

I’m one of the lucky ones, if lucky is the right word. I can’t think of an occasion where I’ve felt threatened or uncomfortable by the presence, actions or behaviour of a man. And for that I’m so so thankful. While I’m not using the #MeToo hashtag to reflect anything that has ever happened to me, I fully support and stand behind every woman who is brave enough and strong enough to use it themselves, and also those who have cause to use it but, for whatever reason, choose not to. It’s still taboo, and for some women the memories or repercussions are still too much to deal with.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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