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Woman Calls Police About Sexual Harassment, the Internet Reacts... by Harassing Her Further

29/04/2015 12:45 BST | Updated 29/06/2015 10:59 BST

When 23-year-old Poppy Smart called police after being repeatedly sexually harassed by a group of men, I applauded her bravery for speaking out - on behalf of all of us.

Smart, who walked past a building site every morning on her way to work, says she was routinely wolf-whistled at by construction workers. On one occasion one of the men approached her "aggressively" and sometimes they "blocked the pavement" so she "had to walk around them".

She felt so "intimidated" she took to wearing sunglasses and headphones to block the men out, but eventually she decided to call the police.

Reactions to her story have been mixed. But for the most part it has been negative. Rather than supporting Smart (or even quietly disagreeing but allowing her the right to stand up for herself), the world has launched its own kind of sexual harassment - by trolling, slut-shaming and attempting to discredit her.

poppy smart

Poppy Smart

But Smart's story of sexual harassment is all too common and so is the vitriol that ensues.

I've been sexually harassed more times than I care to remember, but I've never been brave enough to go to the police - in hindsight, I wish I had.

I've been hollered at in the street, groped in clubs, even leered at when cycling through London or when out on a run wearing gym clothes. My friends and colleagues tell similar stories - they're intimidated on public transport or touched up at festivals and gigs - but do we say anything about it? No.

That's why the Everyday Sexism project was launched in 2012 and why, some three years on, it's still going strong.

When a woman is on her way to work, going to the supermarket or dropping her kids off at school, that does not give men a right to holler at or intimidate her. Similarly when a woman is wearing a short skirt, in a nightclub or even dancing provocatively, that does not give men a right to holler at or intimidate her.

How would you feel if your daughter was hollered at by men? Or if your wife or girlfriend had her arse slapped as she walked by a man in a bar? If you've shrugged your shoulders at either of the above take a long hard look in the mirror, you are not a Neanderthal.

Yes, sometimes women like male attention, male attention from men they are attracted to, or when it's on their terms and they feel safe, but that does not mean they should accept unwanted male attention.

I do not understand why it is so difficult for people to understand.

By way of social experiment, I posted Smart's story to Facebook and Twitter to find out what exactly what people thought of her story. Responses were almost always vile or ignorant so I've rounded up some of the most common criticisms, with my own simple explanations as to why they are bullshit.

"Wolf-whistling is not sexual harassment"

It is. So is flashing, groping, yelling. Anything remotely sexual that is enforced on a person is sexual harassment.

"She takes loads of selfies, so obviously loves the attention"

It doesn't matter how many photos she takes or what she she wears to work, that does not give men a right to holler at a woman.

"She shouldn't sell her story to newspapers"

She is not media hungry, she is sharing her story to spread awareness. By telling her story she is spreading awareness and provoking discussion - women need a voice, so do our daughters.

"She should take it as a compliment"

It is a woman's prerogative to interpret the wolf-whistling how she sees fit. If she doesn't like it, then she doesn't like it. That's final. If a man really wanted to compliment a woman he would approach her and speak to her. Not sit across the road and yell at her. To imply that a woman should be flattered by being valued on her appearance alone is backward.

"She should enjoy the attention while she is still young"

When older women say this it makes my blood boil. It's like laying down and allowing sexism and ageism to run a riot. Women of all ages can be attractive and desired, women of all ages deserve respect.

"She should try a different route"

No, the men should change their behaviour. The victim should not be expected to bend over backwards to allow a perpetrator free reign.

"There are more important things to worry about"

There are lots of things to worry about in the world. We are complex beings, we can handle more than one thing to worry about at a time. The issue of sexual harassment is huge. This culture breeds or reinforces disrespect and violence against women.

I've tried my best to counter the most common criticisms of Smart and women everywhere who take a stand against sexual harassment. If you're still confused about why we should support her, tweet me. I've got an answer for everything.