My little sister lives in Paris. She Whatsapped me this evening to tell me that today, she was hit in the street by a boy she doesn't know.
I am extraordinarily protective of my sister and always will be. If anyone says a bad word about her, I get up all up in their grill. But I don't go around Huffington-Posting about that kind of thing, because lets face it: we're from Durham. If we aired all our beef, we'd have an inconsumable amount of jerky.
What I really want to write about is not the fact that my sister was smacked by someone she doesn't know. It's not even that my good friend suffered exactly the same treatment, two months ago, on the streets of London... But you know how I love an aside.
We had taken a bus to Dalston at around 11.30pm one Tuesday and got off at the wrong stop. I was slightly ahead of her. We'd been walking for all of 20 seconds when a man, walking in the opposite direction, reached out and floored her, punching her so hard in the face that she fell backwards and hit her head off the pavement.
As he walked away, the man screamed an explanation to two bystanders: 'women are c**ts.' The Metropolitan Police dropped the case the next day, as my friend was unable to provide them with his name.
Wow, now I've remembered how much I like a good aside. Another one? Oh go on then, you've twisted my arm.
Here is CCTV footage filmed two weeks ago. It shows Michael Ayoade, 34, punching 16 year old Tasneem Kabir unconscious in broad daylight on a London street. They don't know each other, but, you know, she looked at him funny.
These are just the assaults I know about; doubtless there are more. So what's going on? The two London-based attacks happened within two months of each other, and a week later, Paris? It's as if these bastards have gone continental.
This sounds a bit sick but I almost wish it was that simple. If there was an international ring of women-whacking psychopaths, fraternising with one another and uploading photos of their victims online, they would be easier to track down and imprison, at least. As it happens, I think these attacks are totally random, but symptomatic of a rapidly spreading misogynistic attitude.
If you look, it's everywhere; not just when women are being violently battered, unprovoked, on the street. There are so many examples of the way that some men* colonise public space today, and as a result, I know very few women who feel safe walking in public alone. (*I'd just like to say here, I by no means mean all men. Most of the men I know are lovely, and would never dream of intimidating or hurting anyone.)
I recently came under fire from a reader who was outraged by my disgust at being approached three times by three different men on my way back from a night out. To reiterate a point I will never get tired of: I maintain my right to refuse interaction with men that approach me on the street, because it isn't safe.
I have a friend who was stalked mercilessly by a man she met when her car broke down; another who was molested in a Sainsburys bakery aisle. Sexual assault terrifies most women, myself included - particularly now that I work for a local newspaper and see that the number of 'at random' rapes is far higher than I thought it was. Tell me what, about any of these things, would make me want to engage with every Tom, Dickhead and Harry who try to strike up midnight conversations with me on a deserted street?
As it happens, my critic called me an 'ungrateful little madam' and a 'worm' for rejecting their advances. Ungrateful for what? The attention that I'm not asking for? That, come to think of it, none of us are asking for?
My sister and my friend didn't ask to be punched in the head. Nor did Tasneem Kabir. As any Slutwalker will tell you, it shouldn't matter what a woman chooses to wear to work, or to the supermarket, or to a nightclub - her vagina is still off bounds. The same goes for walking home at night: unless I explicitly ask you to keep me company... I haven't asked you to keep me company.
The (coincidentally, male) reader that chose to openly berate me for my, er, 'arseholey' attitude said that 'its a fact that men are more likely to be assaulted', and that I was a 'victim of [my] own fear'.
The next week, I read statistics accrued over a period of 40 years showing that in her lifetime, a woman is more likely to be affected by rape than by cancer.
I say the following as both a woman and a hardened smoker: at least I'll have brought the cancer on myself.