Today the twitter account @ididnotreport1 has been posting anonymous tweets from people who have been the victims of sexual assault but not reported it to the police. These fragments of stories speak of fear, of a belief - or experience - that victims won't be listen to, and guilt.
The flow of tweets is testament to the fact that sexual assault is incredibly common. It is not something that happens to "other people." But victims are still stigmatised, we still don't engage with it, it is still too hard to report.
I really believe talking and tweeting can help to change that. Among the #ididnotreport tweets, I was pointed to a blog post Dawn Foster wrote last week about the general acceptance of common place street harassment and the collection of tweets people had sent her about it.
When I read Dawn's description of "fizzing anger" after being harassed, of walking on, trying to get passed the incident but feeling sick all day, I recognised it. And I remembered how much it can do to be reminded that you were not "weird" or "over the top" to feel like that. It makes it easier to talk. And that might make it easier to report.
The particular incident I was reminded of happened a few months ago as I walked to work. It wasn't the most "serious" assault, it's not the first sexual assault I have experienced, it's not the first time I haven't reported it. But it is the only one I have ever tried to put into words. I wrote about it the same day. Older, more determined that it was wrong and that I shouldn't feel ashamed or stupid I wanted to publically shout and stamp. But until I read other people's stories I didn't feel able to post it.
Yesterday, as I walked to work, a man came up behind me. I didn't hear him coming, I didn't see him coming, as I, like everyone else on the South Bank, battled wind and rain with my hood up.
He whispered something in my ear as he placed him hand on my bum. I don't remember what he said, but I shouted. I asked him what the fuck he was doing, and why he thought he could do that to someone. But I heard my words as if they were spoken by someone else, as I watched him walk up the flight of stairs up to London Bridge. Calmly, not dawdling but at no real pace. He didn't look back. No one else looked round. I was left wondering if I was actually whispering. If I should have kept yelling, gone after him, struck out.
As I walked across the bridge I could see him on the other side, watched his red baseball jacket moving further away. Did he think it was funny? Was it meant as a compliment? Or was it just meant to make me feel the way it did - threatened, vulnerable, inadequate. Wondering if my skirt was too tight, checking in the mirror at work when I was alone. A passing game, power trip, kick for him that left me still feeling shit when I got home.
It is not a sexual assault on the magnitude of so many others. It does not compare to those experiences, to the stories that have emerged recently from the protests in Egypt. But it's still not right. It's still not ok. Without becoming a ghastly patriot, I expect better in the UK, in London. Maybe I should be thicker skinned, shrug or laugh it off, but why should I when he was in the wrong? When someone touching me in that manner without consent is, however minor, a sexual assault. Shrugging it off won't stop people behaving like that. But what else is there to do? An act so trivial, who do you tell, what it the cost for him? I was the only one could who respond so I'm left feeling stupid for not having done more. I worry he will have done something to someone else, something worse.
You might think I'm hysterical, over the top, a prude. But I didn't want to have my ass grabbed by a stranger. It concerns me that I feel I need to apologise for that.