My Underage Daughter's First Time Was Embarrassing, Uncomfortable And Frightening

Female harassment is the topic of our conversation, I'm consoling my daughter after listening to her latest experience. It's a common problem for women daily, on our streets, and even underage girls in school uniform are not spared.

We need to dispel the myth that a girls first time is remotely enjoyable, a sort of coming of age.

With her eyes screwed shut she searches for the memory I've asked her to recall.

'What do you mean you can't be sure about the first time?' I ask.

I'm exasperated, my anger barely concealed, but I'm not angry at her. I'm furious at something so commonplace my daughter can't pinpoint the exact moment in time it started.

'It's been going on forever' She shrugs but an early memory is around the age of 11 maybe 12 and walking to the shops on an errand. A man whistled at her from a passing van, slowed down and then drove off.

Female harassment is the topic of our conversation, I'm consoling my daughter after listening to her latest experience. It's a common problem for women daily, on our streets, and even underage girls in school uniform are not spared.

In Germany they have taken drastic steps to intervene in a spate of sexual assaults and harassment of young girls at swimming pools in the Bodensee district in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg. Veronika Wascher-Goggerle, from the Women's and Family representative of the district, is determined to raise awareness over the growing problem and young girls are being issued with temporary stick on tattoos. The tattoos spell out the word NO and feature small angel wings. The hope is these temporary tattoos will act as an incentive for young swimmers to think about the issue.

Germany is not alone in this problem. In July Nottinghamshire Police outlined plans to record misogynistic incidents as hate crimes in a bid to address sexist abuse. Chief Constable Sue Fish claims it will make the county a safer place for women. The force defines misogyny hate crime as: "Incidents against women that are motivated by an attitude of a man towards a woman and includes behaviour targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman."

My daughter recalls a more worrying experience. She was 14 years old, huddled in a bus shelter, out of the rain falling that grey winter's afternoon. Easily identifiable as a schoolgirl, in her blazer and regulation knee length skirt, a few fellow travellers were waiting alongside her. A group of men spilled out of the nearby train station, raucous and laughing. They must have appeared a rowdy bunch for 4pm on a Friday afternoon, perhaps a stag party heading to our local holiday camp and a popular destination for weekend groups.

'Oi Oi love' one of them shouted 'Want to join our party tonight?' Swaying and making their way towards her 'Come on darling, give us a smile' one of them demanded, followed by 'God she's a miserable little cow' when she didn't respond.

She felt embarrassed, uncomfortable and more than a little frightened. She glanced around the strangers waiting in the shelter with her, hoping for some support, but no-one made eye-contact, no-one intervened.

I've lost count of the number of similar incidents my daughters and female friends have shared with me over the years. It's so common I am wondering if we have become completely desensitized to the level of harassment women are exposed to. In learning to shrug it off, not engage, and keep our eyes averted are we allowing the problem to continue unchallenged?

Some women are determined to fight back though. Cat-calling and abuse took a sinister turn when Michelle Barwood, a 36 year old actor, decided to challenge one man on his behaviour. 'I shouted at him to leave me alone in front of other people present on the street. What followed amounted to a verbal assault with him calling me ugly, a bitch, disgusting and his parting shot 'I hope you get raped''

Michelle's experience highlights how easily street harassment can escalate.

'The most telling thing about this exchange was he knew, by the use of those exact words, how predatory his behaviour was. He understood in that moment the terrifying and oppressive power of what he was saying as a man to a woman'.

My daughter is 17 now, she's enjoying the long summer break before she heads back to school and her second year of 'A' level study. Her latest experience of 'casual' harassment is more evidence of this daily reality for numerous girls and women. We are having this discussion whilst I'm looking at the white cropped jeans and pretty pink gingham shirt she's wearing and thinking she looks every inch the epitome of a classic English Rose.

Regardless of this it didn't stop a man, considerably older than her, walking right up to her and declaring 'I would'.

'I would' to a 17 year old girl in a public place in the middle of a summer's afternoon.

'I would' is not something we should be brushing off, telling our daughters it doesn't mean anything or making light of. Are some men so out of control we have no choice but to resign ourselves to this level of harassment?

Bronte Huskinson, a 19 year old University student and one of Huffington Post's Young Voices , says regular street harassment when she was 15 affected her so badly she became very self-conscious. 'I wouldn't wear anything remotely flattering and covered up my body, on the hottest of summer days, to avoid unwanted attention'. More confident and self-assured as she's got older Bronte says 'I realised crude cat-calling wasn't going to stop but it shouldn't prevent me wearing what I want'.

In expanding the categories of hate crimes to include misogynistic incidents Nottinghamshire Police are acknowledging the breadth and range of harassment women experience every day. Recording this will mean the data can be analysed and the extent of the problem, along with solutions, can be considered. It's a step in the right direction and one we should be urging other forces throughout the UK to pay heed to. In the meantime I'm not only supporting my daughters on ways to cope with incidents of harassment, I'm educating my sons on how to interact and engage with women in a non-threatening and respectful manner.

We have a long way to go to address harassment and abuse of women. Do we really need girls and women to wear 'NO' tattoos before we wake up to the scale of this problem? Maybe we simply need to become more vocal about this, and challenge the status quo.

My daughter may not be clear about the first time but I hope one day we'll be celebrating the last time a woman is harassed on the streets.