It was a normal day.
Rainy and gloomy like many other London days in February. I walked to the underground station and took my usual route to the internship I was doing at the time in Broadwick Street. It was all set to be a perfectly normal day but as I was standing there in that Victoria line train I started panicking. Something was touching me in an unusual way. For a few seconds I didn't understand what was going on. The train was full enough that I could not tell if this was casual haphazard touching or carefully planned rubbing. My mind started whirling and I wanted to cry as I looked from the corner of my eye and confirmed it was not a something touching me, but a someone. I tried moving forward, closer to the metal bar that I was holding onto. As I inched closer to the bar, whoever was behind me came closer too.
It was not all out in-your-face grabbing and groping. It was slow calculated grinding. His hips jutted forward, subtly enough that he could pretend to be balancing himself if I cried sexual assault. As I stood there, trying to move away as much as I could in a somewhat busy train, I kept asking myself if he was really doing something wrong or if I was overreacting. Was I seeing harassment where there was none? I thought 'I have never been assaulted before. Is that what is happening?' His movements were so precise in the way they followed mine that, in hindsight, it could not have been anything other than sexual assault.
By the time I had calmed myself to a state of certainty, the train had stopped and he was leaving. But not before looking backwards, smirking at my confused and alarmed face, and finally disappearing into the anonymous crowd. I spent the rest of my journey to the office talking myself out of that newfound certainty as doubts rose in my mind, while at the same time feeling dirty and violated.
Later, as I talked to a friend about this, I recalled a time in school when male classmates were 'going through a phase' - as their parents and some of our teachers called it - and decided it would be fun to corner girls and grope their bottoms and genitals while they squirmed and tried to run away. My friend looked at me with a very serious look and said 'You know that was sexual assault too, right?'
For some reason, until she said that, it had never occurred to me that a boy touching your body against your will was anything other than 'boys being boys'. At the time that was what adults made us believe and we did not know better because no one talked about rape and sexual assault in schools or at home. This went on for weeks until one of the girls, fed up with what was quickly becoming the status quo, complained to the class director and parents were called in for a meeting. No one involved was ever suspended or even punished.
Sexual Assault Has Become Normal
These two specific moments of my life are not special because they are all too common. That is precisely why people must be actively educated not to commit rape or sexual assault: it has become normal for a woman to be harassed in her daily life. In fact, you will be hard-pressed to find one that has not gone through it at least once. Men can be targets of sexist behaviour, but no cis-gender male will ever be the victim of institutionalised sexism. Ask your sisters, wives or daughters and you will find that these are just some of the things an average woman will go through in her life: being used as the butt of many a sexist and sexual joke, being regularly called love or babe by colleagues; having to endure unwelcome narrations of colleagues' sexual adventures; being whistled at or catcalled by random men on the street from a shockingly young age; being groped in nightclubs; and the list goes on and on.
People Like Brock Turner Must Be Taught About Consent
In the past few weeks we have been bombarded with articles on Stanford sex offender, Brock Turner, who was caught assaulting an unnamed girl behind a dumpster after attending a frat party on campus. Despite a speedy unanimous verdict to convict, Turner was given what many, myself included, consider a very lenient sentence of six months. This is little more than a note sending him to summer school, as in practice he will most likely get his sentence reduced for good behaviour.
In the age of helicopter parenting and tiger moms, it has become instrumental that we teach people early on that consent is vital and the lack of a 'no' does not mean 'yes'.