If there’s one quality journalists are rarely associated with, it’s honesty.
But here are a few facts for you that I really wish were fake news: Nearly two thirds of women in the UK have been sexually harassed in public, half have been harassed at work, and one in five women under the age of 60 have experienced some form of sexual violence by the time they’re 16.
It’s a hot topic of discussion this week following the outpouring of allegations against Harvey Weinstein. But it’s hardly hot off the press. Women have always put up with harassment and assault in all its forms. I say ‘put up’, because rarely are our voices heard. Since Weinstein Gate, thousands are now sharing their stories online using the hashtag #MeToo.
So on the subject of some honest journalism, here’s mine.
One day last year I was on a job on Bradford Road in Fartown.
As any reporter would, I was chatting to local residents after a homeless lady had sadly been found dead on the street. One man I spoke to was with two friends. He came over and introduced himself.
I was uncomfortable from the start. But dealing with difficult people is an unwanted yet inevitable aspect of journalism, so I carried on chatting and trying to bring the discussion back to the issue at hand.
Instead this man kept pushing it, being sleazy and making vile comments about my body. Here I was, trying to collect tributes to a woman who had died in the most tragic of circumstances and have a serious conversation. I couldn’t believe the gall. And that’s when he grabbed my shirt and tried to rip it open.
I immediately ran off and went to speak to police officers stood by the police tape at the scene, explaining what had happened. All I received in response was a shrug, and told there was nothing they could do.
As I made my way back to the Examiner’s offices, I was cat-called several times.
Although this tale will sound familiar to so many women, I recognise it pales in significance with other women’s experiences. In fact, I’ve put up with a lot worse from men on nights out myself.
But this isn’t about me, or about whose story is worse. It’s about women everywhere having to put up with behaviour like this on a daily basis, no matter how grave or seemingly harmless. No matter how big or small, in a public or private space, no matter if you’re in a polo neck or bikini, it’s never okay.
Sexual assault is an umbrella term, and the pinnacle linking all its forms is men wanting to exert power over women.
Men cat-call women from cars or scaffolding as they walk past because they’re passing by and know they won’t be confronted. They put their hands up women’s skirts in clubs because they think a short dress is an invitation, as though we only dress to please men.
It’s not paying a compliment or a bit of harmless fun, some of these experiences can be really frightening. And even if they aren’t, the fact still remains that some men behave in such a way because they think being male gives them an automatic right to treat women like pieces of street furniture.
Whatever is proven against Weinstein, don’t defend his actions.
I shouldn’t have to be writing this column, but I am. Instead, I propose men speak out about other men harassing and assaulting women, rather than women sharing their own experiences after they’ve already happened.