Predatory London: “Reclaiming Our Streets”

Sexual harassment and consent is finally being bought to the table via media, forcing us to acknowledge it is a problem in Britain. Many of you will have seen the Transport for London adverts in which you follow a woman on the underground who is being sexually harassed. She stands on the busy tube in terror as a man slowly moves toward her pushing against and touching her. The advert, which is part of their Report it to Stop it campaign, exposes the statistics that whilst 10 per cent of passengers will experience unwanted sexual behavior on public transport in London, only one in ten will report it. Many of you may also have seen the Disrespect NoBody T.V adverts which address sexting, consent and relationship abuse. The government-funded ad however has caused some controversy on social media, with even a petition being started claiming the ad is sexist ad and calling for it to be removed. The petition claims that the ‘campaign video doesn’t acknowledge that men can be the one experiencing sexual abuse in a relationship’ too.

While this is a completely viable point to make and everyone should be included in these campaigns as anyone can be a victim, a recent survey has revealed that women are harassed and targeted significantly more than men.

The YouGov campaign funded by End Violence Against Women to mark International Women’s day, has revealed that 85 per cent of females aged between 18 and 24 had been harassed with 45 per cent of them experiencing unwanted sexual touching. The survey also revealed that 64 per cent of women have received unwanted sexual attention in a public place in comparison to 8 per cent of men.

#Wecount Campaign

The Women’s Equality (WE) political party has made it their main aim to make London’s streets safe for women. The party has set up a new campaign to tackle sexual harassment in London. The campaign encourages women to drop a pin on the location of a place they have been harassed on a map of London with a time and date. The party has also asked supporters of #WEcount campaign to post photos of their hands with a postcode or place in London written on it where they had been abused or harassed. This is in hope to raise awareness on the extent of sexual abuse which goes unreported in the capital.

Women’s Equality Party leader, Sophie Walker, said “Last year 4,000 rapes were reported in London. We know that on average about 1 in 10 are reported, so the actual number of rapes is much higher. Thousands of women experience unwanted sexual behaviour every day, from groping to catcalling – and none of this is news”.

The party, founded by T.V personality Sandi Toksvig, has launched the campaign in a bid to ‘take back London’ and make it safe for women. The campaign is supported by a short film featuring Pavan Amara, a woman who set up the My Body Back project after her own rape.

Most women who have lived in London for more than a few weeks are unfortunately fully aware that London is not safe.

Vox-Pops in London

I did some vox pops and asked girls in London to describe to me the last time they were sexually harassed.

Jessica Saxton, 21: “I literally got harassed on Friday. I was having a friendly chat with this guy and I was about to walk off and he grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. He was grabbing my tits and arse and I told him to get off me but he was just laughing. Eventually he let go of me. Is that sexual harassment? I don’t know why I didn’t scream at him afterwards. As soon as he let go I ran off’.

Holly Dobson, 21: “Ok the one that springs to mind for me is when I was clubbing and a guy started to dance with me, he then pushed me against a pillar and started to kiss my neck. I pushed him off and told him I was gay but he just said ‘I don’t mind’ and carried on. I was trying to push him off when he grabbed my hair back against the pillar and kept kissing my neck. I eventually gathered the strength to push him hard forcing him to stumble over. He then started shouting ‘You’ve done that to the wrong person’ and punched me in the face”.

It soon became evident that almost every girl approached had a story to tell. Some women, whilst acknowledging they did not feel they were to blame for these incidents, did however feel the need to describe what they were wearing when the harassment took place.

Imogen Kerr, 22: “I was handing out samples for a company I work for and I gave some men in a van some free samples. One of the guys said to his friends really loudly ‘she’s got a nice arse’. It made me feel really sick and self-conscious – I was wearing jeans and a hoody so it couldn’t even be argued that I was ‘asking for it.”

Annie, 22 (Chose to keep second name private): “There’s builders doing construction work outside my house right now and every time I leave to go to uni I get shouted at or wolf whistled. It makes me feel very self-conscious and like I should cover up more.”

Zoé, 25: “Last year a guy got his cock out and started wanking when I was in a small alleyway with him. That was scary as fuck.

Tania Mundell, 22: “Umm the last time? It was on Friday in bar Rumba in Piccadilly. I was walking through the crowd trying to find my friends when a really tall man grabbed my boob, a full on hand full. I grabbed his hand and pushed it off then shouted something along the lines of ‘get your fucking hand off my boob, you prick”.

Kat Warburton, 21: “The last time I was sexually harassed was last Monday. I was getting the Jubilee line at rush hour so it was very packed and there were two guys who had been staring at me the whole time. As more people got off, they moved closer and eventually were standing so close and I could hear them talking about me and laughing and looking me up and down. One of them then tried to put his hand on top of mine on the bar you hold so I kept moving it and was trying to face away but it was hard because we were packed like sardines. When I was finally able to get off one of them stroked his hand on my waist as I was moving away. It made me feel self-conscious, embarrassed, annoyed and intimidated.”

I wanted to investigate further and asked some of the girls if or why they hadn’t reported the harassment they described. Everyone I interviewed said no they hadn’t. When asked why, the majority claimed they either wanted to simply move on or that they had little faith in the police.

Tania Mundell, 22: “No I didn’t report it, if the bouncer won’t do anything when it’s happened right in front of him, I highly doubt the police would”.

Imogen Kerr, 22: “No because they didn’t molest or touch me or anything like that I suppose”.

Zoé. MV, 25: “I didn’t report it because I knew the police wouldn’t do anything about it, sadly.”

Jessica Saxton, 22: “No. Just because I knew nothing would happen and that it’s the norm on a night out. It shouldn’t be. Although in the past I have reported some guys to bouncers in a club”.

Kat Warburton, 21: “I didn’t report it even though I know that if every girl reported these incidents, things would improve with street harassment but sadly no one really reports them and it’s just accepted as part of life, so I would be scared of the backlash and not being taken seriously if I did.”

Speaking with an ex Metropolitan police officer

I wanted to know why so many cases go unreported and what police think about women having so little faith in them. I spoke to an ex sergeant and metropolitan police officer who is now retired but worked in North London for 30 years. He asked to remain anonymous for this article.

“The reasons they don’t come forward are because they are ashamed and don’t think they would be believed. They also do not trust the police as there is a low conviction rate for these cases – around 7%. They would rather forget and move on.”

He continued: “They also don’t want to risk their cases being spread over the press with the report and don’t want to risk losing their job. If the suspect is known it could cause major upset within the work place or within their family.”

He then explained to me that it’s hard to prove sexual harassment cases as you must have witnesses to back up your statement otherwise it’s simply one word against another and Crown Prosecution services usually have to have concrete proof to take someone to court as it costs a lot of tax payers money.

This was all sounding like doom and gloom and it was starting to sound like the women I spoke to were right to feel there was no point in reporting the incidents. However, despite the low conviction rates and needing a lot of hard evidence in order to get anywhere, the ex seagent did add why he feels it is still very important for women to come forward.

“It would be good if they did report it as the person would be questioned and his name would be put on file. If we make women aware that it isn’t completely pointless and that the suspect would always be questioned, then the police can make inquiries and keep the suspect on file in case it happens to another woman.”

The Women’s Equality party are encouraging women everywhere to ‘reclaim our streets’ and make London safe. If you have been sexually harassed in London or simply want to support the campaign or find out more, you can take take a look at the site here.

featured image: Transport For London