Sexual Assault (grabbing), Birmingham, April 2013 *Trigger Warning*

To CovHarassment,

I tweeted you twice last weekend about harassment my sister & I experienced. I found it ironic that this is the first harassment I have experienced in ages, and it fell at the end of Anti-Street Harassment Week, and literally days after I was involved in the launch of this project.

My sister came to stay from Saturday to Sunday, and I can identify 3 moments where men ‘interacted’ with us in escalating ways.

On Saturday evening we went out for a meal together, upon settling the bill and leaving, the charming waiter who had served us commented that we were ‘very beautiful sisters’.  Well… I’m not gonna get too annoyed about that, it was said in a respectful way and was perhaps just a nicely worded compliment. However, I don’t think he would have said it to us if we had been there with our male partners, and I’m not that down with strangers commenting on my looks.

On the walk home from the restaurant we crossed paths with a group of four men, who all made, what I can only describe as ‘sucking’ sounds, and made general sexy comments at us both. This is the type of harassment I’m used to experiencing, and as per my normal response, I just carried on walking, talking to my sister, desperately trying to ignore it. It annoyed me, but I, as have many other women, have grown used to this type of thing, and don’t feel able to challenge it.

On Sunday we went to Birmingham to go to a wedding fayre, accompanied by two other women. Whilst we were walking down the main highstreet towards the Bullring, I spotted four young (16-17yrs) men stood out side a shop, seemingly just observing everyone passing. As we walked by one of them stepped out, followed and hit my sister extremely hard on her bottom. I was instantly filled with astonishment and anger! I shouted at him, something along the lines of ‘Oh my god! Why don’t you just FUCK OFF?! Fucking dickhead’. I could not believe it! It’s the first time I’ve ever responded to harassment, perhaps that is because it happened to my younger sister – of whom i feel very protective, or perhaps it’s because it was such an agressive, physical attack. TBH, I would have like to have punched him. I asked my sister if she was ok, she said it really hurt he had hit her so hard. My instant thought was that I should call the police…but then I thought, 999 is the wrong number, because it’s not really an emergency…and I was lost trying to think of the ‘non-emergency’ number I could call instead. I looked around as we continued to walk (the guy & his mates trailing behind), but I couldn’t see any PCSOs of police officers. So, of course, we just continued on with our day.

We believe that the four men in that group were part of several large groups of Irish Travellers that we saw around Birmingham during the day, which is only relevant in terms of the cultural attitudes this group hold towards women, as shown by the tradition of ‘grabbing’. It very much felt that this was a game, they would pick out a woman, and one of them would be challenged to go and assault them. I feel even more frustrated, ashamed and annoyed with myself for not doing something, because I think they were doing it to other women too.

This reiterated for me something that came out of our workshops about harassment. We need to know how to report and who to report to, and we need to be empowered to have the confidence to do so. I felt lost for what to do in the moment, and in the end all I could do was angrily tweet @covharassment. I was glad that I could vent there, but I also wanted the information at my fingertips for who I should contact in terms of the police, so they could get someone down there and make sure it didn’t happen again. When looking at ideas and strategies for Coventry, it would be good to advertise what the best number IS to call if something like that happens. I since found out that you can call 101 for non emergencies and be put through to your local police (although a friend did this for another situation the other day and reported that she got an answer phone message). Should we just call 999? I realise too that I harbour the same level of doubt indicated by the survey results…if I did call the police, would they actually do anything about it?

How does all this make me feel? I felt angry, frustrated, embarassed, objectified, annoyed at myself – because surely I should have known what to do? Shit basically…and I’m still thinking about it 3 days later.

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