'I didn't see myself as a victim, but looking back on years of male abuses of power made me change my mind'
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In the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard and the subsequent debate over women's safety, reporter Laura Bill looks back on her own experiences of harassment and abuse, and asks herself why she has felt reluctant to speak out before now.
Part of the reason I haven’t talked about it much before is that I wonder if people - probably men - would think that I wasn’t attractive enough to be abused. Like, I don’t really even deserve to be assaulted or harassed because surely no one would choose me?!
Another reason is that I have struggled to recognise it. With the #metoo campaign solidarity among sisters thing a few years back, I genuinely didn't think I was eligible to hashtag.
Yet, when I thought about whether I might be able to write something on this in the wake of the tragic murder of Sarah Everard, I was stunned by my list of examples.
I have experienced many, many abuses of power from men; ranging from inappropriate self-pleasuring and workplace sexual harassment up to more significant levels of violence and sexual harm.
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My next concern about putting pen to paper was this - and I am staggered by my own response here, which can only be a sign of the way society has shaped me to protect the patriarchy - what if I upset one of these men? What if they recognise themselves when this read this?
When you are a teenager in the company of a 40-something you just kind of deep-down feel that it must be safe. Until he’s taking photos of you, offering you a midnight feast on a residential trip and telling you his wife doesn't understand him and he is falling in love with you. I was the only female member of ‘staff’ (volunteer) on this trip.
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Back in the days where I had only one friend who could drive, we went in her car, a group of girls, to the pub. As we came up the hill out of the car parking spaces we saw someone standing under a lamppost doing something best not to mention in a family newspaper. Our mums had told us if we ever got flashed at it’s always a good thing to do. Just crack up laughing.
Luckily we must have had a wise mum or dad among the red Fiesta cohort who knew the right thing to do. We reported it to the police who later called back to say that night he had stolen knickers from a woman’s washing line and sexually assaulted someone about a week later. I’m pretty sure it was reporting the incident and not the laughing that put him in prison. The officer said that sometimes these things start seemingly small (no pun intended) but grow into major assaults.
Then there was the bar manager. I was a minimum wage 'floor server' which was basically just a specially thought-out humiliating term for a waitress, no doubt devised by a man who didn't have any daughters. Or sisters. Or a mum. Anyway, I digress. Being thrown out of a pub you work in by your boss after he had had his way with you at five in the morning with unkempt hair and a three mile walk home is terrifying the first time it happens. But after it had happened a few times I’d ironically think “I was safe last time” when walking home.
One close male friend of mine had a penknife by the bed when I stayed over for the second time. I genuinely felt he may be going to murder me but didn’t want to worry my mum and dad. A few months later, he looked out to sea one evening in Cleethorpes and asked me: “Would you trust me? To kill you and then kill myself?”. This was a man who six months later ended up taking his own life.
You sort of think it’s you. That you’ve gone a bit mad. You must be a bit tired.