Tell me when your home
The news of violence against women will always be upsetting, but not surprising. One of the most common things that connects females, is their own story of assault or harassment. As millennials, we were brought up in a time when girls should think about their outfits, their location and unfortunately, other people’s actions. But at the same time, it produced a powerful generation of women who are working endlessly for change.
It doesn’t surprise me that '71% of women of all ages in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space – this number rises to 86% among 18-24-year-olds'*. Considering most of the people I know who experienced these problems happened when they were much younger than this is devastating. Many of these issues don’t even happen in ‘typical’ places, rather, they happen anywhere, no matter what you wear or if it's light outside. Walking down the street in the middle of the day, on public transport (massive well done to 'Sex Education' for accurately portraying this issue with the bus storyline), at work, in bars- it happens in all these places because it has nothing to do with the environment. Only the abuser is to blame. If you don’t educate or correct sexism that has been instilled into culture for hundreds of years, it won’t be fixed, but attaches itself from childhood to adulthood.
By telling young girls in school that they can’t wear clothes or uniform that shows, prepare yourselves, their knees or shoulders, they are basically told to take the responsibility of the perpetrator’s actions, whether hypothetical or literal. I’ve seen girls be sent home for this exact reason. Their real education was worth less than the possibility that their normal, everyday clothes would encourage ‘distraction’. Yet at the same time, actual evidence of sexism within schools was limited down to boys will be boys. Guess what this reassures? Inequality towards women and toxic masculinity. Which can only add to the cycle of abuse and misogynistic attitudes that then filters into workplaces and social environments.
The announcement of Sarah Everards murder is tragic. But unfortunately something most girls fear every day, no matter their age, race, religion or sexuality. Hearing the news, it seemed that the first reactions people had were where was she? What was she wearing? Was she being safe? Why was she on her own at night? Sarah Everard did everything right. She was just walking home. As young girls, we’re brought up told to wear the ‘correct’ clothing, to not go out on our own no matter where you are. The preparation to avoid assault or harassment is a standard process in our youth. To this day I still look round my street when I walk home and think about what shoes I should wear in case of an emergency. I, like so many others, have to plan my travel depending on how bright it is outside. To be careful when someone in a car shouts something horrible because I don’t know how he or she would respond. The amount of times myself and others have been harassed is so high that it’s become an expectation when we go out. From experience I know that if I approach the asshole that thinks it’s fun to repeatedly grab girls in bars, I’ll be threatened verbally and physically. Because what's assault to us, is a regular joke to them. I’m extremely grateful for those who do you stand up for women in these situations and others.
So why are these questions still being asked? Why isn’t the first thing people think of when violence against women is involved is ‘why did someone commit this crime?’ We’re still telling people that girls should be aware of their role in this assault, rather than explaining the obvious; the need to end patriarchal systems. Schools need to teach kids about sexism and the power of feminism. Stop prioritising dress codes for girls and limiting their education and start encouraging support. Tell them about the power in empowerment and how to stand up against inequality. We need to focus on mental health and how it affects both men and women. Teach women about their values and rights. I’ve said multiple times that harassment isn’t limited to one gender. It affects everyone and this is an issue that is still in great need of change. Don’t forget, men are STILL being sexually assaulted. Remind them that it's okay to express their emotions and dismantle the stereotypes of masculinity that fuels negativity in the way men treat each other and others. Once we tell boys they don’t need to meet such damaging standards, the more freedom and understanding is gained. If this is changed, the aggressive attitude and behaviour towards women that stems from this has the chance to be destroyed.
So, the answer to the problem is never found within the victim. But simply the abuser. It’s clear that more work needs to be done to improve the safety of women. But this change isn’t down to girls; we’ve done our part. It’s time for respect, consent and justice to be taught and acted upon now.
For now I'm dedicating this to all the powerful women I know and everyone fighting in the support for equality.