I WILL never forget the first time I was sexually harassed.
I was a teenager and had just been to watch Erasure perform in concert at Whitley Bay Ice Rink in the North East.
I was excited. It was my first ever concert, my first night out without my parents watching over me.
But as I walked home, past a bus stop, a man started making suggestive comments towards me. I still know exactly what he said more than 20 years later and remember how I ran off in the other direction.
Since then, I’ve had times when men — usually drunk, or groups of lads — have shouted suggestive remarks and unwanted comments after a night out.
Now, when walking home late at night, I always look over my shoulder and often make a phone call, real or fictitious, just in case there is somebody waiting to pounce.
Until this week, I have never really given much of a second thought to what happened all those years ago, or how I behave now.
My teenage experience is far from unusual and I just do what every other woman does now to try to stay safe. We don’t all question it, we just do it.
But the killing of Sarah Everard has sent shockwaves across the country and got women thinking about the issue of safety while walking Britain’s streets.
A new survey by UN Women UK has revealed 97 per cent of women aged between 18 and 24 — and 80 per cent of all women — have been victims of sexual harassment.
The figures are shocking. Something needs to be done to reverse them. Now.
Sexual harassment isn’t just physical, it is verbal and psychological too. It can include unwanted comments, leering, vulgar sexual and racist remarks, threats, touching, groping or indecent exposure.
There is a call for sexual harassment against women on the street to become a new criminal offence, following the murder of 33-year-old marketing executive Sarah.
It is being backed by Nimco Ali, a feminist campaigner appointed by Home Secretary Priti Patel to advise on the Government’s new strategy to combat sexual violence against women and girls.
She said: “Street harassment is absolutely a form of violence towards women and girls and it currently goes unreported and unpunished.”
Green Party peer Jenny Jones even made the — as she put it “not entirely serious” — suggestion of a 6pm curfew for men.
That is just as stupid as blaming the women themselves, or the outfits they are wearing for the reason they get harassed.
None of this deals with the cause.
And the cause is some men — definitely not all — who seem to think it is OK to treat women in the way they are doing.
In 2014, the figures for sexual harassment in public places were much lower than they are now.
A survey by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency found 68 per cent of all women in the UK had experienced it and 85 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds.
Figures are rising year on year.
Men need to know what it feels like to be a woman when they are harassed in this way. The only people that can truly explain this perspective are women.
This week on social media, women started to explain what they had been through and what scared them — and men listened and asked what they could do in return.
The figures are shocking. Something needs to be done to reverse them. Now.
Some men, perhaps, do need to be told how to behave, to be given guidelines. Some may think the way they speak or act towards women is acceptable when it very much isn’t.
Families need to do their bit. Because it is sons, brothers, fathers, uncles and nephews who are doing this to women.
Today, on Mother’s Day, is a perfect place to start. For mums to tell their little — and big — boys, that sexual harassment in any form is never acceptable.
And just as importantly to try to explain to them how uncomfortable, scared and humiliated it makes women feel.
Then the next generation may not need to worry about clutching their keys to use as a weapon in a dark car park, or being made to feel bad for wearing a skimpy skirt.
My son is only two, but as soon as he is old enough to understand I will explain this to him.
Because women have a right to feel safe. And mums want to be proud of their sons.
Duchess's display of dignity
THE Duchess of Cambridge proved this week that she will one day be the perfect female lead member of The Firm.
On Thursday, she and William went to an East London school. It was their first public appearance together since Harry and Meghan’s Oprah chat.
Kate ticked boxes for style, fashion and absolute dignity.
She may just have had a load of mud flung in her face by her sister-in- law – and will probably never get her chance to hit back – but she didn’t flinch for a second when William, who was standing right next to her, responded to questions about racism by saying: “We’re very much not a racist family.”
She definitely deserves a deep curtsy . . . if you know how to do one.
Caitlin’s not blue
CAITLIN BRENNAN lives off beige foods.
So that means fish fingers, chicken nuggets, skinless sausages, quiche, pasta and rice.
She says: “I’ve eaten like this for 24 years and I’m fine, so it can’t be that bad. I can laugh and make a joke about it.”
I feel her pain. I only like beige booze, in the form of white wine.
And it could be a lot worse – imagine if she only liked blue.
NHS is there for us
SARAH HARDING is the Girls Aloud member who always seemed so full of enthusiasm, energy and . . . fun.
She said she was “a mess” being faced with her own mortality after her dreadful breast cancer diagnosis.
That is probably an understatement.
A few years ago, I had to sit in a sterile waiting room, with my partner holding my hand, waiting to find out if I had breast cancer. I will never forget the panic and terror I felt.
I was lucky. Tragically, Sarah now has advanced breast cancer and doesn’t know how long she has to live.
She has bravely written a book telling her fans about her experience. Her message is strong: Listen to your body and use the NHS.
Last year she was told Christmas 2020 would be her last. She is just 39. She says: “I don’t know how many months I have left. Maybe I’ll surprise everyone.”
I hope she does. Her story is a warning to get checked and to use your NHS.
We mustn’t forget it is there to protect us.
A lad's hidden talent
SHYAMA UNDERWOOD’S three-year-old son Jaxon-Carter has destroyed 12 TVs, regularly redecorates rooms with paint and pens and ruins new carpets.
He’s caused £6,000 worth of damage since learning to walk.
Shyama says: “He redecorated my bathroom with grey paint and another time he redecorated himself and the walls with emulsion I’d hidden from him.”
I’d suggest making your games of hide-and- seek just a little bit tougher.
West’s method acting
SO, Dominic West has landed a role playing a serial womaniser in a new BBC1 drama.
It comes less than six months after the married 51-year-old was caught kissing co-star Lily James, 31, in Rome.
I have heard of method acting but this is ridiculous.
Wicks piles on £££
THIS week we discovered Domino’s Pizza has made a fortune during lockdown after selling up to 14 pizzas a second during the past year.
The other major lockdown winner is, of course, the nation’s PE teacher Joe Wicks, who banked £1.6million in a year.
Makes you realise that while half the nation was getting fat, the other was getting fit.
Sadly, I am in the group who opted for extra toppings.
Piers leaves a hole
THE day after Piers Morgan stormed off Good Morning Britain, Susanna Reid was left with the job of explaining his absence to viewers.
Her statement was drafted by bosses to give a neutral explanation of what happened. Now, with the big voice gone, that is what viewers can look forward to.
Yes, Piers overstepped the mark this week – complex issues such as mental health and suicide should not be flippantly dismissed. But he has the strength to give his honest opinion and start debates.
And if we are not careful, cancel culture – where individuals and brands are spurned due to stances that some perceive to be offensive – is going to get out of control.
This time next year we could be in the pub (yay!) sitting in silence apart from the odd bland comment because everybody is afraid of offending someone.
I am sad Piers has gone. I’d love to see him back.
And let’s face it, who has the balls to replace him? (And, no, I’m not being sexist.)
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