Put yourself in her shoes: 'Every woman I know has a story'
OF THE THOUSANDS of women who marched to remember Jill Meagher in Melbourne last week, how many must have been thinking, It could have been me?
The safety of women at night in urban areas usually comes back to the same old precautions: don’t walk home alone; sit in the back seat of the cab; text a friend to let them know you got home safely. But what are we doing beyond individuals’ responsibility?
At Trinity College Dublin on Wednesday a new campaign, called Don’t Be That Guy, will be launched. The campaign, which began in North America, aims to “raise awareness of the link between alcohol and sexual assault” and targets potential perpetrators of sexual harassment or assault, shifting the responsibility away from potential victims.
In 2011, 1,895 harassments and related offences were recorded in Ireland (the lowest figure since 2006) and 3,570 assaults causing harm, the lowest since before 2004. Despite the importance of reporting these incidents, victims of low-level harassment often don’t.
The journalist Sinéad Gleeson was attacked about 10 years ago, walking late at night from O’Connell Street in Dublin to nearby College Green.
“I went down D’Olier Street. I felt fine, but I did notice there weren’t many people around. There was a guy in front of me. I was walking along, and I walked passed him. As I walked past he put his hand around my neck and tried to grope me. I don’t know if he was trying to pull me in somewhere, but he grabbed my boob. He was quite small and very drunk. I got really afraid, and I punched him. When I hit him he went down. He was shouting all sorts of stuff at me.”
Gleeson didn’t want to report the incident, but her father encouraged her. “The cop said, ‘You might think it was a small encounter, but you got a really good description of him. What if a few hours later he was stronger, less drunk and more angry? What if he had attacked another girl who wasn’t able to give a good description? You’d be able to solve that crime.’ ”
Those words stuck with Gleeson. “I talk to friends, and they don’t want things reported, and I just think, What if you got away but someone else didn’t?”
In the UK, Lambeth Council recently ran a campaign called “Real men know the difference between sexual assault and harmless fun”. Last month the Brixton women’s safety charter was launched. It came about as a result of the high rate of sexual crime in the area, along with women being tired of being groped in local nightclubs. Another campaign tackling everyday street harassment, Hollaback!, is a crowd-sourced initiative that began in New York and has since spread to 54 cities, allowing women and others to map and record incidents of street harassment through the campaign’s free smartphone apps.
This week Dublin Rape Crisis Centre posted new safety tips on its website, which include nominating a “designated minder” for each group of six, in the same way that designated drivers are used.
Men, of course, are also victims of harassment at night in urban areas, usually either unprovoked attacks from an unknown group or individual, or a fight between known groups of individuals. Women, too, deal with unprovoked violence. They also deal with unprovoked violence with a sexual element.
And then there’s the third category, one that is unprovoked and unwanted, not necessarily with a definable sexual element, but definitely with a gender bias. It’s the “here, why won’t you talk to me, come on” kind of harassment women put up with from strangers on the street. The smack or grab walking through a bar, or in a queue for fast food.