We are all just trying to get home

I rarely feel compelled to write. It’s just for me, I have to get this deep anger, sadness and frustration out.

In a week bookended by International Women’s day and Mother’s day, in the UK, our society really has shown itself to be shrouded in troubling levels of deep misogyny. Starting with P*ers Morgan’s rant about an interview he hadn’t seen, where a woman discusses her own lived experience of racism and mental health challenges. The reaction to the interview (and the behaviour of known shit house and phone hacking enabler P*ers) by the UK media was staggering. I could barely believe what I was reading when the UK press, and the majority of the UK residents, started picking apart and tearing down a woman for having the audacity to talk about her own experiences on her own terms.

I don’t care whether or not you believe Meghan Markle, or whether or not you like her. Well, actually I do, because that’s very much the problem. We don’t like or believe women do we? Despite not knowing her personally and having no insight into the life she has led, millions of people have decided they hate her and therefore feel the need to accuse her of lying about her own experiences of racism (at the hands of a deeply problematic family) and suicidal ideation. Why? Fuck knows, I really can’t fathom this one. Yes, there’s an irony at leaving the Royal Family for “privacy” and then telling Oprah all about it, but don’t we all just want the power to be able to tell our own stories, to be heard? Reason number 1 why most women will never say anything about the abuse they receive is the fear of not being believed. This fear drives us (certainly me) to consider endlessly how not being believed will impact us negatively.

On Wednesday, it was reported that the remains of a woman had been found in connection to the disappearance of Sarah Everard, a woman who went missing whilst walking home in Clapham. I live in Clapham, I have walked those streets thousands of times, I am also just trying to get home. I’ve lived in Clapham for 10 years and in those 10 years, I’ve been part of a city mourning. We’ve mourned for children fallen victim to knife crime, to the victims of terror attacks and countless people who have been victims of male violence. For one reason or another, it hits harder when it’s so close to home. The shock and sadness were tempered by my own initial thought, my thought of “I wouldn’t have gone that way”.

You see, as a woman, there are multiple ways to go. I immediately checked myself because actually, Sarah was walking home on a main road. That is exactly the way she should have gone. She should have been able to walk down any road in the middle of London (or anywhere) and get home safely. All women should be able to walk our streets, at any time of day or night, and get home safely. I wasn’t the only one whose initial thought at the news could be described as victim-blaming. I am not, however, one of the ones who decided to spew this bile onto the internet at speed. We’ve been socialised by our media to blame the victim, regardless of the crime, especially when that victim is a black teenage boy, a Muslim or a woman of any colour. We all have a right to safety and existence.

I have cried several times reading Twitter this week, standing in solidarity with the women who have felt compelled to tell their stories of male violence. The way we phrase this is powerful, as normally we describe “women being attacked” or “women being raped”, there is no mention of the attacker, and thus our attention moves squarely onto the victim and how it must have been their fault. But the cold fact is violence against people is disproportionately committed by men and therefore we must term this “Male Violence”. Violence, done by men, against mostly women but also each other.

80% of women have experienced some form of sexual assault and this figure rises to 96% among the 16–24 age bracket. In the UK, a woman is killed every 3 days, 9 out of 10 of those crimes are committed by men. Last year in the UK, 151,000 people were raped, 144,000 of these people were women. Only 55,000 were reported and of those, 1,439 of those cases were prosecuted. The lowest conviction rate ever. Before we even get onto the topic of the Metropolitan Police’s behaviour on Saturday, the numbers themselves show why women don’t feel safe on the streets. Also worth noting, that the number of people who were raped is likely much higher, that’s the number of people who felt comfortable enough to tell an ONS surveyor. Indeed, those were the ones who were comfortable enough and were asked.

In spite of the numbers, we’ve had to endure days of victim-blaming and #notallmen-ing on Twitter. The cold fact is that women are disproportionately more likely to be a victim of violent or sexual crime and this crime is mostly committed by men. Male violence is the problem here. Women walking home, women wearing clothes, women being drunk — these are not problems. Men committing acts of violence is the problem. When 96% of women ages 16–24 tell you that at some point they have been affected by male sexual violence, something has to give right? I’ll accept that it’s not all men, but by the same coin, it happens so often that it is most men. For most men that think it’s not them, just read Julie Cohen’s story and tell me you’ve never had a few too many and told a woman on the tube she has nice tits. What you don’t understand is that living with this sort of behaviour for our whole lives leaves a hole that cannot be filled by you just telling us that you’ve never raped anyone.

When our media decide that the group they’d like to blame for certain crimes includes “Muslims” or “The Black Community”, the whole community is asked, “what are you going to do about this?”. When the community is men, no such vilification occurs. We’re simply reminded that we should shut up and thank our lucky stars that not all men are rapists.

As someone so eloquently put it “I know it’s not all men, but I don’t know which men. So I behave like it’s all men.” We shouldn’t have to, enough is enough.

Yesterday, like many residents of Clapham I went to the common for a walk. Around the bandstand, the tension, grief, anger and frustration weighed heavily on those present and it was a deeply moving experience to be stood there with so many other people and share our collective grief. I left just before 5.30, everyone was peaceful, calm and reflective. As I walked home, I saw many others, carrying flowers in the direction from which I had just come and I took some comfort in the number of people who just wanted to come together to think of Sarah and the thousands of other women who have been a victim of male violent crime.

Getting home I saw the response from the Met. That they waited until after dark to start elbowing women in the face and arresting people en masse. Never mind that they don’t treat Covid deniers, football fans, or in fact men committing violence in a similar way is the height of irony. That the response of the very people who are meant to protect us from this shit chose to attack us at this moment, at a vigil, highlights the issue of male violence of which we speak.

Our current Home Secretary and indeed Met Commissioner are both women.

Given the suspect who has been charged with murdering Sarah is a serving police officer, you’d like to think they’d have been a bit more sensitive to the event, but no. I have seen Clapham Common busier on a sunny day during a national lockdown, it just proves that men love any excuse to punch women in the face. If you want to know why women don’t report violence to the police there is your answer. They’re not going to believe us, they’re not going to investigate and they’d rather just punch us in the streets. The person accused of the murder of Sarah Everard was accused of indecent assault only a few days before. I heard someone say that if the police investigated every accusation of male violence they’d be overwhelmed. This was used as a defence of those statistics I mentioned earlier, does it really feel like that now?

Our society doesn’t care about male violence against women. Especially against trans women and women of colour. For every vigil brought about the publicised murder of a white woman, there are countless black and trans women who go un-remebered by our society’s inability to protect them and refusal to care.

I don’t know where we go from here, I know I’m tired and I’m angry. I’m tired of this shit and I stand with all who have also had enough of this shit. I sit here on Sunday morning spewing my thoughts out poorly and incoherently because I have to share them, but I’ll never be able to say enough to express the weight of the situation or the deepness of my feeling about it.

As if an email signature, I feel the most appropriate ending to this cathartic release would be a recount of some of the incidences of male violence in my life, so here goes;

  • In the last month, I have had my ass commented on by two men in a van whilst I walked to the chiropractor. Another man on a moped felt the need to pull up next to me on my bike to tell me he could see my underwear through my leggings. When I asked a man why he was stood in the middle of the road where Putney Bridge meets Fulham Palace Road, I was called a “fat cunt”. I was then followed through traffic whilst he hurled abuse at me.
  • I was sexually assaulted by a former boss. I said nothing because I knew I wouldn’t be believed and in a dispute, I felt he would be sided with as more important to our company. As I walked away from the situation, he felt threatened (or rejected I don’t know) and continued to bully me for a year. He made me cry at a Christmas party and he screamed in my face that I was a “fucking judgmental bitch”. I left the party and sat in the doorway of Cafe Nero on Charing Cross road crying until my boyfriend turned up to take me home (see, not all men). On going back to work, it was me who had to apologise to him and spend another 40 minutes locked in a room with him whilst he told me how awful he felt I was.
  • A man flashed his penis at me at Oval Station.
  • A man followed me home once asking me why I wouldn’t talk to him and asking me why I was a frigid bitch.
  • A man put his hand up my skirt at an Adam Ant gig.
  • Some years ago, I trained for a half marathon running around Clapham common after dark with my keys in between my fingers. One of my colleagues told me I “didn’t have the figure for running” so I opted to run after dark rather than risk the indignity of too many people seeing a fat girl running.
  • A man attempted to rape me on the grass outside the Eglwys Dewi Sant in Cardiff City centre when I was 18. I have never told anyone about this, ever. I was steaming drunk, I had been out all evening drinking and I only remember snippets of a man being on top of me, with his penis out, trying to rape me. I think I got him off. I ran back to Cathays. I thought if I ever told anyone it would have been my fault for being that drunk, I was so ashamed of having gotten that drunk. I realise now, 14 years later, it wasn’t my fault.
  • As a child, I watched for years as a man verbally, psychologically and sexually assaulted my mother.

#EndMaleViolence #ReclaimTheseStreets