THE STRANGER DANGER

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A man grabbed my arse once as I scrambled for the District Line at Earl’s Court. Sorry, make that ‘happens once every few months since I was fourteen’ and it’d be a little closer to the truth.

No, I’m not exaggerating. And no, before you ignorantly ask, I’m not wearing a short skirt every time it happens. In fact, if you must know, I hate wearing skirts. I’m very much a jeans girl, not that it matters. I don’t ‘dress like a boy’ because I’m scared of what sort of attention I might attract. I wear whatever I want to wear because – shock horror – how I dress has nothing to do with the hip rubbing, hand stroking and prolonged staring that are – unfortunately – part and parcel of my daily commute.

Rather than kick up a fuss, it’s so much easier to just ignore those subtle movements and that man who gets a bit too close. People are tired after work, the carriage is silent except for sniffles from the poor soul that forgot their hanky and you’re too embarrassed to make a scene. After all, that thing you felt on your back really might have been there by accident. It was probably just a bag. The train is super busy. And he doesn’t seem the type- he’s wearing a suit for Christ’s sake… Usually, by the time you’re above ground, you’ve already convinced yourself that it was all in your head and have started figuring out what you’ll do with that leftover mince later.

But sometimes it’s not rush hour. Sometimes there’s a ton of space around you but they decide to stand right by your side. Sometimes it’s something more than an accident. And when it is, you’ll just know it, whether you choose to admit it or not.

When someone happens to bump into you, there’s normally an – albeit begrudging – apology and a quick look back at their phone for fear of further words being exchanged between the two of you. An accidental tap to the bottom with the back of one’s hand doesn’t require the human whom it belongs to, to breathe down your neck or continue to stand right there once half the commuters have vacated the carriage. It doesn’t require their thigh to touch yours as you both nab seats next to one another and it certainly doesn’t require grabbing or pinching of any kind. It’s something that thousands of us put up with each year and it’s just not on.

These acts of sexual harassment – because yes, that’s what they are – range from the overt to the very small. I sometimes see stranger’s willies more times in one week than my own boyfriend’s and I have been what appeared to be the subject of someone’s down time as they tossed themselves off across from me on the Piccadilly line. The worst part? I was alone. Even worse than that? I was fourteen and no one did anything to stop it. I hadn’t even kissed a boy and I was already being used as someone’s sex object- what a great way to spend my journey home from school.

Basically, if I haven’t asked you to touch me, then don’t. Even staring for longer than to check where my jumper is from is not okay. And before you say it, I’m not being sensitive. I’m open to smiles and even a brief chat about the weather, but don’t stare at my chest hoping to, at some point, develop the capacity to visually penetrate clothing and see a nipple because you’ll be sorely disappointed- not to mention the fact that you’re making me feel really very uncomfortable.

I’ve put up with this for a long time, yet it’s taken me five years to write this post. I haven’t put it off because I didn’t want to speak out, but because I was so used to it happening to me that it didn’t seem worth it. Thankfully, The Pool reminded me that it shouldn’t be a part of my daily routine and informed me that people are doing something to stop it.

The British Transport Police have released a video to raise awareness of the subject. (If you aren’t able to watch it right now, it’s basically a short film showing a woman being assaulted on the tube as everyone around her remains totally oblivious; a daily occurrence in the capital.) I could go on for days telling countless tales of torment on the tube or my local bus routes, but here’s something that you can actively do to help instead:

If you experience anything – big or small – on the tube that you’re not comfortable with, then text 61016 to report it.

Store those digits in your phones ladies, because sadly, you will have to use them if you live here long enough. And it’s a great way to kick up a silent fuss if you’re not so keen on having it out with your attacker on the 7.01 to Waterloo. You’re not alone in this desire to keep the peace on your commute by the way: 1 in 10 Londoners have experienced such trauma and 90% fail to report it. Even just the fact that this issue is finally being acknowledged after such a long time is a huge step in the right direction I think.

Women should be able to navigate their city without fear of being abused. Raise awareness and be sure to pass on the number (61016) to report anything untoward.

And remember: if something doesn’t feel right to you, it means that it probably isn’t. Let’s make some changes. Starting now.