It's such a familiar scene.
You've had a torturous day at work; you can't believe it's not actually a full moon, because the crazies are out in force, thought at least they provide a diversion from the customers with the IQ of a mitten. The networks were slow, the air conditioning was on the fritz, and you've a splitting headache. After nine hours you finally make your way out of the office with a glazed expression and collapse gratefully into your bus seat, looking only to lose yourself in the pulpy trash escapist novel you've been saving for this purpose until you can get home and tip fermented beverages down your throat. You open it up and have barely read two sentences when a voice interrupts.
"I'm sorry?" you say, not sure where the voice is coming from or if it is directed at you.
"Is it a good book?" asks the guy seated in front of you. You barely notice what he looks like. You don't care. You've been talking to strangers non stop all day, and now you're tired, and you don't want to talk to another stranger; you just want to be left alone.
"Um, I guess, I haven't had a chance to read much yet", you reply, hoping he gets the message, but he doesn't.
"So, what do you do?"
"Um, I'm a customer service rep". You mutter fast with your head down, trying to be as dull as possible, hoping he'll just leave you alone.
"You want to go out with me sometime?". Yep, that's come up within thirty seconds.
"Look, I'm sure you're nice, but I don't really want to talk, I just want to read my book".
"WELL FUCK YOU I WAS JUST TRYING TO BE FRIENDLY YOU UGLY BITCH!"
And you're left shaken and upset. Everyone on the bus heard. They don't know where to look. You've done nothing to deserve this. A bad day just got worse. Meanwhile the offender gets off at the next stop, looking for his next target.
How many times did this, or something similar, happen to me when I was younger? Dozens? Hundreds possibly, considering I traveled on public transport every day and (yes) did enjoy going to pubs and clubs. Sometimes it was this bad. Sometimes it was just ridiculous, like the guy who called me a "lezzo" because I replied in the negative to his invitation, given to a random stranger on a train platform, to go home with him. Sometimes it was frightening. Sometimes it was disgusting, like the unseen man in the crowd of millions at the Rocks for New Years Eve 1999 who stuck his hand between my legs and was then gone before I fully realised what had happened, leaving me filled with a directionless fury. It happens to every woman, and I don't think the majority of decent men in our society appreciate the pervasive threat women face everywhere they go from the few creeps who walk amongst them.
As we all hope for a positive outcome in the disappearance of Jill Meagher, one good thing that may come out of this horrible event is to get people to talk about these creepy encounters...and to take them seriously. In the aftermath of Ms Meagher's disappearance, several women have bravely come forward to report being approached by creepy men in the vicinity. A line being tossed around is "why did none of these women report anything before?". But really - why would they have?
I never reported any of the incidents I was subjected to. It never crossed my mind. Even if it had, what would have been the police reaction - "so, you're upset because someone tried to talk to you?". Easy, for police and society, to pass it off as harmless. Easy to ignore it happening around you. Easy to gloss over the harassment and fear women feel when they go out in public, just for being women. Well maybe now we can talk about it, admit that it's annoying and frustrating and upsetting and dangerous. Maybe we will encourage people to speak up, say no when they see it happening around them.
I'm not saying women can't be sexually aggressive - anyone who's ever seen a hen's night party at a strip club can attest to that. But how many men have feared sexual harassment from a stranger whilst waiting to get the train home from uni - at 2pm? We need to talk about this, what it means for us all. Maybe it would be a small first step towards no longer blaming the victim.
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