Yesterday the Evening Standard shared with London the story Pagan Lilley Motlagh-Phillps. The telling of her powerful story is so important and we commend this paper for telling it – more importantly we want to acknowledge Pagan’s strength in speaking out.
Her experience of harassment reminds us to respect survivors and their survival mechanisms. So often women and non-binary people are told that there is a set way to respond to harassment. We are sometimes told that one way to respond is to ignore those who harasses. This does not always work, but sometimes it does.
For Pagan ignoring her harassers did not work, and her story consequently forces us to remember that the onus to respond to harassers should never be on those who experience harassment. Harassment exists upon a continuum of violence against women and girls. It is one of 8 strands of violence which flow between each other, and which women and non-binary people experience every single day.
It is time that we start to truly challenge the roots of this violence rather than staying on the surface. We have to focus our blame and judgement on those who harass and enact this violence. We have to respond to and criticise their choices, not the actions of survivors.
What happened to Pagan was horrendous, but this is the reality of what women and non-binary people live with every day. At Hollaback we stand in solidarity with all who experience harassment and violence, and hope that with constant pressure and the sharing of stories we can alter this system of oppression.
New submission from Anna-Maria G.
I was on my way the gym when I man grabbed my arm really hard. I dropped my water bottle. He said “So you’re throwing stuff on the ground?” then I looked up thinking ‘Do I know this guy?’. I didn’t. He said ‘So now you’re not going to talk to me’. I started walking and he walked away, like nothing happened. So shocked and confused. He was in his 40’s wearing a white shirt. Looked ‘civilized’. Had an evil stare.
New submission from Louise
I was walking out of the building I work out of and got blocked off of the down ramp by a man who grabbed himself then attempted to kiss me whilst saying, “Hello gorgeous”. I have no idea what he was trying to accomplish.
New submission from Nina
I was walking past the roundabout at just after midnight on a Friday night when three teenagers (judging by their voices) cycled past on the road. I didn’t think anything of it til I saw them circle round and cycle on to the pavement where I was, and two of them groped me, as they cycled past. I shouted at them to f**k off at which they laughed and cycled away. It was incredibly intimidating that they were on bikes and could appear and disappear really quickly. Something similar had happened to me last year -I was on the cross trainer at the outdoor gym in Wennington Green in broad daylight when a guy cycled past out of nowhere and groped me. He then circled round and did it again, and on his third circle beckoned me into the bushes. In both cases they were wearing hoodies so it was impossible to see their faces, and maddeningly impossible to be able to report them properly to the police…
New submission from Anonymous:
It was 9:40pm and I was walking home from the bus stop. I seemed to recall seeing a guy in a white shirt near the bus stop and he leaned forward towards me as I walked past. I didn’t hear him say anything because I had my headphones on. 300 meters later, I heard someone ran towards me and said “Excuse me, can I talk to you for a minute?”
I stopped walking and turned to him to see if he needed any help. Turned out he wanted to start a chat. I thanked him for his interest and replied that I would like to go home as my friend is waiting. I opened the gate to my building and he kept the door open and tried to follow me into the building.
I stopped and said, “What is this for? Why are you coming into someone’s building?”
He was being persistent and kept insisting that he just want to have a talk with me. “I just want to talk to you and I am asking you in the nicest way possible.”
This was when I noticed that he was holding a glass bottle with him. Not sure if he has been drinking but the whole situation made me feel vulnerable and threatened.
I said “Thank you again but I need to go home.” While I started walking away towards the stairs, he said “Hey, why are you walking away from me?”
I walked as quickly as possible, opened my apartment and locked myself in, wished that he did not follow me in or figured out which unit I live in.
Last month, The Everyday Sexism Project and the End Violence Against Women Coalition launched their #SRENow campaign, and Hollaback London would like to state our full support for their call to make Sex and Relationships Education compulsory in all schools. We believe every child deserves simple, clear information about their rights, consent, and healthy relationships. Just as education is a fundamental human right, so too is education about sex and relationships, about our own bodies and how to respect other bodies.
The Women and Equalities Committee’s report into sexual harassment in schools speaks to the shocking truth that many girls and non-binary young people experience. A key part of Hollaback London’s work is story sharing, so we welcome the fact that the core of the report and call for #SRENow is based on what young people have told us. The report highlights how many young people, particularly girls, experience a daily routine of normalised harassment; from catcalls to groping to what are typically classified as more serious sex crimes. 5500 sex crimes in UK schools were reported to the police in 2012-2015, including 600 rapes. Taking into account the average length of the school term, that adds up to one rape reported in a UK school every school day. It’s impossible for young people to be confident in their rights to their own body when information about healthy sexual experiences isn’t available, and the information they’re getting from harmful stereotypes seen everyday in the media only serves to confuse and contort ideas about sex and relationships. Slutshaming and “laddish” peer pressure are currently accepted as core factors of the teenage school experience, and that doesn’t need to be the case.
A myth currently pervading about SRE is that our children are too young to be learning about sex, that this kind of education would intrude and teach them things they would have no prior experience of, that it could come dangerously early in their sexual lives. This simply isn’t true: A recent BBC survey revealed that a quarter of 12-year olds and 60% of 14-year olds had seen online pornography. At Hollaback London, we regularly receive reports of street harassment, workplace harassment, and classroom harassment – perpetrated by fellow students and by older men around the school – from teenage girls. It’s entirely possible to deliver this education in simple, age-appropriate ways, and there are already expertly trained outside organisations and specialised PSHE teachers well equipped to deliver this information, if only the resources and mandate in the curriculum were instated.
To end street harassment and all forms of violence against women and girls, we know that we need a cultural, social shift in attitudes to these acts. This starts at schools, when children are beginning to explore their sexual identities and beginning to understand their rights to their own bodies. #SRENow have done the research and every expert says compulsory Sex and Relationships Education is where we need to start. It can no longer be left up to chance whether a girl can identify if she has been raped or not, if a boy knows how to respond to a partner who says “no”, if an LGBTQIA child has any information on how to have healthy sex that isn’t just a description of heterosexual reproduction – these biological basics are currently the only thing schools are required to teach.
We firmly believe that if people were better educated from youth about communicating in a healthy way about sex and relationships, enabled to have healthy understandings of their own sexual identity and the diversity of others’ identities, to have clear understandings of consent and boundaries, the fight to end street harassment would be one big step closer to success.
Demand compulsory SRE now by signing the campaign’s petition, emailing Education Secretary Justine Greening or tweeting her. Find out more at sre.now.org and read the open letter to the Prime Minister and Education Secretary signed by Hollaback London’s co-founder, Bryony Beynon.
New submission from anon
A few weeks ago I was waiting for my sister outside of Whitechapel tube, wearing sunglasses and headphones and standing by myself. Suddenly I was aware of someone up close in my personal space so I looked up (usually I avoid making eye contact while waiting as it more often than not results in an unwanted interaction) and this man muttered something at me. Obviously I couldn’t hear him with my headphones in so I just said “No!” and moved away. My sister arrived a few minutes later and we were waiting to cross the street and suddenly this guy is up close behind us again and he spat in my sister’s hair! For no reason, just ran up behind us and spat at her and then ran away grinning. I started screaming at him to get away and f*ck off while everyone around us just stared.
I saw him again today. He was throwing a newspaper up in the air repeatedly and wandering very close to other women waiting to cross the street (again, outside Whitechapel tube on Whitechapel High Street). Beware, ladies. If anyone comes into your personal space in this area move away immediately – he is gross and unpredictable.
New submission from Anon:
I was at Notting Hill Carnival this weekend and had been having such a great time. I was wearing what could be described as “skimpy” clothing but I literally thought nothing of it because a) I have the right to wear whatever I want, b) because I was with a massive group of people and felt really safe, c) one of the people I was with was my boyfriend who was dancing with me and just near me the whole time and d) I have never had a shitty experience at Carnival ever. For most of the day everything was totally fine and as I was walking to another stage I felt someone grope my bum really bloody hard. I turned around and couldn’t see anyone who could’ve done it bar this group of guys, all of whom were walking away not saying anything, not even looking at me. I grabbed one of them and said ‘what the hell!!’ but they all looked at me like a crazy person and just kept telling me to chill out. My boyfriend, who’s generally great did absolutely nothing, and I was left feeling really frustrated and violated. I wanted to say to him, “why didn’t you do something?” but nothing would’ve been the right response and that’s what’s so unfair.