Aimee Richardson tweeted that she was groped getting off the school bus at 14 years old. She was told that “boys would be boys” and to take it as a compliment. Another woman, who goes by the Twitter handle Savvie_sez, recounted an instance at 15, walking down the street, when a man walked up to her and reached his hand down her shirt. At that age, she didn’t know that was considered assault, and never told anyone.
— Aimee Richardson (@Aimee_P_R) May 8, 2014
— Ali. (@savvie_sez) May 8, 2014
These are just two of the thousands of responses to a tweet from Everyday Sexism, a UK-based anti-sexual harassment project, asking women of Twitter to share instances where they had been inappropriately grabbed in public places. The hashtag #grabbed was used more than 6,000 times in a few hours, and the results were predictably disturbing.
“All the answers have been horrifying, but perhaps most shocking of all is how many of them have come from very young girls,” said Laura Bates, founder of Everyday Sexism. “Often either at school or in their school uniform in public spaces when they experienced the unwanted grabbing or groping.” One example is a woman calling herself Calamity Bellatrix. She tweeted that she remembered being felt up and grabbed at her desk at school, and that she didn’t feel safe.
I remember sitting at my desk at school, being felt up and #grabbed by guys sitting behind me. I didn't feel safe. At school.
— Calamity Bellatrix (@CarrieBellatrix) May 8, 2014
While most of the respondents recalled instances in their youth, recent events show age does not seem to remedy the problem. In the U.S., college campuses have had to seriously crack down on sexual assault after a White House report named 55 schools that will be under investigation. The White House said last week that one in five college women have fallen victim to sexual assault, usually within the first two years. A website, Notalone.gov, has been set up that provides resources on dealing with sexual assault for students and schools. It also features a statement from President Barack Obama assuring victims that he has their back.
The problem with most of these responses is that often sexual assault isn’t recognized, sometimes even by the victim, as something truly serious. One on hand, it’s mildly insulting to the entire male gender to say we need a law prohibiting them from grabbing random women’s breasts on the street. On the other hand, there are more than 6,000 women who could have benefited from that.
“There is an enormous gulf between what women are protected from by law and what society has normalized to such an extent that they receive the message they should just get used to it and not make a fuss,” Bates said. “Countless testimonies added to the #Grabbed hashtag specifically mentioned that the victim had been silenced - told it was a joke, or they were making a big deal about nothing.”
In the UK, where the hashtag was trending within an hour of the first tweet, the legal definition of sexual assault is “when somebody touches you intentionally, the touching is sexual and you do not consent.” In the U.S. the EEOE says it is illegal to make “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature,” in the workplace. France, a country with a rampant street harassment problem, is trying to implement a law against catcalling and unwanted advances in public.
Yet, the problem has become so common, that many believed it was too trivial to even talk about, until Everyday Sexism brought it up.