This article contains detailed discussions of sexual violence, sexual harassment, rape culture, misogyny and gender-based violence.

A vigil held in Cambridge in remembrance of Sarah EverardAbby Pollock

“Can I f**k you aggressively from behind?”

For as long as I can remember, I have been taught to protect myself from the threat of sexual harassment. The focus had always been on me. What can I do to prevent being attacked? Whether it be through education, the media, or word-of-mouth, the message was clear: “this is how women can avoid sexual assault”. Never has there been an emphasis on educating men or boys on challenging male violence and abuse.

In the past few years, I have attended three different anti-bullying workshops. In all of the programmes we were taught about sexual abuse. I clearly remember sitting in a hall with about sixty fellow teenagers, constituting many different genders. While I had expected an interactive experience where each person would discover what they could do to tackle gender-based violence, I was sorely mistaken. Girls, and girls alone, were addressed. When it came to the topic of image-based sexual abuse, formerly known as revenge porn, we received a lecture on why young women should never send intimate pictures of themselves. If they did, there was a high chance that the receiver, described as a boy, would send them to his friends. All of the blame was pinned on the sender. Not once were the actions of the perpetrator questioned or even spoken about. The boys in the room got to sit back, chatting, wondering what they would do later that evening. Meanwhile, the rest of us had to face being shamed for, hypothetically, someone else sharing our sexual photos. Victim blaming was alive and well.

“In the wake of the Our Streets Now movement and more recently the tragic murder of Sarah Everard, I became aware of my subconscious view that street harassment was “no big deal””

At another workshop, we watched a five-minute video depicting a fictional young woman who had sent nudes of herself to another person. For dramatic effect, these pictures were printed on the front of her house, where the front door was left open. We then saw several older men walking past the house and on some occasions even entering it. The idea being portrayed was that if you send private images on the Internet, you face anybody being able to access them. But where was the mention of the intruding men? Why weren’t the boys in the room being instructed on the negative attitudes toward women and gender minorities which sustain and promote this abuse?

Looking back now, what I find most dangerous about the lessons I have referred to is that they seemed to normalise sexual harassment and abuse. It was as if the part played by the man was a given, so what could the potential victim do to prevent it? “Boys will be boys”.

I regret to say that for a long time, this presumption stuck with me. I recall walking with a female friend along a quiet rural road in the West of Ireland during the summer when I was fourteen. A car with four men in their early twenties stopped next to us. The driver proceeded to ask if we wanted a lift. After repeatedly saying no, he continued to beg for us to get in. After some time, they drove off, shouting “f**k you, sluts” as they left. We both shrugged this off as common behaviour, the product of our society.


Mountain View

Violence and harassment: A Varsity statement of solidarity

Just last year, as I was walking home from a tram station in Dublin City at only six o’clock in the evening, I was approached by a man who asked: “can I f**k you aggressively from behind?”. This event occurred on my own street, on my way home from school. Despite feeling terrified at the time, it did not even occur to me to report this incident. I had been an active participant in multiple workshops, and I tend to be an outspoken person, yet when I was confronted with these situations, I did not have the tools to deal with them.

Rape culture is so frighteningly entrenched in our societies, that I had not thought much of these experiences when they happened. Rather, I wondered what I could do to protect myself from sexual assault: I could change my routes home, alter my clothing choices, or travel at different times. I cannot think of a single instance where the onus was squarely placed on the male, and how he should educate himself to intervene and prevent these violent expressions of misogyny.

In the wake of the Our Streets Now movement and the horrifying revelation that 97% of females in our age group have experienced harassment, I became aware of my subconscious view that street harassment was “no big deal”.

I will now challenge anyone who thinks or believes this narrative. Any form of gender-based violence is serious and needs to be treated as such. I am sick and tired of blaming myself, and I am sick and tired of living in a society which blames me too. This impatience led me to creating a petition to tackle the epidemic of gender-based violence in Ireland. I feel I cannot be a bystander anymore. This is not a woman’s problem, sexual harassment is the fault of the perpetrator every single time. I yearn for the day when this manifestation of male power and dominance is no longer a talking point, but a turning point in history.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, the following organisations provide support and resources: