#NotGuilty: Facing sexual antagonism

Good times. A long planned evening with my friend. I had not seen her in a long time as we both studied in different cities. We had a lot to catch up on.  So we met in a quiet, cosy restaurant in the small town where we used to go to high school together. The only people there were the owner of the restaurant, another couple with their dog and us. We had a great time – until you came in: two big, tall men, late 20s or early 30s. You sat down at the table next to us. You kept looking at us. We noticed, but did not respond.

You started talking to us. You demanded we should have drinks with you. We said, “Thank you, that is very kind of you, but we don’t want to have any drinks.” We were really apologetic. Maybe because society tells young women they should understand such advances as compliments. Maybe because we were afraid of the consequences.

You would not accept our “No”. You kept interrupting us and you kept demanding that we drank with you. You started getting aggressive. I started getting afraid. My friend was noticeably nervous. I said firmly, “Leave us in peace.” You got angry. You started shouting at us “You ugly bitches, who do you think you are? We came here to have a good time and you are ruining it.”

You got angrier. You got money out of your wallet, threw it at us and said: “Dance for us, sluts”. You would not leave us in peace for a minute. We were afraid, really afraid. No one else intervened. Should we call the police? Or would the police be annoyed because they have more important things to do? Because really, this was not an uncommon situation. It was just another experience of intense sexual harassment.

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My friend was in slight panic. She went to the bathroom. When she left, one of you walked over to me. You leaned over to me, two inches between our faces. You yelled at me. You were insulting me, calling me an arrogant slut, an asshole, an ugly bitch. I started shaking. You went over to the bar with your friend, ordered more drinks. I rang the police and asked for help. They said it would take around 30 minutes before they arrived; it is a rural area.

You both realised I had rung the police and left the restaurant.

We were relieved. But only for a moment, until the owner of the restaurant walked over to us. He had  not helped us. Instead, he had continued to serve drinks  to our harassers. He started blaming us. “Did you ring the police? Why are you presenting my restaurant in such a bad light? Why are you causing trouble?”

We were shocked. We just wanted to leave. But we were seriously afraid of leaving the restaurant at night by ourselves. We were afraid you were waiting for us outside.  We asked the couple in the restaurant to accompany us to my car. We drove to the police station.

I met one of you, the harassers from that night, in court again. You already had a previous criminal record. I saw you sitting there. Nothing was left of your aggressive, intimidating behaviour. You were rather quiet that day. And I almost commiserated with you. Just like me, you were born into a society which tolerates violence against girls and women. At least you were found guilty that day.

This is just one example from of a long list of unpleasant experiences. There have been countless cat calls, inappropriate sexual comments, insults after rejection, and attempts to grope me.

All these incidents intimidated me. They turned me into someone who would call Oxford University Security Services just for reassurance on a dark, lonely walk home.

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In the end, however, it was my community that made a strong person out of me again. Family and friends. And empowering discussions on the subject here in Oxford. And it will be campaigns such as #NotGuilty that will make girls and women stronger again. Each of my female friends has her own, similar story. Some of them are rape stories.