Last week on a night out, I was groped. Now, I know what you might be thinking: this happens all of the time, why make a big deal out of it when so much worse happens on a daily basis. And you’d be right. Sexual violence is a pandemic, which 1 in 3 women worldwide will experience in their lifetime. In the grand scheme of things what I want to talk about may be a seemingly minor incident, but the effect it had on me was unexpectedly profound. I would never hesitate to describe myself as a feminist and I’m all too familiar with the culture of victim blaming. When I see the Everyday Sexism twitter feed, I’m in awe of those taking a stand against their aggressors. If that happened to me, I say, I’d turn around and ask them why they think they can get away with it.
And yet. Itchy Feet is one of my favourite club nights, as it allows me to dance like an idiot to music which I can actually enjoy without consuming considerable amounts of alcohol beforehand. Last week was no exception, until, whilst jiving (at least, what I thought was jiving but would probably be best described as flailing), with my friends I felt a hand forcefully grab my arse. I swivelled round, shocked, but all I saw was a guy walking away towards his friends. However, my first thought was not whether I should go after him and call him out, or even I should go slap him, the prick. I froze. The first thing that went through my head after having someone I didn’t know invasively grab me without any kind of consent, was instead, What did I do to make him do that? Is my skirt too short? Am I dancing too provocatively? I stood still for a minute. I was dancing exuberantly, yes, but not in a way that anyone would consider alluring (as I said: flailing). My skirt was a modest polka-dot flippy dress and I hadn’t even been facing in the same direction as the tall guy in the stupid hat who I’d caught walking away. I felt a combination of disgust and shame, still conscious of his hand where he’d grabbed me. Then it suddenly dawned on me. This is not your fault, I remembered.
Why should it matter what I was wearing or how I was dancing? This guy had come downstairs, seen a girl dancing and decided, for no reason, to touch her inappropriately. He didn’t know me, he didn’t stay around to chat; he did it because he could. To him, I wasn’t a person who could feel offended by his actions; I was just a body, an object. I watched him nonchalantly buying another drink at the bar, still frozen whilst my around me people carried on dancing, oblivious. My friend asked me what was wrong and she listened, disgusted. Some people are so gross, she said.
What disturbed me the most was not what he did – I’ve been groped and harassed before, as have most of my female friends. No, what disturbed me was my own reaction to it. I, so against victim blaming and slut-shaming, I, who knows all of the statistics the facts, jumped straight to the conclusion that it was me who was to blame.
The Oxford University Sexism project recently marked its 50th entry since its inception at the end of last year and the OUSU Women’s Campaign has seen a huge increase in participation. Women – and men – are starting to rise up and say that no, we are not OK with this. It is not OK that students feel they are unable to walk home alone as soon as it gets dark. It is not OK that girls expect to get groped or followed around on a night out. It is not OK that talented students are belittled by tutors because of their gender. It is certainly not OK that victims of sexual assault feel that what happens to them is their fault, when the only person to blame is the person committing the assault. We all need to support these people and make sure they know this, because despite how informed you think you are there is always that niggling voice which whispers this is your fault.