Leamington woman speaks out about being a victim of public sexual harassment - The Leamington Observer

Leamington woman speaks out about being a victim of public sexual harassment

Catherine Thompson 5th Feb, 2021 Updated: 8th Feb, 2021   0

A MEDICAL student from Leamington says she has been a victim of public sexual harassment since she was 11-years-old.

Amaka – who does not wish to disclose her surname – said the first incident happened on a bus journey home from school, when a man stroked her shoulder for the entire 20 minute trip.

Since then she says she has experienced sexual harassment – defined by law as intimidating, hostile, degrading or as violating the victim’s dignity – for nearly half her life.

Other incidents include a group of men slowing down as they passed the 21-year-old on her bike, to shout racial slurs at her, forcing Amaka to change her route to avoid running into them.

She described the impact of the harassment on her daily life: “The fear of harassment, coupled with internalised victim blaming, means I feel I have to change my own behaviours in order to reduce my chances of being harassed. After I was targeted during my normal cycle routine, I changed my route and the time of day to avoid encountering the perpetrators again.

“The places where I have been a victim of street harassment are often tainted with feelings of anxiety for quite some time after an incident- even the high street in town can make my chest tighten and my heart race.

Amaka, who believes the colour of her skin causes her to be more of a target, added: “I also experience racial comments – references to and slurs about my skin colour – that I know would not be made towards me if I wasn’t a black woman.”

Finally, last year, a chance meeting helped provide Amaka with hope and strength to deal with the discrimination she faced daily. The student now campaigns with a movement known as Our Streets Now which aims to make the law clearer around sexual harassment offences.

She told the Observer: “Until I met Maya, co-founder of Our Streets Now, at the women’s march last year, I’d accepted that public sexual harassment was simply a part of life – something to accept and get on with, even though it had lasting effects on my mental health.

“Its campaigns all carry the same priority of intersectionality and inclusivity. There is such an emphasis on amplifying marginalised voices, and recognising that all aspects of individuals’ identities add up to form how the world sees them. Since joining the team I have learnt so much and felt so empowered in the fight against it.

“I think one of the reasons it’s still so rampant today, even in a pandemic, is that this behaviour is often dismissed and downplayed as something that isn’t serious.

“Covid has also exposed the truth behind myths associated with public sexual harassment – receiving comments while half my face is covered by a mask just serves as proof that it has nothing to do with ‘complimenting’.”

Movement co-founders Gemma and Maya Tutton say they want to create a society in which harassment is no longer a ‘normal’ part of being female.

They added: “Public sexual harassment is a blight on the lives of women and girls in the UK and our new research shows the urgency with which this problem must be tackled. The glaring holes in UK legislation are the best place to start.

“A specific, stand-alone criminal offence would finally give women and girls proper, effective legal protection from sexual harassment in public. Across the world, countries have put specific legislation in place to address public sexual harassment in its entirety – the UK is lagging behind. Over 200,000 people have signed our petition calling on parliament to recognise this is a crime, not a compliment. Now is the time for take action. We deserve to feel and be safe in public space.”

Humanitarian charity Plan International UK and Our Streets Now are asking the public to join the campaign and to call on MPs to help make public sexual harassment a crime. Visit www.plan-uk.org/crimenotcompliment to find out more.

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