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Our Streets Now: Snapshots of Sexual Harassment

For the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based violence in 2020, I partnered with campaigning group Our Streets Now on a photo series highlighting student's experiences of sexual harassment at university. The aim of the campaign was to raise awareness about sexual violence on campus and Our Schools Now - the latest educational resource and campaign from OSN.

You can read full coverage of the campaign in The Tab.
You can listen to an episode of The Cheer Up Luv Podcast speaking to Our Streets Now here.

“At the start of term last year, I used to get the train into University for a 9am lecture. Naturally, the train was full of commuters and would always be super crowded, but as I only had to ride 3 stops it never bothered me particularly. After living in London for 2 years, crowded public transport was something I was used to. However, about 3 weeks into my term, whilst I was on the train with my headphones in, a man probably not much older than I was grabbed my headphones and yanked them out, asking if he could ‘have a listen’ before proceeding to press his face against my ear and whisper sexually explicit comments to me. I grabbed my headphones, but because the carriage was so crowded I wasn't able to move away from him. Waiting for my stop felt excruciatingly long, as he kept staring at me until I eventually got off. I remember feeling nauseous for the rest of the day and after that I never got on the rush hour train again. Choosing instead to get up an hour earlier so I could get the bus or walk instead. Sexual harassment on public transport is so commonplace and travelling at peak times is the worst because the busier it is, the more emboldened perpetrators often feel, in my experience.“ - Maisie (photo on left)

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Arden

“In my first year of uni, I would always go to the weekly jazz night at the local student bar. One night, I noticed a guy staring at me from across the room. After a while, he came up to me and told me that I was beautiful, that he had seen me there before, and always looked at me from across the bar. I didn't think much of this at first, he seemed pretty harmless and it was even kind of flattering. However, as the weeks went on this gradually escalated, making me feel increasingly uncomfortable. Almost every week he would come up to me, profusely compliment me, try to touch me, follow me about, or just stare at me from the other side of the room. Once, I went to the bathroom alone, and when I came out, he was waiting for me outside. He cornered me and tried to kiss me. On another occasion, after he had come up to me at the bar, I went out into the smoking area with a friend in the hopes of avoiding him. He followed us outside however, and proceeded to touch my hair, then grabbed my hand and started caressing it. I'm an extremely anxious person, and really didn't know how to handle the situation. I didn't want to directly confront him, so just tried to make it clear that I wasn't interested , but he didn't stop, even after I lied and told him that I was already in a relationship with someone. One night, I felt so uncomfortable that I just left the bar early by myself. Every time I went back I felt on edge, as though I had to be constantly on the lookout in case he was there.”

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Rachel

“I was doing my bachelor’s degree at University of Warwick, and I’m now doing my master’s at Birkbeck. Having been in lockdown for the duration of my master’s so far, my experiences with sexual harassment occurred mostly at Warwick. During my first week, there was a guy who seemed interested in me and would always talk to me before lectures. But one night, I was out with him and a few other people, and he invited me to dance with him. I told him no. ‘Okay, so we’ll go mingle then,’ he said. I told him I didn’t want to. ‘C’mon, we either dance or we go mingle.’ He wasn’t taking no for an answer, and one of the other people we were with noticed there was a problem and asked if I wanted to leave. Later on, I told him I had a boyfriend, and after that he left me alone.In my final year of uni, I dated my first girlfriend. When I rejected a man on a night out and told him I had a girlfriend, he let me know that, ‘I’ve been known to turn lesbians bi.’
When I told him I was bi, he seemed unsure how to answer. Not long after my girlfriend and I broke up, one of the first men I started sleeping with after her gave me a proposition, ‘The other girl I’m seeing is bi too. Would you maybe want to…?’ He was suggesting a threesome. I’ve always hated the assumption that because a woman is bi, she’s therefore doing it for male attention and will automatically have a threesome. I’d never seen or met this girl before in my life, nor did I even know her name, so the proposition was really uncomfortable for me.”

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Megan

“In September, I took my best friend up to Liverpool, where I study, for a girls trip. We visited Liverpool, Blackpool and Manchester. One night we were walking back to our hotel in Manchester, it was dark and around 10pm, so people were coming out onto the streets from all the restaurants, bars and pubs. Whilst walking back to our hotel, a group of men spotted us and started shouting ‘compliments’ at us. We kept walking, upping our pace, eyes straight ahead, trying to ignore them. Seconds later, the guys were running to catch up to us. They stopped us, none of them wearing masks and begged for our numbers. I refused, saying my phone was dead, but they’d seen my friends phone wasn’t so kept on till she eventually gave them her number. With headlines across the world of women being physically and sexually assaulted, even killed for not accepting advances, she gave her real number, which we would block as soon as they called. They kept inviting us to their hotel and we kept stating that we weren’t interested. This approach wasn’t working, so we said we had to go freshen up then we would come, even though we had no intention of going. This eventually caused them to leave, and we walked back. I caught sight of them and we tried to hide, but they saw us and the harassment started up again. ‘Come back with us, give us your number, give me your social media, what’s you name’. Again, we made excuses just long enough for them to leave. This time we managed to get to the hotel without anyone following us. We blocked their numbers as soon as they called, and luckily never saw them again.”

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Queenie

"He was a course mate. No one spoke to him for the first term. I felt bad, so we struck up a conversation outside a lecture hall one day. He asked to go for a coffee and I said sure, making friends never did anyone any harm. It escalated from there. I started getting cards and presents left outside my building with my name on it. I told him to stop, and he took that to mean ‘more please’. I got lewd messages in the middle of the night, then it became graphic messages of what he wanted to do to me while we were both sitting in the same lecture. My course mates had to walk me home after every lecture when I realised he was following me. After work at night, I'd run the 5 minute walk home because I was afraid he'd be waiting for me. He photoshopped texts that were supposedly from me and sent them to my then boyfriend. I started hearing whispers about how I'd led him on and how I was trying to pin the blame on him. I went to my faculty dean and she promised to speak to him. She told me that I could make a formal complaint, but to remember that it would have a detrimental impact on his future. She told me that I'd be ruining his chances of finding a good job. I felt disgusted, yet so scared. I told her I'd drop the complaint because I couldn't go through living with ruining someone else's life. Whenever we had the same lectures, I felt him watching me.  I applied for extenuating circumstances due to the immense stress. I was told because I'd dropped the complaint, that it couldn't be considered.  Four years on, I'm still afraid that I'll walk into a client meeting and see him there.”

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Amaka

“I was walking along the pier of a local beach with a friend in the summer. It was reasonably crowded and we were heading to the sand to meet some of our friends. Squeezing past a group of people while chatting to my friend, a man quickly and suddenly snaked his arm around my waist and pulled me towards him. Initially I didn’t know what was going on because it happened so quickly, but my first instinct was to shout ‘don’t touch me’ and push him away. I got some weird stares from people around who I guess didn’t see what had happened, and my friend and I quickly rushed away. I hate having the sentiment of places that are special or peaceful to me, tainted or ruined by incidences and memories of sexual harassment. Sometimes I make it a point to power through the anxiety and reclaim those locations, re associating them with good experiences.”

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Alice

“I was 18 and had just started university. On a night out after a course social, I went to a club with other freshers and our assigned ‘buddies’ from older years. Throughout the night I avoided a guy in my year who insisted my freshers t-shirt needed to be ripped, like his and other guys had been. The club was small so he caught me off guard, grabbed my t-shirt at the neck and ripped it apart down the middle, exposing my bra. My buddy calmed me down, saying he was joking, so I let it go, not letting him ruin my night. My buddy and I were dancing together when he came back. He was standing opposite from me with her when he reached across and grabbed my breast hard. This time I got angry, shouting at him that he was wrong. He followed me trying to apologise, but I insisted he stay away from me. I felt the moment my bubble of excitement and confidence at being in a new city burst, and it was replaced with an overwhelming feeling of loneliness and anger at my naivety. No one was looking out for me and I wasn’t safe. My buddy, her friends, everyone I went to dismissed what had happened, until one kind girl stayed with me and helped me get home.”

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Meggie

“About a year ago, my boyfriend and I had ended up in a bar after an amazing night. I felt great, and was wearing my favourite dress. We decided to get take-away food. A random guy asked if we met that night, my boyfriend said we had been together a long time. Quickly, the guy started making disgusting comments about me: ‘I bet you f*ck her real good, I bet she likes it real dirty. Do you do her from behind? If I had a girl like that...’. He got louder and louder, my boyfriend kept saying it wasn’t okay, asking him to stop and leave us alone. A dozen people had formed around and just watched. Our food turned up and I grabbed my boyfriend’s hand and left the situation fast. As we walked away, I could still hear him making vulgar comments. The worst part. I slept at my boyfriend’s and I forgot to bring a change of clothes, I had to go to uni the next day wearing the same dress. At uni I told a friend what had happened and suddenly, I had never felt more self-conscious in my life, I kept replaying the comments repeatedly in my head. My day ended early as I talked myself out of a panic attack in the bathroom and ran home. I’ve never worn that dress again, but those comments replay in my head regularly.”

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Chanel

“I was coming back from campus in the dark. The street I was walking down was very quiet, but I was almost home. I noticed a guy walking on the opposite pavement in the same direction as me, I remember not thinking anything of it at first. But then he crossed the road so he was directly opposite and walked towards me. When he got closer, I noticed his eyes going up and down my body. He then asked me, ‘Why’s a girl like you walking in the dark alone?’ to which I ignored and continued walking. But he didn’t stop. He began walking closely alongside me and said, ‘Don’t you know what happens to girls when they’re alone at night?’ I started looking around in a panic to see if anyone else was near because I felt like I was in danger. I immediately felt my pace quicken and left him behind, shouting at me. Since then, I always felt slightly uneasy whenever I took that same route again and tried my best to avoid it even though it was around the corner from my house. Now I am always extra cautious of quiet roads when I’m alone, especially in the dark, and feel safer taking Uber’s than walking, literally anywhere.”

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