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FOCUS: “It’s almost like a part of life, it's shocking"

FOCUS: “It’s almost like a part of life, it's shocking

Monday 15 March 2021

FOCUS: “It’s almost like a part of life, it's shocking"


Women in Jersey have opened up to Express about their experiences of being sexually harassed, and what they do to protect themselves at night, to help start a local conversation around women's safety.

Last week’s news of the death of 33-year-old Sarah Everard in South London - combined with the findings of a recent YouGov survey exposing the extent of sexual harassment against women in the UK - have prompted thousands of women to take to social media to share their views.

While Jersey is considered by many to be a ‘safe' place, these national conversations have prompted local women to speak out about their experiences to show that there are also issues to be addressed locally.

This week, Express will be sharing a series of articles on their experiences of sexual harassment of varying degrees, and reflections on what can be done to make the island a safer place. Readers might find some of their experiences distressing. 

As she read the reports from other women online, Jane* says she “automatically” started going through her mind and thinking about what had happened to her.

“Perhaps because it’s so normalised - at the moment you do not think about labelling it as 'sexual harassment', but looking back you realise that it is."  

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Pictured: Women have taken to social media to share their experiences of sexual harassment.

Her words echo those of Deputy Carina Alves, who says it’s often difficult to recognise what is sexual harassment, “because it just becomes so normal."

“Being brushed up against, having your bum pinched - it’s almost like a given, you expect it to happen,” she says. “It happens quite a lot over here in nightclubs. It’s almost like an acceptable event, it’s expected. 

“I am married, I wear my wedding ring and you would think it’s a deterrent, but it’s not.”

Jane says the majority of instances happened when she was between the age of 14 and her early 20s. 

“Things started to slow down around the age of 22 or 23,” she says. “It’s quite distressing to think that I was more vulnerable and more of a target when I was younger.”

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Pictured: "Being brushed up against, having your bum pinched, it’s almost like a given, you expect it to happen,” Deputy Carina Alves said.

Over the years, Jane has experienced men “leering” at her, wolf whistling, sending her unwanted imagery, a taxi driver making propositions to her while taking a detour to drive her home, as well as men exposing themselves “in full view of teenage girls."

When she was working in bars, she also had to contend with the indecent comments from customers with little to no help from managers, who told her to just brush them off.

This “constant omnipresence of a feeling of not being safe”, Jane says, leads to a feeling of claustrophobia that is hard, if not impossible, to shake. 

For Kelci (30), it started when she was as young as 12. "I was a child," she reflects.

"I think throughout my whole life, I have always experienced boys or men, men of a certain age as well, staring, making comments, cat calling… You can be walking to work in broad daylight, before 09:00, but you have people shouting things out of car windows, stopping their car next to you, and they say really grotesque things. I do not know how men think that it’s ok to say things like that.

“It makes you feel so uncomfortable when you are just trying to go about your business. It’s disgusting that it’s so common. 

“It seems to have been normalised, it’s something that we have become accustomed to, it’s like it’s something that’s normal but it’s not. It’s a very real fear for us."

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Pictured: "You can be walking to work in broad daylight, before 09:00, but you have people shouting things out of car windows," Kelci said.

23-year-old Jasmine was 16 when she first experienced sexual harassment and has since experienced it “many times”. There are, however, two events she remembers distinctly.

“I was at an event when I was 19 and someone came up behind me, wrapped their arms around my front and groped the front of me from behind,” she says. “Not long after, someone in a club asked me if I had a boyfriend, I said, 'Yes,' and they said, ‘Ok, just a kiss then,’ and moved in and tried to kiss me.”

Jasmine often talks with her female friends about their experiences, such as “being shouted at or whistled at from cars, or being groped on a night out”, especially if they are together when it happens.

She has also discussed her experiences with the men around her and, while they are generally supportive and try to be understanding, she says they have no idea of the extent of the issue.

“It is alarming how surprised they are at how common it is that women are made to feel uncomfortable in situations which men often take for granted,” she said. 

Mary*, who is now 48, says that, as she is getting older, there is less attention on her which somehow makes things easier. Now, she adds, she is however seeing people watch her 13-year-old “baby-faced” daughter.

“It’s been a couple of years since I have been catcalled,” she says. “I have started to get a bit of peace which is lovely but the thought of having that feeling and fear does not go away.

“You grow up and you are subjected to it. At 20 years old, I was followed, approached, touched in a club…”

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Pictured: "It is really important to highlight that Jersey is safe, but it does not take away from that fear," Mary said.

“It is a minority, 99% of people are not going to be do doing anything,” she adds. “It is really important to highlight that Jersey is safe, but it does not take away from that fear. You are constantly on guard; you never have that piece of mind. I do not want my daughter’s generation to have this automatic thought.”

Mary, like many other women, didn’t report what she had experienced.

”It does not even cross your mind to report it because it’s such an accepted thing, it’s commonplace.” 

There is also a fear of backlash, she says, when standing up to a man who has grabbed you or harassed you verbally. “You don’t want that to backfire on you,” she says. “You do not know how to react.”

Kelci also says she has felt that she had to put up with things in fear of how the man involved would react.

“I could be with someone and someone says something like, ‘best legs in Jersey.' You do not want to be aggressive in case they turn aggressive - you just want to smile, but then they take that as an invitation when you just want to walk away,” she says.

Jane says you have to “go along as though you are interested to avoid a violent reaction”. 

“There is a fear that it will turn violent if you reject them,” she says. “You have to weigh up in your head and think do I accept that I am about to be sexually assaulted or do I fight back and accept that I will be physically assaulted in a different way.”

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Pictured: ”It does not even cross your mind to report it because it’s such an accepted thing, it’s common place.” 

Mary explains that there is also another layer of backlash to consider: when women speak out, they are often blamed for the actions of the perpetrator or told they are exaggerating or lying.

“The fact I do not want to be named is quite telling,” she says. “I do not think women are at a stage that we can talk about it. A lot of the stuff you cannot talk about.”

Kelci hopes that with the “social media outpouring” that has been seen recently, more women will start talking about their experiences. 

“They have probably all experienced some form of [sexual harassment],” she says. “It’s almost like a part of life, it’s shocking.” 

*Names changed to protect anonymity.

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