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Nikki Owen: this is a message for men


At the time of writing this, another man raped a woman, this time over in Highnam, near Gloucester. The woman who survived – my thoughts are with her, it’s where my words fail.

So, this is a message for men. We need you to hear this. Because you need to know what it’s like for us—all the time. And it’s by you understanding what’s acceptable and not, we might stand a chance at stopping sexual violence. 

Last week, it was raining. I was waiting for someone, ironically a BBC Points West producer, to do an interview about the recent sexual assaults in Stroud and our response to it, i.e. launching a lobby group, Enough’s Enough, and staging a protest march on 17 September at 11 am. The rain came down heavy. I didn’t have a brolly, so I ducked under the tunnel, so I didn’t get soaked. I absentmindedly checked my messages, and when I looked back up, I noticed a loading truck parked with two workmen in hi-viz jackets. 

At first, I didn’t think anything of it, so much was I on my phone, sorting out some work stuff. But then I began to notice. Now and then, one of the workers, in particular, would stare at me. I’m not talking about a flirtatious smile here. No. Instead, it was a hard stare, unapologetic in its consistency, the kind of stare that said, I have a right to look at you. I didn’t know where to look, so I rechecked my phone. Maybe he’d stop, I thought, but no, sure enough, when I raised my head again, there he was, staring. I’m a strong woman, but that stare began to get to me. The rain was heavier, the sky darker, and even though the other man in the truck was present, his colleague kept glancing over. The fact that it was daytime gave me no reassurance – assaults have happened in daylight, and even if I was okay now, would they clock my face and remember me when they saw me again?

The fact was, I didn’t know. And that’s the issue, isn’t it? That, as women, we don’t know. And men don’t always realise this. Except, on that day, these two did. Because, once the producer called to say they were ready for the interview, I had to leave the tunnel, and as I did, I went into auto-pilot-duck-my-head-and-scurry, then I paused, thought of the women men had assaulted. I got brave, stopped at the truck, took a deep breath – and knocked on the window.  “Hi,” I said, “I noticed you were both, particularly you, Sir, were staring at me when I was in the tunnel.” They immediately went into denial. “No, no,” I said, slicing through, “it’s not up for debate; you were.”

I then told them how intimidating it was for me and that, as women, we can never know if that stare is a threat. They were surprised. Something so blase to them was everything to me. It hit a chord. To my surprise, they apologised. I then told them about the recent assaults and the protest on 17 September. Then, my heart rate slamming, I left. 

I’d like to say this sort of thing is unusual, but it’s not. The day I wrote this article, a builder followed me a little when I was running, so I stopped. He seemed surprised, and I told him that it seemed as if he were walking after me, and it spooked me. This time, there was no apology or understanding – just laughter. He laughed at me, that kind of laugh that says you’re being ridiculous. I didn’t like it. I went quiet and ran off, with my keys in my hand, just in case (ask any woman – we use keys as protection; most men, even those close to us, don’t realise this).

Men, hear us. We need you to talk, learn and listen. I don’t have all the answers but I do know conversation helps. We need the law to do better, the media to do better, and for men to step up. See you at the protest march.

Enough’s Enough march to demand an end to sexual violence against women and girls is on 17 September, 11 am, meeting on the green outside the Lock Keeper’s Cafe, Stroud. 

Protest day helpers are needed. See https://www.facebook.com/Enoughs-Enough-104969892321799

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