Increasingly I feel awkward and embarrassed when walking around my city. Most mornings, upon leaving my house, I attract the attention of at least one lecherous motorist, or a pair of wayward builders. When I step out into the open, I am stepping into a man’s world, where I must be reserved yet sexual, demure yet demanding, and attractive, without allowing myself to become an exhibit.
But what women have accepted as the norm for a lifetime – some of my friends even find it “flattering” – is now attracting retaliation. Blogger London Feminist launched a twitter hash-tag encouraging people to share experiences of street harassment and sexual abuse that they had never reported.
The response to #Ididnotreport was extraordinary, demonstrating the overwhelming social stigma that still exists around “low-level” gender-based abuse. Some tweeted: “#Ididnotreport because reporting the first time ruined my life,” and others: “#Ididnotreport because some ‘friends’ think that you shouldn’t cause a scene when a stranger puts his hand between your legs.”
The ‘taboo’ subject attracted the attention of public figures. Brave and moving was Laurie Penny’s contribution: “#Ididnotreport the man who date-raped me when I was 19. I did tell mutual friends, who called me a liar.”
Out of solidarity, I felt moved to offer my own experience – a possessive and jealous ex-boyfriend who manipulated me until I felt so worthless that I didn’t know I deserved better.
Some criticise the modern dependence on social media as a dangerous move away from accountability and interaction, to anonymity. But #Ididnotreport has given new levels of depth to Virginia Woolf’s belief that: “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” Anonymous is still a woman, but now faceless interaction has allowed us to share and assimilate in a way never before possible.
Twitter has given women a platform to tell the world the things they were too scared to tell their families, friends, or the police. As a collective, women who have suffered abuse silently become a more powerful voice than they could ever have been alone.
On the same day, parenting forum Mumsnet launched their “We Believe You” campaign. Like #Ididnotreport, the campaign aims firstly to bring into the open the huge number of rapes and sexual assault that are inflicted on the ‘weaker sex’, and secondly to pull apart the many myths surrounding rape that lead to women not reporting sexual assault out of the fear they will not be believed.