Hopefully, more open talk about sexual harassment will help to change things

By Catherine Ross

It hasn’t been a great couple of weeks for women in the news. Reeva Steenkamp, the South African model was shot dead by her superstar athlete boyfriend, Oscar Pistorious.

At least ten women have made allegations about former Liberal Democrat chief executive, Lord Rennard and his allegedly inappropriate behaviour.

Reports about how seriously the party took the allegations are inconsistent.

An IPCC report on a Met Police case where a man accused of rape was allowed to walk free and went on to murder his two children has revealed a police policy to manipulate crime statistics by failing to record sexual assault allegations. As a result, women who reported sexual attacks were urged to drop their cases.

Currently, Pistorious is being prosecuted, Rennard is being investigated. As for the Met, well, that was the ninth IPCC investigation into the way the force’s treatment of sexual violence victims. I can only hope that there won’t need to be a tenth.

While the amount of news coverage these stories attract doesn’t necessarily reflect a sudden increase in the number of women being attacked, molested or killed, it does come on the back of the horrific revelations about celebrity scumbag, Jimmy Savile. We seem more willing to talk about it than before.

Certainly there seems to be a culture shift. Increasingly, the rhetoric around “inappropriate behaviour” seems to be less accepting of tired old excuses like “it’s flattering” or “it’s just a bit of fun”. In fact, it’s not either of those things.

In case there was previously any shadow of doubt or any grey areas, the Savile investigation has made it absolutely clear that men (and particularly older men in positions of responsibility or seniority) don’t have carte blanche to touch or proposition any woman (or girl) they feel like. Hopefully, women are also learning that they don’t have to just accept it. We’ve all been there. I remember the first time I had my bottom groped. I was 15 and walking past a pool table in The Crown in Horsham. Unfortunately, the most recent occasion was just this week as I was walking up out of the tube station on my way to work.

The first time, I didn’t know any better than to let it slide and assume it was just a fact of life. This time, it happened so suddenly and I was so surprised that I didn’t do anything about it. Discussing it afterwards with a girlfriend, I wished I had the presence of mind to do as she suggested: grab his hand, raise it high in the air and shout “does anyone know who this hand belongs to; I just found it on my bum?”

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