"Don't look"

by Louise, a subscriber

I've been feeling angry lately, and betrayed, and I wanted to explain why

When I was a kid, growing up in Sheffield, my primary school was situated in an area that, for some reason, had a high prevalence of men indecently exposing themselves. About once or twice a year, I remember the police coming into school to warn us that another man had been seen showing his penis to people in the local area. We would be told to be vigilant, to keep ourselves safe, not walk home on our own, and report anyone who we saw behaving in this way.

My school was near a big park, with a wooded area. Often this is where the men would hang around, waiting for their victims, usually women and girls.

We didn't live within walking distance of school, so my mum would usually pick us up and drop us off. When I was around nine, my older sister was getting ready to go to secondary school. She was going to have to catch public transport on her own, so my mum decided it would be a good idea for us to practice catching the bus home from primary school together. It was a familiar route to us, so a good warm up for her.

Our bus stop was right by those woods. We weren't the only kids catching the bus without an adult. There was an older boy, from my sister's class, who caught the bus with us too. Sometimes, my sister and the boy would run off to play together, while we waited. They weren't so interested in having the annoying little sister hang around with them, meaning I was often left by myself at the bus stop.

One day, I went to try to find them in the woods. I couldn't, and then I got scared. I remembered all the stories of the men exposing themselves, and I didn't want that to happen to me. Being nine, I had no concept of rape, or sexual assault, but I knew, from the police warnings, that any man who might expose himself to me was a danger to me. I made my way back to the bus stop, and stood there, on my own, terrified that one of the men might find me. Not sure what I should do if they did, like a rabbit caught in the headlights.

I was lucky, there were no flashers around that day, and my sister and her friend returned back to the bus stop safely too. Our bus came and we made it home. I told my mum what had happened, how I'd been scared, and my sister and I never caught the bus home on our own again.

It's amazing to think that so many of today’s "feminist thinkers", such as Laurie Penny and Sally Hines, would tell nine-year-old me that my fear was my own fault, and all I had to do was not look. In fact, they would tell me, that if a man did expose himself, and I saw it, that this was somehow my fault, and that, extraordinarily, this would make the man the victim of my voyeurism, rather than me the victim of a sexually motivated crime.

This is not feminism. It is not social justice. It is not progressive. This is peak victim-blaming, bordering on rape apology. I hope one day these women are seen by society for exactly what they are, and I hope that day comes soon.