As a Black Woman, My Cries of Sexual Assault and Harassment Were Ignored
London, 2006 and I lived at an exclusive apartment complex in Kensington, West London. It was a Saturday morning, I took a short trip to the supermarket to buy some groceries. I noticed a dark-haired male, about 5ft 10 inches tall starting at me. With a deadly stare, a sickening smile on his face, I hurriedly picked items from shelves and quickly checked out and left. He followed me, every time I stopped and turned around, he would slow down. I got to the apartment complex and decided to walk on, I didn’t want him to know where I was staying. I crossed the street to a busier area and went to a coffee shop.
The weird guy followed, I decided to do something about it and told the manager of the coffee shop. He brushed it off by saying:
“You are pretty, most guys would want to get to know you, it’s normal, don’t worry about it.”
I sipped my coffee, shaking with fear, I called a friend who lived close by and she agreed to come and spend the evening with me. The guy rushed off as soon as he saw me with my friend. I thought that was the end of it, I was wrong.
When I arrived at my apartment complex, the front desk clerk informed me that I had a phone call. He said the person asked for the young lady in apartment two, my apartment number was four, not two. I asked him what the person sounded like and he said the man had a french accent. I dismissed it, must have been a mistake.
Later in the evening, the apartment phone rang, it was a French guy. My friend grabbed the phone politely told him to “F**k off!” The phone kept ringing, we reported it to the front desk. They said we should just unplug the phone, it must be the wrong number.
Eventually, my friend looked out the window to see the crazy guy outside pacing up and down. Smiling and trying to look in the window, we reported it again and this time, we called the police. They arrived, they told him to leave, they explained that since he hadn't tried to attack me, there was nothing they could do.
For the next week, this guy kept coming, he would whistle at me and shout “sexy” but he would never come close enough to touch me. I felt threatened, terrified and violated. However, the police ignored my cries, the staff also ignored my cries. I moved out of the apartment complex to a more secure building and a few weeks later, I had a phone call from the police.
Two white females had reported that a man fitting the same description had attacked them in the same area. They wanted me to provide a statement and identify him. I agreed and lo and behold! He turned out to be the weird guy. He had attempted to rape one lady and harassed and groped another.
I gave my statement willingly but I was furious at the fact that I had reported this guy countless times and I was ignored. These women could have been spared the trauma if I had been taken seriously.
I remember the smirk on the police officers face when I struggled to catch my breath and explain what had happened. He just seemed completely unbothered by my fears.
I recently read an article about the UK’s efforts to provide safe havens for women. Supermarkets are now open to women who feel afraid, women who feel unsafe when walking the streets. If you feel unsafe, you can walk into any supermarket and the staff will help you. I wish this new policy existed when I needed it, there were supermarkets everywhere but at that time, unless you were bleeding and dying, they would turn you away.
Kudos to the UK for implementing this because it is necessary. I hope it will become a worldwide policy because women don’t feel safe. I certainly didn’t feel safe when I lived in the UK.
I surveyed 200 women living in London, UK for a research paper I am writing and 97 percent of them admitted to experiencing sexual harassment in their lifetime. 85 percent of the women admitted that they knew the perpetrators personally. 100 percent of the women said they don’t feel safe when walking the streets alone at night, even on busy streets or public transport. Shocking and sickening! We deserve to feel safe! We deserve to feel free to walk the streets whenever we feel like without the fear of being harassed or attacked.
Despite the fact that I live in Ghana now and I feel safer here, I take the following safety measures:
- Carry pepper spray
- Carry a panic alarm
- At night I walk with reflective clothing on
- I have worked my way up to black belt in Tai Kwondo and I continue to work on self-defence techniques
- I carry a small foldable baton in my bag, great for knocking a man over the head with it
- I generally avoid walking around at night and if I do, I choose busy areas that are well-lit
Stay safe, be alert!
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