Thursday, 19 October 2017

Trust - a societal concept.

I have to say how moved I have been this week by Facebook friends who have posted "Me Too" notices on their pages at last 'coming out ' to express that they too have been victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. For me the extent of the degradation that young women experience at the hands of unscrupulous colleagues and bosses has been a revelation. I am a feminist and now nearly 60 and although I was often targeted by 'small boob, nice bottom' type comments, being a publican's daughter, I was never afraid to exercise my right to respond immediately with a remark that cut sexists down to size. I was never afraid that my career would be affected and if it had been, I knew that my trade union would back me to the hilt.

Not everyone is so lucky. Many sexist and cruel remarks about women are often dismissed as 'just a bit of banter.' In fact the TUC (Trades Union Congress)  published a report in 2016 following a workplace survey called, "Is it still just a bit of banter?" Here is a link I am certain that you will all find the results enlightening.

This week's revived interest in sexual predators in the workplace has come to a head because of accusations made again Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein, who seems to have taken the idea of 'the casting couch' to a whole new level. I am not going to issue judgement, both here and in the U.S we are bound by rules of engagement - the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven. What I have found most disturbing about the news coverage is that several women have been unable to speak out because they have been 'bought off' by agreed financial settlements that ensured secrecy, enabling a potential rapist to continue to prey on other women.

Power corrupts... but if we are serious about preventing repeat offending, why should we allow powerful, rich offenders to get off through 'out of court' settlements? So many women on both sides of the Atlantic now claim to have been his victim and yet every one of them could have been the one to stop him in his tracks. I hope that every one of us, would act to prevent a predator assaulting a colleague. We all have a duty to report that kind of behaviour in the workplace. We all need to be able to trust others.

I spoke out on line this week about an incident in the mid-eighties. My assailant was unknown to me but I had been tipped off several weeks before, by an anonymous caller to my workplace, that I was being watched by a man. My landlords were a highly respectable couple: A pharmacist and his partner, a teacher, who were saving up to buy a house. I rented two rooms in their first floor flat and shared their kitchen and bathroom. Two weeks after the assault, I saw the man looking up at my window from below on the street. I was badly shaken and asked them to call the police.  When the officers left, they sat me down and confessed that the young lady who rented the rooms before me had been raped on the stairwell.  I was devastated. All the predator did was wait until someone else moved in. I felt completely betrayed.

Since the attack, I have never really trusted anyone. I became totally self-reliant. I don't use public transport if it means I could find myself alone with a stranger. I have recently written to the secretary of the RMT (National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers), telling them why I support their campaign to retain guards on trains. The train I took home from Charring Cross on the night I was raped had no interconnecting carriages. I was trapped alone with my assailant. Even in these high tech times, a young woman or man armed only with a mobile phone, would not be able to fend off such an attack. Only by being able to move to another part of the train, speaking to a guard who might notify staff at a station ahead, would they be able to ensure their safety. How can a lone traveller ride on public transport, if they cannot trust that their personal safety is put before profits?

There is another issue here. We have to be able to trust that our legal system does what it should to protect us from repeat offenders. In 2005, Channel Four showed a documentary - it shocked me to the core. I walked into my living room to see a photograph of my assailant. By then he had served a total of 17 years in prison for rape and murder. Stalking was not made illegal in the UK until 2012 -  thirty years after his attack on me. His victims and their families were campaigning to keep him in prison because every time he was released, he assaulted another victim. Please don't misunderstand, I do believe in a fair society and that rehabilitation can work but if a rapist rapes again, surely there is a case for longer custodial sentences with sustained periods of tagging and monitoring on release.

I welcome the recent changes that removed fees for Employment Tribunals, removing a barrier for action by many victims of sexual (or any other) harassment in the workplace. I strongly believe that the name of an alleged assailant should not be made public until after a guilty decision. The damage to the reputation of someone wrongly accused of sexual assault is of prime concern too.

The use of super-injunctions and secrecy agreements to prevent others from being aware and able to protect themselves should be re-evaluated. Above all, society needs to recognise that the way we make light of potentially damaging behaviour by dismissing it as "just a bit of banter," needs to be stopped in its tracks. We all have to look out for each other. If we are all equal, then we are equally responsible. If we want to be able to trust others, live in a safe society, nurture a fair and just legal system, then we all have to actively participate in making it happen.

As for the perpetrators...

Miss Muffet to the Spider

I don’t know why you came here sir,
I do not care for you.
Your hairy body doesn’t interest me.
It may have escaped your notice
but I’ve never been impressed
by your multiple appendages or personality.
Creeping up behind me,
when I’m sitting here alone,
is a positively childish thing you know.
“Won’t you step into my parlour,”
such a worn out chat up line
from a chauvinistic legacy a century ago.

This emancipated woman
has no window for your game.
My Filofax is bursting at the seams.
If I may make a suggestion,
please crawl back under your stone,
you could never be the measure of my dreams.
If a little more observant,
you’d have noticed me before,
with a certain very pretty ladybird.
Shall I spell it out for you,
in words of one syllable or two?
Your pursuit of me is becoming quite absurd.

Sir I warn you, leave with haste
and vacate my personal space.
Close proximity arachnid makes me ill.
If you persist in this attention,
without cause or invitation,
I will simply summon help from Rentokil.

Thank you for reading. Adele



Steve Rowland said...

Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Bravely spoken Adele.

Annie Walton said...

Just sublime Adele !

Woman WordSmithery at its best ! ( her best! )

I could imagine Tom Lehrer playing piano to this !

Thank you