163: just being friendly?

Back last November I opened the front door to a very distressed Thing 1, who – on her way back from walking her friend to their job in the pub round the corner – had been accosted by an adult who had tried to kiss her. Thing 1 is 16, she’s polite and friendly, and she answers when she’s spoken to which is how she’s been brought up. We live in a village, we see the same people on a regular basis and so you say hello, because that’s what you do in a small community. For the last couple of years this adult has been making comments which erred towards the inappropriate, but could be brushed off as just overly friendly.

Comments on appearance, on how she was growing up, asking if she was still at school. The sort of thing you’d laugh off as being a bit creepy, followed by ‘say hi to your mum and dad’. Innocuous. Then she turned 16, started at college, and the tone changed.

‘Have you got a boyfriend? I bet you’ve got lots of secret admirers. I know you’ve got at least one, you’re growing up nicely’. The sort of thing you need to keep an eye on, as it’s too creepy. She would come home and tell us when he’d spoken to her, so we knew what was going on but thought he was just sleazy as she’d laugh it off.

On this day in November she wasn’t very well, so wasn’t as alert as usual, and she was trying to get home. We spent the following day at the emergency GP, in fact, with severe tonsillitis. On this occasion he started with ‘was that your boyfriend? Have you got a boyfriend?’ and then he put his hands on her shoulders and went in to try and kiss her. She reacted by stepping back and came home in a state.

This is a married man, at least in his 30s. who clearly knows what he is doing is wrong – asking her if she’s 16 yet, for example, is a clear indicator that he is aware of the legality of the situation. He is a local business owner, who has been heard encouraging teenage boys to bring their girlfriends in as ‘he likes them young’.

After speaking to a friend in the police we reported the incident and luckily they took it seriously, sending someone to interview Thing 1 and I, taking video evidence from her – and doing everything they could to make it an easy experience for her – and eventually arresting him. He of course denies knowing her (and someone else who made a complaint against him) and is out on bail, and this week – as he’s denied it – she had to go and do an identity parade which is fortunately all digital these days. It wasn’t easy: she texted me after I checked in on how it had gone, and said,

‘Yeah it was fine it was weird though all the pictures were fine but as soon as I saw his it felt like his eyes were looking right at me it was so uncomfy.’

She’s been so brave, and I am so proud of her: she is clear that she doesn’t want this to happen to someone else, who may not be as speedy or as supported as she is. She has to walk past his business twice a day, three days a week to catch the bus to college, and his bail conditions state that he is not allowed to speak to her or approach her – as he hasn’t, I assume that he does actually know who she is, despite the denials. The police have been great, keeping us updated with any developments and taking her seriously.

I’m not under any illusions that anything will actually happen to this man as a result of my little girl being brave enough to step up and make her statement: much as I’d like to see him named and shamed and drummed out of the village, I’m quite realistic. I would like the parents of other teen girls in the village to warn their daughters away, or at least to make sure their daughters know that this behaviour is sexual harassment and they don’t have to put up with it. It’s not ‘cultural’, it’s not ‘being friendly’, it’s harassment and we now know that it won’t stop there.

What I’d like even more is to know that I won’t have to write yet another blog post next year calling out sexual assault, or harassment, or even inappropriate behaviour. I think we’ve all had enough.

Things making me less furious this week:

  • The safe arrival of my very gorgeous new grandson this week, two weeks early, courtesy of Timeshare Teenager 2 (she’s 25, but they’ll always be the TTs). I think Grandson 1 was hoping for a baby robot for a cousin but he’ll have to put up with a regular human baby.
  • A good 13.5k ramble in the sunshine this morning following a footpath I’ve been eyeing up for a while, seeing my first swifts of the years and a whole family of hares.
  • A day off midweek, with a lovely walk round Harlow Town Park with Sue and the Bella-Dog finished off with tea and an Eccles cake
  • The Gaslight Anthem’s new single with an album to follow
  • A catch-up with an ex-colleague about attracting secondary school teachers to the museums

Tomorrow I have a swim and a visit to the new arrival planned, a Long Walk on Monday with London sister, and then will be spending some time this week planning another Long Walk away from all media next Saturday.

Happy Long Weekend!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Desperate Undertaking/Fatal Legacy/The Silver Pigs – Lindsey Davis

Lords and Ladies – Terry Pratchett (Audible)

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