To the man who flashed me,
I couldn’t say this to you when you exposed yourself to me. But seven years on, here’s what I want you to know.
I’ve experienced being sent unsolicited dick pics, and being “treated” to a live sex show in the street. While being sent unsolicited dick pics makes me feel uncomfortable, turning around and seeing you touching yourself in the street totally terrified my teenage self.
You wouldn’t have known it, but I was only just 19 and a fresher at university; my life revolved around attending classes, going on nights out and making new friends. I was young, I was vulnerable and I had lived a totally sheltered life. In my world, bad things happened, but not to me. Until the night I met you.
You probably don’t remember that night – it most probably blended into all of the other nights when you did the same thing, again and again, terrifying young women like me – but I do. It had just gone 7.15pm and it was already dark. Snuggled up in my oversized winter coat, I was stood chatting with a female friend, impatiently waiting for the bus to arrive. It was cold, I didn’t want to be outside a minute longer than I had to; the wind was bitter and nipping sharply at my face. All I could think about was how quickly the bus would come.
Then, all of a sudden, I got the sense that someone was watching me. As I turned, you caught the corner of my eye; an object coming out of the shadows. I expected to see a friend jump out laughing, but there was only you, a predator. You were stood there, watching me, wearing nothing but a T-shirt and jacket, your trousers and underwear twisted around your ankles, your hand clasped around your genitals, profusely masturbating, while staring straight at me.
When I saw you, I could not move. I had never felt so scared in my whole life. I stood there staring back at you wondering what you wanted and what you might do next. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t even think. At that moment, I had never felt more vulnerable or violated.
At the time, I didn’t realise how much of an impact your actions would have on me. I didn’t feel like a victim. I didn’t even feel like I had the right to label myself that way. You hadn’t touched me. You hadn’t assaulted me. You hadn’t hurt me. And yet, my life changed as a direct result of your actions.
I stopped walking alone at night. I avoided that bus stop. I bought a rape alarm. I became anxious and afraid. I had never feared the shadows before, but I began to wonder who could be lurking. I began to struggle with anxiety. You had made me afraid and for that I hated you. Your act changed me as a person. You changed my whole perception of the world; I never believed anything bad would or could happen to me, but you proved me wrong.
You hid in the shadows and then pounced like a predator, looking at me like I was your prey
In the months that followed, I jumped between feeling uncertain, afraid and anxious. I brought my car to university with me from home and I drove almost everywhere. My self-confidence plummeted; each time I left the house and ran towards my car, scared that someone was hiding in the shadows, I could feel more of my confidence being stripped away. Your actions had left me terrified.
Even to this day, what you did impacts my life in a variety of ways. I find it hard to trust new people – especially men – and I still don’t like to walk alone at night, or even in the day when there are no other people around. I often become anxious being out at night, even when I am not alone.
Back then, I was scared. I changed how I behaved as a result of what you did. Today I am still scared, but I am also furious. How dare you think that you have the right to make me feel that way. How dare you think that you have the right to make any woman feel that way. You hid in the shadows and then pounced like a predator, looking at me like I was your prey.
At first, I was angry at myself, I felt like, in some way, I had encouraged your unwanted attention by how I had acted. I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t have been wearing so much make-up or whether my skirt was too short and my tights not thick enough. Then I realised that, actually, I had done nothing wrong. I could have been stood at the bus stop in my underwear and your actions would still be a violation.
What I want you – and every other man who behaves in this way – to know is that your behaviour was not acceptable. The lines might be blurred when it comes to this kind of non-physical sexual assault, but they are still there. There’s a line and you crossed it, and that choice to cross that line defines you.
There is no doubt that what you did impacted my life in a negative way, but I can’t say it’s ruined it. You may have scared me, but you have not stopped me from living my life. I might be more careful and more cautious, but I’m still me.
What I remind myself, every day, is that you are one of a small minority of men who are labouring under the misapprehension that women’s bodies are yours to take and use. Most men respect women and would never dream of doing what you did, they would never cross that line. But you did, and I want you to know exactly how that made me feel.