Raising awareness of sexual harassment

Mollie

My name is Mollie, and I moved to Buckinghamshire in September 2019 to complete the National Graduate Development Programme at Buckinghamshire Council. I am currently completing my final placement working in the Public Health and Wellbeing Commissioning Team, supporting the commissioning of Domestic Abuse services.

It is October 2014, about 2 weeks after my birthday. I am sat in my A level Politics lesson, bored out my mind and desperately trying to concentrate on the US Supreme Court. Admittedly, I am failing miserably and am instead contemplating what I’m going to wear that weekend when my friends and I go into town.

I’ve just turned 18.

I notice a text on my silenced phone. An unrecognised number, the text simply reads “Hi Mollie xxx.”

“Who is this?” I reply. I do not get an answer, but another question.

“How are you and Greg? xx” Greg — an ex-boyfriend at the time.

I tell my friends at lunchtime, moving round the cafeteria table, asking if anyone knows the number. No one does. We laugh it off. We make jokes. “Oh my god how weird, Mollie’s got a stalker.”

We’re only 18.

A week or so passes, and I am no longer laughing. The mystery texter has stopped asking about ex-boyfriends and started asking what I am wearing. About my sexual history and preferences. If I can give them a pair of my knickers. What they want to do to me. The texts become incredibly and increasingly explicit, and I don’t know how to respond.

I’m only 18.

They know what I am wearing before I leave the house. They know who I am with. I am absolutely terrified. I go to the police station and don’t make it past reception.

“You’ve replied to the messages so it’s not harassment. There’s nothing we can do.”

“But I only asked who it was. They knew what I was wearing. Can you at least look at the messages?”

“Like I said, there’s nothing we can do.”

If the police can’t help me, who can? Who do I talk to? My friends are as clueless about what to do as I am and telling my family will only worry them.

I’m only 18.

Eventually the texting stops, for reasons I still don’t understand. The tale of my ‘stalker’ eventually just becomes another anecdote between my friends and I. “God, I wonder who that was.” I never tell my family.

It isn’t until years later that I recognise it for what it was — sexual harassment that was not properly dealt with at the time.

I was only 18.

I often find myself thinking about this time in my life, and frequently try to bury the memory because what’s the point of dwelling on it, right?

Most days I find that I am chastising myself for obsessing over it, caught up in the depressing reality of the fact that I am in fact one of the lucky ones, that at the end of the day they were only texts.

Some days I find myself reliving all the other times my skin has been made to crawl, experiences that are so universal we often simply write them off as a part of life, a waiter running his hands through my hair at 13, vans beeping girls in our uniforms at 15, pressured by a boyfriend at 16, trapped in a room until I agreed to kiss a ‘friend’ at 17, groped in the street on my first girls holiday at 18, being told to kill myself after rejecting a boy in a club at 19, being stood in a club smoking area and hearing my ‘friend’ tell his friend to grope me to ‘watch how angry I get’ at 20, being catcalled as I walk outside a pub with my father at 23, countless anonymous hands touching where they shouldn’t in bars, clubs and festivals and always, the fear felt walking alone at night, keys between fingers.

I primarily recall these experiences not with pain, anger or sadness, but with relief — it could’ve been worse.

In the wake of Sarah Everard’s tragic death and the public discourse that has followed, it seems more important than ever that we share our experiences. Whilst some may feel ‘smaller’ than others, they are all integral parts of a fabric that allows this kind of behaviour to continue to exist and manifest into something far more sinister — and women like Sarah and her family and friends suffer the consequences.

I do not claim to have all the answers as to how we shred this fabric and start again, but I think it starts with conversation. I frequently find that when I discuss my experience I feel like I come across as playing the world’s tiniest violin for myself, which is absolutely not the desired effect. All I want to do is contribute to an open and ever-expanding conversation in which no one is ashamed to share their truths and in which we do not shy away from confronting the reality of the society we live in.

Believe people when they tell you what they’ve experienced. Be prepared to empathise. Call out those who are making others uncomfortable — yes, even when they’re your friends.

I hope, if nothing else, my blog provokes thought and that we can all contribute to the conversation together.

The safety of women in our society has been brought to the forefront due to the recent media coverage of Sarah Everard. My thoughts are with Sarah, her family and friends, and all other victims and survivors. But unfortunately, sexual harassment and assault is far too common, both for women and men. As April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month — with a focus this year on consent and respecting boundaries, it seemed the right time to share my experience. I hope it helps others.

Where can you go for support?

We have a wealth of support available as council employees, including PAM Assist, our employee assistance provider who offer 24/7 confidential support.

You can also find a lot of support online through

It is important to remember that it is not just women who are victims of sexual harassment and assault, Aylesbury Vale & Milton Keynes Sexual Assault Support Services offer lots of support, including a fantastic counselling service.

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