'I thought it was a woman’s handbag pressing into my backside... but someone was groping me – hard' - Woman's horror at being groped on Luas
Like most women, I’ve put up with my fair share of casual sexual harassment whether it’s White Van Man and his trademark wolf-whistling or Creepy Crotch guy who feels justified pressing his unwelcome member against you as he passes in a bar.
And, like most women, I have tended to accept instances like these as an irritating, but unavoidable, part of life. Outrage is generally not my default setting.
However, having been groped on public transport I’m ashamed by my own apathy.
It happened during winter on the green LUAS line. The carriage was packed tight, uncomfortably so, with bodies too close and hands unavoidably touching on the circular yellow handrail in the centre.
My left hand was sandwiched between two strangers’ (a woman to my left and man to my right) and my right arm curled up to hug the strap of my shoulder bag. Unable to access my phone I settled in to staring blankly at the handrail, studiously avoiding eye contact like everyone else.
After a few minutes I felt what I thought was a woman’s handbag pressing into my backside as the LUAS rocked down the track. But soon the pressure increased and became more rhythmic and it dawned on me that it wasn’t a handbag but a hand. Someone was groping me – hard.
You might expect me to assert myself, confront the creep, expose and humiliate him in front of the other passengers, maybe take his photo, call the Gardai. I did none of those things.
I realised it was the man standing to my right. I had nowhere to move as the carriage was jammed so I just looked up at his face defiantly in the hopes that that simple confrontation would deter him. He stared back at me and stopped rubbing my thigh but immediately covered my other hand, on the handrail, with his.
After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only half a minute, the tram pulled up at the next stop and the space vacated by passengers allowed me to move away. When I finally alighted at St Stephen’s Green I fled without looking back.
And then I felt angry, angry that a strange man felt he had the right to touch and intimidate me in broad daylight and in public. I also felt angry and ashamed with myself for ‘allowing’ him to get away with it. I wondered afterwards whether or not I should have reported it, but to who? Would they think I was over-reacting? What could they do about it anyway? How could I prove I had been groped? Also, I was embarrassed.
I’m not alone. In the UK, Transport for London found that one in seven women had experienced unwanted sexual behaviour including staring, groping and being made to feel uncomfortable on public transport, but less than 10% had reported it.
The women surveyed worried they wouldn’t be taken seriously, they couldn’t prove it, and they just wanted to forget about it. But unless we take a stand this kind of insidious sexual harassment will continue and ultimately escalate.
Those wolf-whistles and body brushes might not bother you too much but where do you draw the line? They’re all symptomatic of the same problem – a disrespect for women and willingness to view us as nothing more than sexual objects who exist purely for men’s sexual gratification. And that’s not okay.