So, how should a woman react when she's groped?
Shocking images of a female student, who was punched in the face after trying to stop a man touching her bottom, have made Emma Barnett think twice about how to fend off gropers
How should a woman react when a man keeps grabbing her backside in a public place against her will?
a) Ask him to stop
b) React physically and push him away
c) Seek help from some sort of authority figure
d) Ignore it and hope he disappears
Well 22 year-old Mary Brandon tried option ‘a’ repeatedly when she found herself the recipient of unwanted bottom-touching at the Notting Hill Carnival over the weekend. However, her sex pest refused to get the message and so she did what me and my pals have done countless of times: she plumped for option ‘b’ and pushed him away.
His reaction? Well you can see it in the graphic image at the top of this article. He punched her hard in the face; so hard she spent nine hours in hospital being treated for a battered eye socket.
The before and after images of Brandon at one of the UK’s most joyous street festivals, which she later shared online, have quite rightly gone viral – powered by people’s disgust.
And yet being touched up on the dance floors of Britain’s clubs is a horrible rite of passage for most women, as I have written previously.
It’s obviously not just restricted to dance floors – sadly groping is happening so much on transport there is now a dedicated police initiative to it – Project Guardian – which we have written about before.
Each woman deals with it differently. For instance, on nights out in a clubbing environment, I am known to be pretty violent towards any men with wandering hands.
In my time, just like Brandon, I’ve shoved men who think it’s acceptable to properly fondle my derriere as I enjoy a dance with my pals. I am also routinely vile to any man who invades my space and always make sure that I give them a good verbal bashing.
However, reading this terrible story this morning made me question whether my angry responses have been rather foolish. Thankfully I have yet to be punched, but a rejected drunk man is never a nice creature – especially once they been cruelly shot down.
Yes, I’ve had abuse hurled at me and at times, the embarrassed and scared looks on my friends’ faces as I stand up to these slippery men, has ruined a fair few nights out. But it’s always remained my modus operandi.
However, the confidence of my university youth did briefly desert me last year, when a strange man stroked me on a bus in London. I was used to such occurrences happening in the hustle and bustle of a nightclub or music festival – not in the quiet calm of the number 37. My bravado left me quicker than the man’s inappropriate hand and to my surprise, I said nothing.
The right response?
So what is the right response by women to unwanted sexual advances in public spaces (not a problem not uniquely faced by women but certainly affects them the most)?
A colleague of mine shared a brilliant piece of advice from her school history teacher - who told her students to grab the unwanted man’s hand from wherever it had strayed and hold it up in public, shouting: “Is anyone missing a hand?” Public humiliation she believed would trump all responses.
But it’s not always that easy - especially in a dark place.
The view of the door man
A nightclub doorman, who now heads up a large security company operating 450 door staff across London, told me a woman should always seek out help from a security team member or bar staff the minute she receives an unwanted sexual advance.
“We see men touching up women all the time,” he said, preferring to remain anonymous.
“Men used to be chivalrous, but that’s gone now. If a man in a club is drunk and the woman doesn’t respond well to his groping, he will take it as rejection and it will often escalate. In a club people’s inhibitions are so reduced – which is enhanced by whatever stimulant they are on.
“That’s why she should remove herself from the situation immediately.”
'I've seen women hit in the face by their gropers'
This security professional, who has 23 years experience, has also shockingly seen the aftermath of many women being hit in the face – either punched or hit with a bottle – when a man’s unwanted, groping advances have been spurned.
“For these men hitting a girl can be a badge of pride – but for the women it’s just awful. They have to bear the mark of a stranger who didn’t get their way. Sadly I don’t think we will ever stop certain men thinking this is the way to get a woman’s attention,” he explains.
Obviously the level of groping depends on the response. He does concede that sometime the women can just bat it off themselves, as I’ve done many a time. But it is usually safer, if the venue is properly staffed with lots of security people and bar staff, to tell someone about what has happened, he advises – however low-level the groping has been – just in case the man flips.
That way there are some options for repercussions – which may make these men think about not repeating their actions moving forward. Depending on the level of assault, door staff can choose to eject the offender; or report them to the police and give the woman the option of pressing charges; or if the club operates ‘ID Scan’ when people enter, they can bar the bloke on the venue’s database so they will be permanently blocked from that particular nightspot.
Sexual predators are the ones to fear most
He also adds that that most security staff in the capital are also being trained as part of the police’s vulnerable adult protection scheme, which sees door staff’s responsibility now extended beyond the club.
“Every night we keep an eye out for male sex predators – who deliberately come to a club just to prey on vulnerable girls – girls who are drunk, alone or look like they don’t know what they are doing. A lot of us older guys on the doors now have grown-up daughters and we are petrified of what will happen if we let these vulnerable girls go home with these guys.
“We are forever stopping girls from leaving with guys we can tell that they don’t know and look suspicious. So often it’s not the low-level harassment or assault we are worrying about – it’s this level of stuff and those men who deliberately target vulnerable females.”
Nearly two years ago I covered the brilliant story of a group of women, who had come together via the campaigning organisation, Movement for Change, to try and stop men groping women in their local nightclub in Brixton, South London.
Women in the area were sick and tired of their nights out being ruined by unwanted attention – with lots of them feeling scared to say no to men once they started rubbing up against them. There’s only so many times they could give out a false number or find themselves in a hostile showdown.
The issue was a particularly pertinent one in the borough of Lambeth, in which Brixton is a major clubbing area. It has one of the highest rates of rape and sexual violence in London – with a 30 per cent increase in reported rape in 2009-2010 to 173 incidents – far higher than the London-wide increase.
The view of the campaigner
Their anti-groping initiative has enjoyed some success, especially in getting the Local Authority to recognise that ensuring a club is a safe space for women should be part of the licencing conditions for all bars in the area. But there is still more to be achieved, especially in terms changing the culture in these sorts of party atmospheres across the country.
Rukayah Sarumi, a women’s rights campaigner who worked on the Brixton campaign, thinks the key to lasting change is getting men to listen up.
“We need to move away from the burden of responsibility being on women and how they respond to unwanted bum pinching, grinding and groping from men when they are out enjoying themselves,” she explains.
“What we really need to do is get through to men that this isn’t acceptable behaviour. Ever. Poster campaigns and male ambassadors for initiatives like ours can help with this – but ultimately we need men to change their actions so women don’t have to think about their response to unwanted touching in any space.”
However, in the meantime, us women still have to fend for ourselves in the best way we can. Unfairly and wretchedly for Mary Brandon she’s ended up with a battered eye socket for standing up to her sex pest – but at least by bravely sharing the photos of her battered face, she may have made some men think twice about groping women.
We can live in hope, eh?