It happened to all of us: why casual sexual assault needs to stop being 'just one of those things'

I'm on a mission, people. Lets stop those deviant bum gropers in their tracks...

Jul 4, 2012 at 3:01pm | Leave a comment


How many times have you had your arse grabbed in a bar? Or been groped on a crowded tube train? Or been flashed in the street?

I bet it’s happened at least once. Or twice. Or if you’re anything like me, more times than you can remember.Which is fine, it’s just one of those things, isn’t it? Well actually, no it’s not. It’s essentially sexual assault, it’s invasive and it’s gross and I’ve become so sick of it that I’ve decided to do something about it.

When I say do something about it, I mean write an angry post. This is my version of that really pissy letter I once wrote to British Gas when they read my meter wrong and tried to charge my for my whole building’s electricity for six months.

Below I’ve asked some of our writers to tell us about incidences where they’ve been groped, felt-up or assaulted against their will. The incidences that you wouldn’t necessarily report to the police, or even tell anyone about afterwards, but seem to happen all the time.

And then, I want to hear about the times it has happened to you. Let me know in the comments section below, or tweet us @xojaneuk with the tag #casualsexualassault.

If anything, I want to highlight quite how common a bit of casual groping is to most women trying to go about their daily lives, and just how invasive it is. Because, while we know that serious sexual assault and rape are terrible and violent crimes that need to be punished, we’re all guilty (myself included) of dismissing the rest of it as just something that happens.

Ok, so I'm going to kick off, with two instances that really stood out in my mind: 

The first was when I was about 14 and on the bus home from school. It was really crowded so I was leaning against the luggage rack with my back to the rest of the bus. A middle aged Asian guy was pushed against me, but as the bus was so busy I didn’t think there was anything sinister in this, although it definitely felt a bit strange. I was a pretty innocent 14-year-old, so I didn’t realise until I got older that he was rubbing his semi against my leg the whole time. Arrrrgh, it’s making my skin crawl thinking about it now.

The other time I always think about, was about give years ago.  I was walking down Old Street on my way to bar with friends. It was summer and about 7pm, so still light out. I was wearing a knee-length skirt and heels (although really, is it even relevant what I was wearing?). A guy walking in the opposite direction put is hand up my skirt and grabbed my crotch. When I turned around and screamed at him as he walked off, he called my frigid, which was nice.

I’m not sure if being flashed at counts as a form of sexual assault [I’m counting it ], but, bearing in mind that flashers can apparently go on to commit increasingly violent sex crimes, it probably should. The first casual sexual assault I experienced, then, was while waiting for a school bus. A middle-aged man emerged from the woods opposite my bus stop and began masturbating furiously.

I pointed, laughed, and ran home where my mother called the police, who took the matter seriously enough to catch the old perv within a week (he was well-known to them, it emerged) and offer to arrange counseling, which I refused.

There has since followed a range of assaults so commonplace that they barely seemed worth mentioning to friends, let alone anyone else. Having my arse squeezed by a man on the train when I failed to move along fast enough, a grimy old man deliberately bumping into me in a shopping centre and making comments about my breasts rather than apologizing, that kind of thing.

And others that definitely did get a mention; the last time was at a music festival where I was commissioned to interview bands by a music paper. My colleague Brian (who is blind, and was coincidentally later mugged at the same event), his girlfriend Sarah, and I were sitting on wet grass, watching The Black Keys through a light drizzle when a teenage boy, wearing nothing on his top half bar a pink sparkly Stetson, approached me, mumbling. At least, I think he was mumbling. He was so intoxicated (drunk and/or high) that I couldn’t understand what the hell he was saying.

Initially (for about five seconds) I ignored him. When he grabbed my arm and tried literally to drag me across the ground I kicked him and told him to “fuck the hell off,” only for him to retaliate by slamming to the ground next to me, and kicking me in the crotch (which is less painful than you might expect when your assailant is wearing wellies), before reaching under my skirt to try to pull down my tights - he was too far gone to actually manage it.

I hit him across the arms and face before a security guard Sarah had called pulled him off me, and ordered him across the site but not, as far as we could tell, out of the festival. The next week newspapers reported that a rape had taken place at the site over the weekend. I’m always glad I wasn’t on my own.

When I was 13 or 14 I went to a winter camp. I was very sexually inexperienced (no bad thing at that age) and would just kiss guys, or occasionally get felt up over my clothes, that kind of thing. It was a disco night and this guy and who was probably 16 or so took me back to his barracks (the camp was held at a disused army barracks). We kissed and then he yanked my skirt up around my waist and very roughly tried to get his hands in my knickers. Thankfully, there was someone down the other end of the barracks, probably robbing the place, which disturbed him – allowing me to do a runner. I dread to think what could have happened as he tried to push me on to a bed.

In the past, of course I've had my arse grabbed or slapped frequently, which I guess I’ve just accepted as part of everyday life. It's always seemed to happen more on holiday/when abroad. Maybe foreigners think us Brits are easy girls or just girls on tour are anyway.

Once on the tube I realised a guy was actually caressing my right buttock. At first I thought we were all crammed in and someone’s bag was pressed against me, but as it went on and I didn’t protest, I realised that he was actually giving my right cheek a thorough going over... God I wish I’d said something now.

I was on the Victoria line early one morning on a typically claustrophobic train. I felt someone brush against my bum, but told myself it was just an accident of the cramped conditions. I turned around away and continued talking to friend, until I felt a whole hand grab between my legs at my crotch.

I screamed and slapped the hand away, and the man moved to stand in front of me. He stared me in the eye before, in full view of about 30 people, moving to grope a girl in front of us. I, rather comically, yelled out: "Careful, pervert on the train," and he drew his hand back, but he didn't seem the least bit embarrassed.

The train emptied and I sat down directly opposite him and took his photograph before he disappeared. The first thing I did above-ground was call the police, who took the incident very seriously.

I felt dirty for about 24 hours, knowing his hands had been on me. Sadly, the police didn't find him, but I know they often do, and women need to know that, especially on public transport, the police are committed to catching repeat offenders. Even a bum grope is sexual assault.

Sarah Woolley 
Dear Sir, this is a personal safety alarm. I want you to activate it next time you feel the urge to run your hand up my dress when I’m looking at soft cheeses in Sainsbury’s. Blow this whistle if you want to slap me so hard that I have a red handprint across my arse for a day because I declined your offer of a drink.

It would be ever so helpful for me because you have all looked so different and so few of you were wearing capes and twirling your villainous moustaches. Some of you were city bankers and others were barely out of their teens.

My tactic is shaming. When a nasty article is humping my hip on the underground I use my best Julie Andrews voice to ask “What DO you think you are doing?? Please, do NOT touch this, it is designer, darling.”

It’s a little harder to be funny when it's hit and run and you can’t shout at them. It’s a little harder to be in control if he’s trying to pull you into a car or he’s plunged his hand down your bra at a gig, as has happened to me. The police say watch where you go; watch what you dress; the time of day. Hey lady, just exist a little less, yes?

I’ve never really been scared. I’ve been furious and bored but a stranger has never scared me. Only a friend, the person they tell you to watch your drink and walk you home, has ever really scared me. However, I would rather a stranger didn’t have to prove things to himself by grabbing at me with his dirty paws. It's so ordinary to me now that it's tedious.

When has this happened to you? Tell us below, or on Twitter @xojaneuk with the tag #casualsexualassault. Fight the power, etc.