Would you be surprised if I told you that the man who gropes you on a dance floor is committing an offence that carries a maximum of ten years in prison?
The legal definition of sexual assault, as set out in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, has four elements.
A sexual offence is committed if one person, A, –
a) intentionally touches another person (B);
b) the touching is sexual;
c) B does not consent to being touched; and
d) A does not have reasonable belief that B consents.
A quick grope from behind you in a queue at the bar, or a hand pushed against you on a crowded dance floor, it’s assault. This type of behaviour is far too common and far too accepted.
Why is it that men are able to sexually touch women, without their consent, without fear of repercussion?
I’m concerned that far too many of us turn a blind eye when we’re assaulted on a night out because we’re afraid of ‘causing a fuss’. I don’t take kindly to being sexually assaulted but it is apparently me who is in the wrong if I react. When I told one individual to leave me alone, he took issue with my level of attractiveness. I’m not sure if I was meant to be grateful for the clumsy attention, or if he thought my looks were linked to my ability to consent. He asked me if I thought I was a 10, because he was very clear that I was not a 10. His friends were loudly clear that I was not a 10.
My friends were clear that I needed to be quiet and move on.
That wasn’t my first experience of being subjected to unwelcome grabbing. I wasn’t the only girl in my group of friends targeted by crude advances that night. I could walk into any night club at any time and find a woman complaining of similar behaviour.
The Sexual Offences Act protects my right not to be assaulted. It is the casual acceptance of sexual assault that allows it continue. We wouldn’t tolerate this in any other area of every day life but include alcohol, music, a group of women dressed for the evening and we’re right back to the dark ages. Pass me the muzzle because we’re all going to be sold in a market. I would like to think that many of the men who perpetrate this kind of behaviour would actually be horrified to think that they had committed sexual assault. I imagine they wouldn’t dream of identifying themselves as sexual offenders. If we made them watch the CCTV that showed them grabbing a woman as she stumbled or groped her as she danced, I’m put money on them identifying exactly where they went wrong.
By allowing sexual assault to take place without speaking out against it, we are allowing abuse to casually accepted without complaint. I’m not arguing that every man is out to grope unsuspecting women. I am advocating a move towards making it less acceptable to commit sexually assault. Being on a night out is not a catch all consent. That remains true no matter how much alcohol someone drinks, or whatever they choose they wear.
You do not have to accept sexual assault. You can tell them to stop. You can report them. You have the right to be protected from unwelcome sexual advances whenever and however it happens. If any of this is ringing a very uncomfortable bell for you, try thinking about how you would act if you had to explain yourself in court. Touching someone sexually without their consent is a crime, not a chat up line.
Guest post by Jennifer Robinson. Follow Jennifer on Twitter.