‘SOME girls will, some girls won’t’’ ... Racey belted out their hit on my new portable radio cassette player. We were in first year at our high school in Glasgow, eating our sandwiches and reading Cathy and Clare in the Jackie magazine, me and my best pal.

We had gone a walk down to the nature trail at the side of our school. My pal was nearly 12 and had three big sisters, I was an only child and just turned 11. We were already walking slightly hunched and embarrassed in our brand new bought-for-going-into-first year bras.

We were fast friends and we loved listening to Tony Blackburn’s top 40 radio show and trying to tape our favourite songs. That day I was eating a roll and crisps – Tudor pickled onion – the strong smell of my roll rising with the smell of the dandelions on the path ... it’s funny what you remember. I heard the man before I saw anything, a low grunt and loud breathy noises, a sort of choking sound, I grabbed my friend, and we had to walk around him to get back to school.

When I look back he was a fairly pathetic figure, an old man with his burgundy corduroy trousers around his ankles and his face contorted as he masturbated right there in the open in front of us. I grabbed my friend and she said ‘‘let’s get away from this creepy flasher’’.

We didn’t run. As I recall we weren’t even particularly shocked. I did tell someone ... the school jannie. He gave us a row for going down the nature trail on our own and told us not to go there again. I was too frightened to tell my mum in case I got into trouble for breaking school rules. I was more afraid of that than I was of the flasher.

In retrospect it was our lack of surprise that strikes me most. Wolf whistles and rude, abusive comments were depressingly routine.

In the 40 years since that day I have (along with almost every woman that I know) experienced many episodes of sexual harassment and abuse. From flashing to catcalling and my bum groped and breasts “accidentally” brushed against in places as varied as the underground train, buses, work, the student union, bars, clubs, parks, festivals and walking down the street ... basically anywhere men or boys were. It is so relentless it makes you feel like you can never, ever let your guard down.

When I’m out I find myself formulating a plan on how to get home, always making sure I have extra money for a taxi, just in case, checking the battery on my mobile phones, carrying my keys in my hands. I’m far from unique. All my female friends do exactly the same.

So I shouldn’t have been so affected by the responses to a thread on Twitter last week which asked women how old they were when they first experienced sexual assault. There were 1500 responses. Most said they had been under 13.

If only this type of sexual abuse had been consigned to the past, along with bad glam rock bands sparkly boots. If only changing societal attitudes had set girls free from such harassment.

If only...

But the truth is that the abuse of women and girls has evolved and become ever more invasive. In an era when everyone has a smartphone and most bus and train companies offer free wifi, the simple commute to school or work can become a terrifying and exploitative journey for girls and women.

In a recent YouGov poll of more than 2000 millennial age young women nearly half of those polled – 46% – had received an unsolicited picture of a penis sent to their phones.

Not only do we receive unsolicited dick pics via Twitter or Instagram DMs, some men are now airdropping pictures of their erect penises on trains or tubes or in bars.

For more than six months Sophie Gallagher from the Huffington Post has been compiling reports of women who have had this happen to them. Thankfully this cyber-flashing is illegal in Scotland under Section 6 of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 200, which provides that it is an offence to cause a person to look at a sexual image without their consent.

That said, I notice wearily that the Police Scotland website gives women and girls instructions on how to switch off the facility to airdrop on their phone. Just as I was advised not to go down the nature trail 40 years ago, victims are still being told to change their behaviour.

My own teenage daughter informs me that upskirting and revenge porn is prevalent and normalised in much the way my friend and I normalised “the flasher”. A survey published by Ipsos Mori on International Women’s Day in March 2018 showed that respondents in Britain thought that, from more than 20 options, sexual harassment and sexual violence were respectively the second and fourth most important issues facing women and girls in Britain today.

Young women of today also have to deal with the relatively new phenomena of men and boys watching porn in public. This isn’t even against the law, although even if it was, would anyone report it? Would the CPS prosecute? Would any convictions be made? Or do most women simply move away. Find a safer seat. Get off the bus. Change our own behaviours. Again.

HOW many young girls or women are forced to change their behaviour because of sexual harassment and abuse? How many avoid taking the train or going for a run while listening to Spotify? Every warning that it’s up to us to adapt our lives to avoid harassment contributes to a culture that excuses violence against women and girls, keeping us unequal and less than. Convincing us that men’s unacceptable behaviour is somehow our own fault.

The #MeToo movement has undoubtedly helped to challenge this culture. Women and girls are increasingly dragging these issues into the light, even if our husbands, boyfriends and brothers still seem reluctant to accept the scale of the problem. Is it not strange, for example, that every single woman knows a woman that’s been raped but not a single man has ever met a rapist?

There are good, strong initiatives taking place here in Scotland too. Last year Angela Crawley MP, a member of the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee, presented a detailed and well-thought-out report to the Westminster Government which looked at the sexual harassment of women and girls in public places and made several suggestions and recommendations, including the designation of misogyny as a hate crime.

The Scottish Government has commendably enacted its Equally Safe Strategy, which is in the capable hands of Christina McKelvie MSP.

Equally Safe’s priorities include achieving greater gender equality, intervening early and effectively to prevent violence and maximising the safety and wellbeing of women, children and young people.

A coherent approach to legislation would be one way of helping. Government and council attitudes to prostitution, pornography and lap dancing clubs, for instance, are disjointed and confusing.

Behind such moves is an acknowledgment that we’ve been waiting too long for the long-promised change in attitudes towards sexual crimes while women continue to be abused, frightened, harassed and raped – often so intimidated and exhausted by society’s ingrained misogyny to even report to the authorities.

It wasn’t too long before the 11-year-old at high school rumbled Racey’s lyrics were decidedly dodgy and consigned their C-90 to the trash. If society won’t voluntarily do the same with outdated attitudes towards the victimisation of women it’s long past time that we used the law to force it to do so.

Rape Crisis Scotland helpline is open 0808 801 03 02 from 6pm–midnight. Women’s Aid Helpline: 0800 027 1234

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