The Reddit question no one should ignore

Date

Kasey Edwards

<i></i>

Photo: Stocksy

Thousands of women have shared stories of the first time they were targeted sexually by men, with some saying they were as young as eight years old.

The women were responding to a question posted on the popular social networking and news site Reddit which asked 'Women of Reddit, when did you first notice that men were looking at you in a sexual way? How old were you and how did it make you feel?'

The question went viral, attracting more than 21,000 comments within a day.

While some of the responses detailed stories of boys leering down girls' tops and wolf whistles in the street, many more documented far more predatory behaviour. 

Advertisement

One contributor told of how, at the age of eight, she was followed around a Kmart store by a man after he ogled at her. 

"I was 8, had wandered away from my mom at Kmart. A creepy 40 something white guy in construction attire stared at my chest and butt, and followed me all around the store. I even went into the changing room to get away from him (stupid idea I know, but c'mon, I was 8!) he FOLLOWED ME INTO THE CHANGING ROOM," she wrote.

The woman told of how the man tried to force open the change room door until a woman walked in to the dressing room, screamed at him to leave, allowing her to escape.

Others told of uncles, grandfathers, mothers' boyfriends, step-fathers and, family friends perving on them and making inappropriate comments when they were young. Most of the women said they were aged between 11 and 12 years when they first received unwanted sexual attention. 

Another contributor told of how her grandfather cornered her when she was 11, groped her breasts and forced his tongue into her mouth. She told her parents who advised her to avoid him for the rest of the day.

What's truly remarkable about these stories is that most of them occurred during ordinary day-to-day activities. The harassment, violence and assaults took places in schools, public streets, busy shopping centres, local grocery stores and homes.

The stories highlight the pointlessness of advising girls and women to avoid lonely places, short skirts and alcohol to reduce the risk of sexual violence. While such advice is trotted out in the wake of violent attacks, such as the recent murder of Masa Vukotic, reading the Reddit thread, it quickly becomes clear that the 'safe places' that are imagined by police are just that: imagined.

They simply don't exist.

It's also clear how damaging the threat of violence is to women's sense of wellbeing. One woman tells of being wolf-whistled when she was 11 years old. She notes that the attention always came from "[O]lder men in vans etc. never teenagers or kids that could have been mistaking me for their own age."

She says, "It was intimidating and made me feel uncomfortable; I'd tense up whenever a van drove past and feel relief if someone didn't whistle or shout at me."

Not all of the stories about male violence on the Reddit thread came from women. One man tells of the time he was mistaken for a girl and molested in public by "a man that i would guess to be 50 at minimum".

The man gave 'a creepy smile saying. "Oh, i thought you where a pretty girl"…I'm a guy, i had long wavy, fairly girly hair at the time and have always been quite skinny, i shouldn't technically be answering in this thread, but I'll never forget that moment because It creeped me out, I've never been more protective of my two sisters since that moment.'

The thousands of responses gathered in such a short period of time also underlines how common these experiences are. And how little they are spoken about.

If women and girls were able to speak openly about sexual harassment and assault, without being blamed or disbelieved, then perhaps they wouldn't flock to a social media website in order to have their experiences heard.

And perhaps we could all stop pretending that male sexual violence is a rare occurence, and only occurs when women don't take adequate precautions to protect themselves.

Kasey Edwards is a writer and best-selling author.