What really happens when you report a sexual harassment crime to the police?

Catriona Innes, Paula Akpan, Catriona Harvey-Jenner
·37-min read
Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Warning: This feature contains descriptions of sexual harassment some readers may find distressing

We read so many statistics in day-to-day life, they almost lose their meaning. 86% of young women have been sexually harassed in a public space. 618,000 women in England and Wales in 2020 were reported as victims of sexual assault. A quarter of women feel unsafe exercising outside alone. But when these statistics stop just being words on a page, and you take a moment to really, truly consider their meaning, it says something extremely concerning about what it’s like to present as female in the world.

Incidents of sexual harassmentgroping, indecent exposure, stalking, aggressive cat calling and more – are happening to women more frequently than should be acceptable. But because it’s been so normalised, in the majority of cases there are no consequences whatsoever for the perpetrator. 87% of you, our readers, told us you'd experienced sexual harassment, while 94% said you had been made to feel scared by a man you don't know. Despite this, only 8.5% of you had ever reported sexual harassment to the police, and worse - of those who had, only 4.5% have ever seen any kind of punishment as a result.

This has got to change. Not only are the incidents distressing and traumatic in themselves, these seemingly ‘insignificant’ crimes may well be a gateway to gendered physical harm later down the line. Violent crimes rarely materialise out of nowhere, after all. If we can disrupt this behaviour with the force of authority early on, we might prevent something even worse from happening in future.

Photo credit: CribbVisuals - Getty Images
Photo credit: CribbVisuals - Getty Images

Fundamentally, sexual harassment is an act of hostility, and in a world where this is accepted, violence and abuse is able to thrive. By changing the pattern, we hold individuals to account and start to unpick the root causes, paving the way for prevention.

Last month, Parliament voted in favour of making misogyny a hate crime. From autumn this year it will be a requirement for all police forces to record acts of misogyny – just like the ones described above - as hate crimes. “Recording where crimes are motivated by hatred of women will help us better understand the scale of the problem and so be better able to prevent these crimes,” Labour MP Stella Creasy, who helped to coordinate the campaign, tells Cosmopolitan. “It should give all women confidence that if they come forward to report crimes they will be taken seriously too.”

There may be some months until this new approach is put into practice, but police still urge anyone who is the subject of this kind of incident to come forward at the earliest opportunity. “Harassment and stalking are serious and prevalent crimes, which can have a devastating effect on the lives of victims and those around them,” National Police Chiefs' Council lead for stalking and harassment, Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills, says. “The police service remains committed to do all that it can to bring offenders to justice and safeguard victims,” he assures.

Making misogyny a hate crime is just one step in a long line of work to be done to remove the sexism that underpins society and yields violence against women. But it's a positive step towards women not having to live their lives on permanently high alert. Behind every one of these awful statistics is a story. Here, 27 people share theirs...

SHIA*

Photo credit: Alice Cowling/Cosmopolitan UK
Photo credit: Alice Cowling/Cosmopolitan UK

"I was at a public library studying for my A-Levels when, towards the evening, a man in his late twenties/early thirties came in. Clearly having no intention of studying, he sat on the table in front of me with his back to me, but kept peering back to stare at me. He opened a photo of a penis on his phone, and stuck it out towards me, trying to get my attention. Disturbed, I texted my dad to pick me up early. I quickly gathered my things together and ran across the park to the car park. I told my dad in the car what had happened, and he called the police and the library. The police came to my house for some general questioning but implied there wasn’t much they could really do. My mum worked for the police at the time and (even though she wasn't supposed to) looked up the notes from their visit on their system; on the record it said 'overprotective father'."

GENEVA

Photo credit: Provided
Photo credit: Provided

"I first came across 'creepy train man' when I got the train to high school with two friends when I was 12. At the time, the man - who was in his thirties or forties - would regularly stare, follow us up the platform, and sit as close as he could on the train. As a naïve group of girls, we simply called him 'a weirdo' and thought nothing of it.

Fast forward ten years, I was living at home again and commuting in to work when I started seeing him again. This time around it felt scary. He would hunt for me on the train until he found me, then sit as close as possible and stare the whole way home. Every time I felt petrified. I was in my early twenties but I’d regularly call my dad, asking him to pick me up from the platform. I tried to hide between other people, attempted to disguise myself, or waited until the last minute to jump on so he wouldn't see me. If the train was quiet I'd stand by the doors, just in case. If I moved, he followed. I'd never listen to music or read, remaining alert in case I needed to react. I wished I was bigger than him. Once, he saw me in the town centre and followed me into shops until I hid in the changing room of a female underwear shop, waiting for my dad to come and get me. I often wondered if he knew how scared he made me feel; I wondered if he enjoyed it.

Eventually, I reported him to the police, who were very responsive. They looked at CCTV footage, as well as a video my ex-boyfriend had filmed as proof. Officers tracked down the man and confronted him, but he denied recognising me when they showed him my photo. The police admitted this was particularly worrying. But unfortunately, making a woman feel terrified isn't a crime and there was nothing more they could do. Despite it affecting my sleep, my job, and my mental health, the law does not protect women from this type of behaviour."

ROSIE*

Photo credit: Alice Cowling/Cosmopolitan UK
Photo credit: Alice Cowling/Cosmopolitan UK

"I was out running early in the morning, when a man in his car stopped me to 'ask for directions'. Before I knew it he began to masturbate, asking me to watch. I was 14. I sprinted home and immediately told my mum, who called the police and someone came within the hour to take down my complaint. Within a week, a letter was sent explaining they had closed the case.

At the time, I felt slightly relieved; being so young I hated having to go over the situation and just wanted to move on from it. But as time progressed, I realised that closing the case almost normalised the situation and made me feel like we were overreacting. Some months later, my dad saw on Facebook that there had been another report made to the police with near-identical details to mine - this time with a car registration. Despite the similarities, my case had not been linked to the new one, suggesting the police never had any intention of reopening it. After some persistence, my case was reopened and linked to the new one, and I was taken to the police station to identify the offender. The case went to court, where he pleaded guilty, and was charged on 11 cases of sexual misconduct – I was the only minor. The perpetrator was given community service, put on the sex offender’s register, and was given rehabilitation therapy.

During the court process, we found out that this man had been reported – along with his car registration – by another woman almost a year before my experience. At the time, he had simply been given a caution, which undoubtedly gave him freer passage to carry on harassing women in the way he did. I felt betrayed; the justice system simply letting people off with this behaviour is unacceptable. When women step forward, bravely, they should be believed. Even though I hated having to retell my story, I knew that I had to do it to protect other women he might prey upon. That day, that experience, has undoubtedly changed my life. On the rare occasions I’m out alone in the dark, I am plagued with fear. Every parked car poses the threat of history repeating itself. To know that he, and people like him, are still out there makes me feel like the streets aren’t my own to enjoy."

BRIANA

Photo credit: Provided
Photo credit: Provided

"I was on a train on my way to a work event when I noticed that an older white man was staring at me. I could sense something was wrong so braced myself for racist abuse, but sat down anyway when I spotted other passengers nearby. I opened my laptop and got on with work, when all of a sudden he was leaning over me, whispering in my ear, 'I want to eat you out right now.' I immediately pulled away from him and told him to take a step back, to which he angrily snatched my train ticket from the table and began shouting that I had taken his ticket. I calmly replied that he had my ticket, but the next thing I knew he grabbed me and physically tried to drag me out of my seat. I was in shock. Another passenger shouted at him to leave me alone, before the ticket conductor rushed in and moved him away, kicking him off at the next stop.

I arrived at my station and rushed straight to my event, where I dazedly shared what had happened. My colleagues encouraged me to report it, and when I did, the police officers took it seriously and handled it sensitively. They said they would seek out the CCTV from the train provider, and that a detective inspector would be in touch. I went home shaken but relieved. A few days later I received a call from the detective inspector who informed me they were pursuing my case and that I had done well to report it. The suspect was found fairly quickly and I go to court in July after two delays dues to COVID. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed at every stage by how the police handled my case; I know how rarely women - particularly women of colour - are believed. I was believed and encouraged from the start."

JORDANNE

Photo credit: Provided
Photo credit: Provided

"In July 2016, I was walking home late at night after a pub quiz. The 20 minute route I took was one I had walked many times before over the years and never had any problems. The streets are mostly well lit, and very residential so I felt somewhat safe.

As I got onto my road, I turned around to see a man on the other side of the road walking in the same direction as me. It was dark and still warm, but this guy had his hood up which I thought was concerning, so I picked up my speed. When I got closer to my house he was no more than two metres away from me. It was at this point I started to panic. I removed my headphones and took my keys out of my pocket. I started to run and had just reached my front garden when the man jumped on me from behind. He pulled me onto the floor and tried to assault me. I screamed as loud as I could, and my neighbour's dogs started barking, so he got up and ran away.

I called the police and they were on the scene in minutes. After a lot of investigation and clear CCTV footage of this man, he was never found and my case was filed as unsolved. I have since moved house as I was too scared to go back knowing he was still out there, and that he knew where I lived. To this day, I’m still terrified."

KATHERINE

Photo credit: Provided
Photo credit: Provided

"About five years ago I was on my way to work on a train. It was 8.30am and relatively empty; just me and another guy on the carriage. I noticed he was looking at me and behaving a bit strangely, but I just ignored him. When the train pulled in to the station, he got out. Almost immediately I heard a knock on the window next to where I was sitting, so I turned around and saw that he had his cock out right in front of my face. I was so shocked I completely froze, before turning and looking away. Thankfully, after a minute or so, the train pulled away, but my heart was pounding.

One of my close friends is a British transport police detective, and he advised me to report it to the police so that they could find out whether this guy was doing it frequently. I called them and they were very kind and supportive on the phone, interviewing me to log the incident. Ultimately, however, the police said it was unlikely they’d catch my flasher, and I never heard anything after that. I'm upset about that; I have since learned that a lot of sexual predators start with lower level crime like indecent exposure before moving on to committing more serious crime, so I hope that the man who flashed me was caught before he escalated into doing anything else."

HOLLIE-ANNE BROOKS

Photo credit: Provided
Photo credit: Provided

"Before I became disabled in 2018, I was involved an incident that terrified me, and that I wouldn’t be able to deal with in the same way as a wheelchair-using woman now. I had booked a taxi through an app in the early hours of the morning, for a 50-mile trip from my friend’s house back to mine. Despite having had a few drinks, I quickly became aware that the driver was going in the complete wrong direction and had locked the doors. I asked him several times why he was going the wrong way, and after shouting at him he eventually unlocked the door. I had no idea where we were, but luckily we were driving past a tube station, so I jumped out of the car as it pulled up to a traffic light. A tube worker saw what happened and helped me get home.

As a wheelchair user now, I wouldn’t have been able just to jump out of a moving cab, and it terrifies me to think that something similar might happen one day. I reported it to the police but they said there was nothing they could do as the driver hadn’t technically committed a crime. I now campaign for disabled women’s safety - we can’t take cabs in the same way or just divert our route if we feel threatened. We need the police to become better allies to women in general, but especially to disabled women."

DEHENNA DAVISON

MP for Bishop Auckland

Photo credit: Provided
Photo credit: Provided

"It was late evening and I was sitting on my sofa watching Netflix when I saw a text message come through from a number I didn’t recognise. The message effectively said 'what goes around comes around.' Darker messages then followed. As soon as I read them, every worst-case scenario began whooshing around my head. For anyone in any walk of life, messages like this would create a sense of unease. But being in the public eye, experiencing every day the vitriol regularly directed at MPs, my mind instantly jumped to the horrific Jo Cox incident.

Before moving house last summer, I experienced instances of people turning up at my door. And although I have taken caution to keep my new address private, I live alone and often think, 'if someone turned up here, could I defend myself?' After reading the texts, I forced myself to be calm and rational. After all, there had been no explicit threat, right? It’s sometimes easier to try and dismiss this kind of intimidation, but social media and messaging platforms bring harassment straight into your private space and right onto your lap. Like many MPs, I have been lucky enough to have a direct police contact due to the nature of the work we do and the threats we often receive. I was reminded of what my brilliant local police contact, Jamie, told me at our first meeting after I got elected: 'If you get any messages you’re worried about, let us know.' So, I decided to drop him a line. Despite it being his weekend off, he responded almost straight away and dialled it in so the control room were aware in case anything escalated.

For many women, this is not their reality, as historically it has been difficult to log these crimes or have them taken seriously. Acts of misogyny can often be indicators of more serious threats – and in some terrible cases, it has been too late to act. I hope that now these acts can be recorded as hate crimes, police will have more power to come down hard on perpetrators, and that all women will feel more confident in reporting these crimes, no matter how 'small' they may seem."

SOFIA*

Photo credit: Alice Cowling/Cosmopolitan UK
Photo credit: Alice Cowling/Cosmopolitan UK

"One quiet Sunday morning, around 9am, I went for a run. I was walking to warm up, and I passed a man hanging around on a street corner, facing me, who struck me as a little odd. Further up the road, I turned around to see he had started following me, and was running at speed toward me. A bystander in a van screeched up to him to scare him off, and he bolted across the road and down back the other side. The man driving the van told me that he’d been keeping an eye on him all morning as he’d been behaving oddly, and that he had definitely been chasing me.

When I returned home I contacted the police. From the beginning there were communication problems, with multiple different police officers calling me, unaware that I’d made my report to someone else. I was told they’d take my description of the offender and let the ‘early morning patrol’ know, but that was it. I was concerned that this was a pattern of behaviour for the man, and might be linked to other attacks upon women. So when the police didn’t ask me for a description of myself, or what I was wearing, it was a real indicator to me that they had no intention of checking any nearby CCTV, dash-cam or doorbell footage. Instead, they told me to change my routine, including when I exercised, and when I went to and from work, as most attacks were by people you knew. Whilst this is no doubt practical advice, it ultimately meant that I ended up doing more work to protect myself than they did."

CLAIRE

Photo credit: Provided
Photo credit: Provided

"I was entering my block of flats one evening and, as I let the door slowly swing closed behind me, a man ran into the unlit corridor and grabbed me between the legs, before darting back out again. I was wearing a skirt, but thankfully had tights on which added a layer of protection. I cried myself to sleep and really struggled with how to respond as, knowing women who have been raped or seriously assaulted, I felt like I was overreacting. It was only when I opened up to a male colleague about the incident the next day that they encouraged me to report it and made me understand this was assault and my feelings were valid. The police were brilliant and took a statement and even took my clothing away to be tested but, sadly, with no CCTV or DNA, it was impossible for them to identify a perpetrator. I slammed the door shut behind me for the following six years I lived there."

MAIYA

Photo credit: Provided
Photo credit: Provided

"I was leaving a bar with four female friends at around midnight, headed to another bar five minutes away. Soon after we left the first bar, two cars full of men started curb crawling us, shouting at us, asking us where we were going and why we weren't stopping to talk. We mostly ignored them, aside from asking them to stop following us. They didn’t relent, and began slowing down and speeding up, occasionally swerving intimidatingly close to us.

When we got to the bar, relieved, we realised they had followed us in, where they continued to harass us. We asked the bar staff to request they leave but they said they couldn't. One of the men from the group then got angry and threatened to 'smash my jaw in,' saying he was calling people to come and beat us up. Unable to remain in the bar because they wouldn't leave us alone, and scared about the possibility of violence if we left, we called the police. Officers arrived and we went outside to speak to them, at which point they suggested the best approach would be for us to go home while they had a word with the men. We asked if they would escort us home but they refused, insisting we should go home to avoid aggravating the situation, or it could be recorded as a public order offence. They left us to walk down the street and wait for a taxi in fear. Luckily, we made it home safely, but a few days later I laughed when I received a text from victim support. The absolute irony."

CAROLINE

Photo credit: Provided
Photo credit: Provided

"In my second year of university, my housemate and I were in a club when an older guy came over trying to dance, grinding on us and repeatedly touching us. We kept moving away from him, told him to stop and then, eventually, I pushed him away. He then pulled our hair, threw his drink and spat at us – at which point other men and security were quick to hold him back.

He was pinned down by security and then arrested by police. My friend and I made our way to the station to give our statements - it was very informal and we were quite tipsy and they offered us hot chocolates. We heard back a few days later - the guy was so embarrassed and had apparently never acted this way before. He promised never to again."

ISABELLA SILVERS

Photo credit: Provided
Photo credit: Provided

"At 18, I worked in Topshop. After finishing my late shift at 11pm, I hopped on a bus home. Sitting at the back of the bus on the bottom deck, I noticed a man sitting one seat away from me. He had a bag on his lap, and was reaching his hand across the seat between us, as if to touch my thigh. I felt uncomfortable, and looking back now, it’s likely he was masturbating under the bag. As I got up to get off the bus, I noticed that the man was behind me. I nervously paused at the bus shelter, pretending to look for something in my bag, to see if he’d follow me. Thankfully, he turned the other way, so I started to walk in the direction of my house. But after just a few steps, I noticed out the corner of my eye that he’d turned around to follow me. Now I was terrified, and upped my pace while trying not to break into a run or show my fear. I gripped my Blackberry tightly and called my dad, who was at home, to ask him to come to the bus stop quickly. At this point, I didn’t know what danger I was in.

When I reached my road, my dad came out and stood on the street, ignoring me walking rapidly past him to see if this man would continue to follow me. When he did, my dad screamed at him to leave me alone, and the man turned down another street. We called 101 (non-urgent police) to log the incident, and two officers (a man and a woman) came to my house the next day. I explained what happened, but later I was told there was nothing the police could do. Today, I would have made more of a fuss about it, but back then, I was young and didn’t know what else to do. I haven’t felt safe at night since, and even over a decade later I still feel nervous getting on that bus. The man robbed me of my sense of freedom and, to be honest, I don’t know if I’ll ever get it back."

JULIA*

Photo credit: Alice Cowling/Cosmopolitan UK
Photo credit: Alice Cowling/Cosmopolitan UK

"When I was at university I lived in a house with four other girls – and we’d all heard a few strange noises over a couple of nights, like clambering and knocking, but we’d not mentioned it to each other and thought nothing of it. One night my housemate in the bedroom next door screamed; we all went running and she told us a guy had climbed onto the first floor extension roof below and was peering in her window.

We reported it to the police, who visited us, looked around and said there was nothing they could do. We all slept in one room for a week or so, then life resumed. One night I was in the house on my own and I heard that same clambering noise at my housemate’s window. I called the police, panicked, at 11:30pm. They arrived in minutes but their arrival had scared him off. They searched the house and garden but then had to leave me to it. He never returned after this, but was never caught either. We think he’d been watching us for a while."

MEGAN

Photo credit: Provided
Photo credit: Provided

"I was followed in broad daylight by a car when I was walking along a busy road. At first I assumed it was an Uber but eventually the car pulled over right in front of me. The driver kept trying to tell me he knew me but I felt scared of him; I got the feeling that he was trying to convince me to get into the car. I was practically running towards the station before he could say anything else.

When I got to work a colleague encouraged me to call the police, I called the non-emergency number and had quite a short, rushed call with a male responder. I remember thinking that he felt totally bored and disinterested in my story. I realised after I’d hung up that he hadn’t taken my name, age or any contact details - I felt really sad. My colleague later told me that sexual harassment or following a stranger in the street wasn’t illegal, which totally blew my mind."

JOEY*

Photo credit: Alice Cowling/Cosmopolitan UK
Photo credit: Alice Cowling/Cosmopolitan UK

"I was verbally assaulted by a man who lived in my block of flats. He said sexually explicit things to me and wouldn’t leave me alone. Thankfully some other neighbours arrived as this was happening and they helped me get into my flat. It was horrible and I was so shaken.

When I reported it to the police I received a call back pretty quickly, from an officer who offered for me to come to the local police station or do a home visit. I was really grateful to be offered a home visit, which I accepted. He calmly allowed me to explain what had happened, and was very understanding when I started crying as I went into some of the detail. He explained all my options, which included prosecution. It sounds stupid, but I hadn’t thought this would be a possibility. Even though I decided I didn’t want to prosecute, I felt really supported by the police. It validated my experience."

CATRIONA INNES

Photo credit: Provided
Photo credit: Provided

"On a night out, I was queueing to get my coat when the man behind me stuck his fingers up my skirt and into my knickers. I was so shocked I just ran out, leaving the queue and my friend eventually found me on the steps outside crying.

She persuaded me to go to the police, where I was taken into a room and interviewed by an officer. They were kind to me, but essentially said that there was little point reporting as he wouldn’t get caught, and having to go through the whole process of going to court would be an ordeal for me. I left feeling really stupid for even going to the station."

TASHA

Courtesy of @CheerUpLove

Photo credit: Provided
Photo credit: Provided

"After a university night out a few years ago with someone I was dating, I'd walked her to the taxi rank before heading to meet my flatmates at an after-party. All evening we'd noticed an older man leering around us. Assuming he was a local resident that had just had too much to drink, we brushed it off and continued as normal. Whilst walking through the city centre, which was still quite lively with students at that time, I noticed the same man walking behind me and sped up a little. As I sped up, he began shouting drunkenly to get my attention, but I didn't engage. Aggravated that he was being ignored, he caught up and pushed me to the wall, telling me that 'all I needed was a real man to turn me straight' and grabbed my face, trying to rub his fingers across my mouth.

I ran the full journey back home in shock. The next day I reported this incident to my university and was very disappointed to hear them actively encourage me to 'let it go', due to not knowing his identity and there being no 'willing witnesses' to the incident. It left me feeling frustrated and angry. Having seen the university’s response to a previous report of harassment, I was completely put off reporting again – to them or the local police. At the time I thought it best for my mental health to get on with my studies than be dragged through the complaints process."

BIBI

Photo credit: Provided
Photo credit: Provided

"In December 2019 I was walking down my street, on my way home from my work Christmas party when a man crept up behind me, put his hand under my dress and grabbed me. I managed to scream loudly and scare him off, but was left traumatised. I reported it to the police the next morning as I was too upset when I got home, and a female officer called me back to say she was sending two officers over to my house within the hour. She was empathetic and put confidence in me that the officers would do something about the crime I had reported.

40 minutes later, two male officers appeared at my door. I was nervous as I retold them what happened, and felt uncomfortable sharing it with two young men who didn't seem to recognise the struggle of retelling trauma. Afterwards, they told me, 'To be honest, this happens quite often,' and proceeded to tell me they would open a case but that it would probably get closed straight away due to lack of evidence. I was taken aback; I thought something could be done given my street is just off a main road covered in CCTV and video doorbells. They said I would get an email when the case had been opened, but I never did. I was really let down. I had built myself up to report it with the mindset that the same thing or worse could happen to someone else, and I told the two male officers that, but they didn't seem phased."

SADIE*

Photo credit: Alice Cowling/Cosmopolitan UK
Photo credit: Alice Cowling/Cosmopolitan UK

"I was walking home from the train station after drinks with friends, and had my headphones in as it was a well-lit main road with no-one else around. Suddenly, I heard what sounded like a kissing noise in my ear. I pulled out my headphones and glanced to my right; lying down in the bushes on the side of the road was a man in his forties. He had his top pulled up and red trousers down around his ankles, and he was masturbating towards me. I was so shocked and disgusted, I dropped my headphones and began to run as fast as I could, glancing back to see if he was following me. I called a friend who I’d been with that evening, who advised me to call the police straight away. I dialled 999 and was put through to a woman who was brilliant; she really listened and calmed me down, and stayed on the phone until three police cars pulled up. I was quite surprised at how seriously they had taken the incident.

I gave a statement and showed the officers where it had happened, but the man had disappeared. Once I’d given my details, one of the police officers asked if I was alright to get home by myself. I only lived a five minute walk away, and I didn’t want to be an inconvenience, so I just said yes and made my way home. But I was on edge the rest of the journey and ran most of the way - the man could have been anywhere. Looking back, I’m really shocked that they didn’t offer to take me home. I was given no way to follow up the incident, so I never knew what happened, and for the next few weeks I wouldn’t walk by myself anywhere. Even now, months on, I double take any man wearing red trousers, wondering if it was him and if he’d do it again."

HOLLY

Photo credit: Provided
Photo credit: Provided

"I have lived on a main high street for almost a year. From pretty much day one (actually at least once a week without fail) I have been the victim of some form of sexual harassment or verbal abuse. This has ranged from cat calling, comments about my clothing and body or as far as following me to my door at night. I’ve changed my outfits, taken my headphones out and always have my keys in hand.

One day, the comments were so obscene I decided to contact the police, via an online form. A formal phone interview was booked for the next day, which was polite and to the point. I was listened to, acknowledged and completely supported (even when I said I felt silly for ringing!) They asked what I’d like to see from my area and my comments were noted and read back to me for clarity. I initially was a little down as my report couldn’t lead to any direct action but I was promised a follow up from local safer streets teams. Since then I have had a follow up email, patrols of the area are visibly up, no one hangs outside my door and I had a personal visit from local beat cops a week later. This blew me away, it’s not going to change the world but it empowered me to stand up for myself knowing someone may actually take me seriously."

PAISLEY GILMOUR

Photo credit: Provided
Photo credit: Provided

"A homeless man used to sit outside a hotel near to my office, and was known for shouting at women and scaring them. One morning, he screamed at me and reached out to grab my legs from his position on the ground - the only reason he didn’t manage to grab me was because I jumped out of the way. I was shaken up and told a colleague what had happened in the lift afterwards, a woman overheard and said it had happened to her and someone else in the building, too. I asked around and it turned out loads of female employees had been scared by him, so I spoke with someone in Facilities who was amazing and told me to report it to the police.

I did, online, via a form, and they came around the next day to chat to me, which I thought was incredible. However, it was two huge male officers, and when they sat down with me, they asked if I had been assaulted. I said no, that it was an attempted assault and also that it was intimidation and gendered harassment, and their response was, ‘oh, well no assault has taken place’. They immediately lost interest, and it made me feel really stupid for even reporting it, considering I hadn’t actually been grabbed. I found myself almost apologising. They got up, left, and I never heard from them again. When I came back into the office the next day, just before we started working from home because of the pandemic, the man was still there, sitting outside the hotel."

HARRIET*

Photo credit: Alice Cowling/Cosmopolitan UK
Photo credit: Alice Cowling/Cosmopolitan UK

"I was out for a walk by myself in my local park when a man approached me from behind on a bike. He told me I was gorgeous and asked me to go out with him. I declined but he then began to follow me all around the park. When I told him to leave he asked to kiss me. Then, when I said no, he grabbed me and picked me up. When he eventually put me down (after I shouted at him to) I ran away, waiting in a local supermarket until the coast was clear.

I wasn't going to report it as I wasn't sure what could be done but my dad was adamant that I should. The police took a statement over the phone, however the female officer said that there wasn't much they could do as there was no CCTV in the park - even though there is CCTV attached to a private property which overlooks it. A few weeks later I got a call as two more women had come forward with similar stories and they believed it was the same man. I agreed to go into the station to give a full statement. There they said there was enough evidence to arrest this individual for harassment, GBH and public disorder. They sent an undercover officer to the park but it was snowing that day and he didn’t show. After that they closed the case.

I was very disheartened about that as I was told this sort of behaviour often leads to much more dangerous and serious offences. Even though it happened in a very busy park at midday, I still don't feel safe walking there alone."

KIRSTEN

Photo credit: Provided
Photo credit: Provided

"Back in 2016, my friends and I were enjoying a girls weekend in London. Around midnight, following some drinks and dancing, we made our way home. We were walking along the pavement by a bus stop when I was suddenly grabbed by the crotch by a man walking the other way, and pinned against the side wall. It was all a bit of a blur but I managed to kick myself free and the man fled. I was incredibly shaken up and my friends called the police, who arrived very quickly. Sadly, my immediate reaction was to question what happened - we’d had a couple of drinks - was this my fault?

The police were very reassuring, they took statements from and took us home. The following Monday I received a follow up call from a specialised unit offering me support and directing me towards resources both online and in my home city of Manchester. Looking back, I wish I had taken them up on this more. I also received contact from the police who were directly dealing with the case. They kept me informed on their progress over the following weeks however, eventually, they later had to drop the case due to insufficient evidence; there were only a couple of brief eyewitness accounts and no CCTV in the vicinity. On the whole, my experience of dealing with the police on the matter was positive. I was treated with dignity and respect and I felt they took the matter completely seriously. I know I am one of the luckier ones."

MICHAELA

Photo credit: Provided
Photo credit: Provided

"I reported a sexual assault to the police about six years ago when I was at university. During my statement I was asked multiple times about alcohol and what type of dress I had worn, which led me to feel it was my fault. They then followed up my statement by going to my friends’ house and asking them how much I had to drink before asking to see the recycling bottles to count. They seemed more interested in how it could have been my fault, rather than the assault itself."

JESSICA*

Photo credit: Alice Cowling/Cosmopolitan UK
Photo credit: Alice Cowling/Cosmopolitan UK

"I was walking out of a bar with my boyfriend and a male friend. I stopped for a couple of seconds to readjust my heel, when I felt someone grab my bum. The man immediately carried on walking, but when my friend shouted out to him to apologise, he squared up to them. In an attempt to prevent anyone from getting hurt, I called the police, and the man walked off. With my description, the police quickly tracked him down in the nearby area, arresting him and holding him overnight. The police were very supportive and I knew I’d done the right thing in calling them, but when I told some friends what had happened I was shocked to find some dismissed it, saying 'it could have been worse'. It could have been worse, yes, which is exactly why men need to be held accountable - to prevent worse things from happening.

The case went to court and it was terrifying. I was asked by the defence what I was wearing (not that it matters, but I was wearing jeans and a white shirt), and whether I had spoken to him (I hadn’t). I later found out that the man had attacked another woman that same night. He got a two year suspended sentence and the police and CPS were amazing and supportive throughout the entire process. I would urge anyone who has suffered an incident like this to report it; if we can turn our own experiences into data, I hope we can create a safer world for women to exist."

LORRAINE

Photo credit: Provided
Photo credit: Provided

"Late afternoon one Saturday when I was 16, I noticed an older man I didn’t know was trying to get my attention. I acted oblivious, but he continued following me, crossing the road when I did and even getting on the same bus. When he tried to touch me, I screamed and the driver let me off, shutting the doors too fast to allow him to get off too. Over the next two years, the man continued to follow me, and even tried to convince people I knew that we were in an intimate relationship. He became a regular lurker outside my mum’s house, and even sent my little brother Facebook messages asking about me. Every time he popped up, I would make a scene.

Initially I tried to ignore it, thinking of him more as an inconvenience than anything else. But as the years went by it began to affect me more. I became distant, untrusting and felt very alone. I felt like the only way to be truly safe was to disappear. When I went to university, my mum discovered what was going on after finding the messages he’d sent to my younger brother, and she made me report it to the police. I didn’t want to report it because I felt like nothing would come of it other than more stress - and I was right. After a long winded process of police telling me to carry torches in my bag to 'knock him out,' and advising me to use keys or body sprays if he tried to come near me, my parents pushed for more and officers eventually cautioned the man. This seemed to do nothing; he continued lurking everywhere I went, and when I contacted the police again willingly, they took another report but told me they couldn’t do anything. From then on, I just had to go back to acting like he didn’t exist."

*Names have been changed

If you're affected by any of the issues raised in this feature, reach out to Victim Support for guidance. If your mental health is suffering as a result of sexual harassment, contact Mind for support.


You Might Also Like