Harassment: Take 'No' As An Answer

After recently moving back to London from University, I went out to a local bar a couple of weeks ago with some friends from home. It was to celebrate one of their birthdays and offered the perfect chance to catch up as I hadn't seen any of them for a few months.

The bar we were in had decent music, a good mix of people in terms of age and gender, and everyone was having a good time. Later into the night, I was sat with two of my friends at the back, just having a chat, when a man came over to us dancing and waving his hands. Me being me, I stayed seated but grinned and basically copied what he was doing. Just a bit of fun. 

The guy went over to my friend and tried to pull her up but after saying she was in a relationship, he soon let go. Cue him coming round to my side of the table. My attempts to decline fell on deaf ears and so he pulled me up and I began to dance with him. We were not in the dance floor area, and so were an isolated 'couple' but that was fine. Although reluctant, and despite a few awkward people around me clearly sensing my discomfort, I didn't mind briefly joining in to make a stranger happy. My friends found it hilarious, it was a story to tell afterwards and there would be no harm done. It's just a little dance, right?

It was at this point I realised, however, that this guy suddenly seemed to think that me dancing with him meant I had given a major signal that I was attracted to him. "You smiled at me," he said. My reply: "Yes, I smile at everyone". This is actually true, it's polite to smile at people you make eye contact with, no? I told him I thought he was a little old for me and after establishing our ages, he claimed he wasn't. Being honest, age has little to do with attraction in my opinion, but you'd have thought that hearing that is enough to make you walk away from the situation. In spite of my discomfort, I didn't want to offend and continued to dance but after he put his head on my shoulder, I'd had enough. It then seemed as if he'd grasped I wasn't interested and left me alone.

Minutes passed before he was back, repeating the exact same steps as before. I shrugged his hand off this time with a firm 'no'. Incredibly, a few more minutes passed and the same thing happened. Are you not understanding 'no'? Sure, he had a heavy accent and was not of British descent but even if you miraculously don't know that 'no means no', my body language gave everything away.

A while after, we moved to the bar and I decided to put my jacket on, hoping it would disguise me. I'm tall so it really made little difference and everyone in the bar suddenly seemed shorter than me so I felt like the guy may still be watching from afar... and what happens? He returns again! Immediately right beside me and repeatedly whispering in my ear "I just can't stop liking you" as well as other things that I couldn't hear clearly. This time I actually raised my voice and said "there's nothing I can do about that" and waved him away. 

To many people, the story I've just told may sound familiar, or frankly dull. In reality, it should come as a surprise when a man behaves this way, surely? Why is society programmed to accept this? I have had people saying I should've kissed a friend, told him I was gay or said I was in a relationship but why should I? Why is a firm 'no' not enough? I shouldn't have to lie to get out of having my personal space repeatedly invaded when I go out with my friends.

I think it's also important to reinforce that being drunk isn't an excuse either. There were plenty of merry people around me who weren't grasping strangers nearby. To be honest, if drinking makes you force yourself onto other people and suddenly lose the inability to comprehend basic English such as 'no', you should probably stop. 

On this occasion, I handled the situation entirely alone with no one else stepping in, although part of me wishes they had. (Side note: I couldn't actually see a single member of security close by when this was going on.) Regardless of that, there shouldn't be the potential need for anyone to intervene. Rather, we need to educate society - and I appreciate, women can behave inappropriately too - that people need to learn to take 'no' as an answer. 

The truth is that we're so afraid of being seen as dramatic that we avoid saying that we have been subjected to sexual or verbal harassment. Look up the meaning of the term - if what has happened to you constitutes harassment, speak out about it. Don't dumb it down or worse, make it seem like it was your fault. That only contributes to it being accepted as regular behaviour on a night out (as well as other environments). I don't know about you but that's not good enough for me.


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