The recent allegations against the comedian Al Porter served as an uncomfortable reminder that sexual harassment and assault can happen anywhere. It’s something I have witnessed, it’s something I have been a victim of.
And I am sure like those who have spoken out about Al Porter, there are many others with stories like mine. Granted those who committed the acts might not have been famous, but they certainly held all the power in those situations.
I’m thinking of nights out when I first came out. Back then the gay bars were down side streets. In fact for one bar you had to knock on the door to go in. This isn’t 20 years ago, this is 10 years ago in Cork.
Back then as a naive young gay man I was oblivious to a lot of what was happening, but sometimes on a night I would get someone’s attention, someone whose attention I didn’t want, and sometimes they did not respect that. A hand would appear on my ass or my crotch, which I would pointedly remove and he would try again. Even when No is said, both verbally and physically it does not get through to people.
This would happen on the dance floor or near the bar. This wouldn’t be a once off thing. It would happen again, and again, and again. It was the case that it was the same person doing this. There could be months between occurrences. These were not ‘powerful’ or ‘influential’. These were men whose name I didn’t know, nor wanted to know. These men so saw a young man in a bar and who they wanted, but would not take No for an answer.
There were so many small incidents over the years. While the #MeToo campaign was taking off I was thinking of telling my story, but I didn’t want to take away from this worthy campaign of women telling their stories. Then Anthony Rapp told his story and others then came forward and this week we had Al Porter. It is time to say enough.
Anyone can suffer from sexual harassment. Fintan O’Toole writing in the Irish Times on November 18th wrote:
“Boys are almost as likely to experience sexual assault as girls are. Irish figures are disgracefully out of date, but the landmark Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) study in 2002 found that one in six adult men reported contact sexual abuse in childhood, compared to one in five women. And this is not just about the general vulnerability of childhood: while 42 per cent of women reported some form of sexual abuse or assault in their lifetime, so did more than a quarter (28 per cent) of men.”
– Fintan O’Toole, Irish Times
This is something we can all do something about. We can call out harassment, we can stand up for our friends. We can point to our friends’ inappropriate behaviour and say that it’s not on, you need to change. We can support and listen to our friends tell their stories and not doubt them.
Because once it happens to you, it becomes a part of you.
Sometimes I still get a look and I am transported back…. But my reaction now would be different.
The author of this piece requested to remain anonymous, a request that we have granted. If you have been affected by any of the content in this article, you can contact the Samaritans (116 123), Sexual Violence Centre Cork (1800 496 496) and the Gay Switchboard Ireland (01 872 1055) for help.