A recent violation brings Emma Doran back to a childhood incident…
TW: This piece contains mention of sexual assault
When I was about 12, I was out on the road with one of my neighbours. She usually didn’t hang around with me; she was a year ahead in school and far too cool – everyone else must have been busy that day.
We were in the field doing cartwheels, messing around, when two boys our age from the neighbourhood came into the field and started chasing us, so we started running.
It was all good harmless fun. I got caught and the boy chasing me wrapped his arms around me, and locked me in towards him. Still grand, but I could sense myself, the other boy and the other girl were all on the same page- ‘where is he going with this’.
He when proceeded to feel me up, squeezing my 12-year-old breasts and my vagina pretty hard. I said nothing and the others just watched.
At the time I remember feeling embarrassed, warm, confused and a bit frozen.
No one said anything afterwards. The boys and girls went their separate ways and the day continued. It only turned sour when the girl I was with lost one of her new Mickey Mouse earrings in the grass and we couldn’t find it.
And that was it. My first experience of sexual assault. I didn’t know what it was and didn’t speak about it again until many years later. When I was 17 I told a friend in school. ‘You were raped’, she replied. I knew it wasn’t rape but I knew somewhere in my brain what she was trying to communicate. It was a type of conversation I had never had before. We simply didn’t have the language. It made me think though-‘What was it’? But I don’t feel I really knew what it was until I was in my 20s.
I was heading home after a gig a few weeks ago, when a man jumped in front of me and tried to expose himself to me. And just like the field, there I was, except now as a grown woman, feeling blindsided and confused again.
Except now the strongest emotion was fear. My heart felt like it was literally beating out of my chest. Was it my age or my experience with unwanted sexual encounters? I warned two women I met 30 seconds down the road and told two guards I met a little further on. As the guard asked me again to describe the man, I suddenly realised I was now reporting an incident. There was a part of me that felt almost silly for making this brief event into ‘a thing’.
Later that night I devised a new plan of action when working in the city at night. I spoke to my Mam about getting Mace and how the problem with a weapon is that it can just as easily be used against you. Parking on the street wasn’t great, I’d had other ‘incidents’ in indoor car parks, and walking home from the bus stop had its own challenges.
The next day I was pissed off. Pissed off that I had to organise my life in this way, in order to feel safe in my hometown once it was dark. In the past I’d spoken to other comedians about the high of coming off stage after a great gig. I didn’t seem to experience it to the same extent, and I could never figure out why. It suddenly dawned on me that after the gig finished, my main concern was always getting home safely.
Later in the week I made excuses; town hasn’t been the same since the pandemic. With many businesses still closed there aren’t as many people around, and this has led to a somewhat strange atmosphere.
Great! I had figured it out. I had found some logic in the whole bizarre occurrence.
But what about all the other times I had been going home at night before the pandemic? Or walking to school in broad daylight when that man approached? Or the field? There wasn’t a strange atmosphere in the field.
In the various frightening experiences that most women are subjected to during their lives we all, I feel, try to find some comfort in identifying the reasons for the moment of ‘bad luck’. I mean it’s why true crime is a billion-dollar industry. It’s not purely entertainment for women, it’s research. If we can pinpoint the why, then maybe, we wouldn’t feel like it’s a fear all the time. But we unfortunately know the only clear thing is that women don’t feel safe and have to navigate the world in a very different way.