Yesterday, I decided to go for a quiet walk by the sea in Kent.
The rain and clouds had cleared and it was a glorious afternoon. With few other people around, the only sounds were of seabirds and lapping waves on the shingle. As I walked along a road just above the beach in Seasalter, I heard a car driving slowly behind me.
The engine noise got closer and closer as I neared the end of the cul-de-sac. I turned around to encounter a middle-aged man driving a grey Golf who suddenly started screaming at me without any warning.
‘I HATE YOU. WE ALL HATE YOU. WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? YOU ARE UGLY AND STUPID AND YOU’RE S***!’
Initially, I laughed – more out of nervousness – because his car was literally six feet from my legs, and then I quickly stumbled down a grass slope to the beach to escape, heading back towards home.
The moron turned his car around and then followed me for a few yards above, with his windows down, screaming out some final insults:
Janet Street-Porter: ‘Keeping women safe has become a huge issue in 2023’
‘YOU’VE GOT IT COMING. YOU WILL GO DOWN.’
Then he triumphantly drove off, leaving me shaking and utterly confused.
What on earth was his intention?
Was he exercising his freedom of speech? I accept that not everyone might agree with my opinions.
Or was this threatening behaviour? Verbal violence can be as damaging as physical abuse. I certainly felt as if I had been hit.
What did he mean by ‘going down’? Death?
The definition of what is fair comment has become blurred. These days, everyone thinks they are entitled to voice an opinion on social media. Fair enough, but in the real world, screaming at a woman walking by herself is nothing less than a violent, frightening act.
Why can’t we express our dislike or distaste for someone or something without SHOUTING and SCREAMING at full volume?
Women like me who stick our heads up and voice our opinions – on television and online – are used to being trashed by anonymous trolls. MPs, businesswomen, TV presenters and my fellow Loose Women have all encountered people who think it’s perfectly ok to say right into our faces in public places that they think we’re crap. (To be fair, there are far more people who are very nice and complimentary).
But even if I loathe someone’s views, I would never consider getting into a car and following them, screaming and swearing out of the window at close range. There are other, more subtle ways to get your views across.
Keeping women safe has become a huge issue in 2023.
In spite of new laws, and well-intentioned policies, many women never complain when they are assaulted or groped. They fear the comeback in the workplace, and who thinks the police force take sexual allegations seriously, no matter how many times they apologise?
In social situations, assault is hard to prove as it’s often one person’s word against another, and a prosecution can take years to come to trial.
This week, writer Daisy Goodwin made headlines by naming a political advisor who she alleged groped her in Downing Street 10 years ago. She had gone for a meeting about a potential film project, when (without any warning) Daniel Korski placed his hand on her breast.
‘The reason Daisy Goodwin has spoken out now – 10 years after the breast-grabbing incident took place – is because Mr Korski was hoping to be chosen as the Tory candidate for London Mayor’
Daniel Korski has now withdrawn from the London mayoral race as a Conservative candidate
At the time, she did nothing, and I can understand why. It would have been her word against his. Would it have hindered her career as a documentary maker? She did tell her friends, and soon found out that other women had similar experiences.
Since then, the #MeToo movement – triggered by the horrible revelations about Harvey Weinstein – has led to thousands of women revealing their experiences of inappropriate behaviour. Employers have been quick to emphasise safety in the workplace.
But one of the places where ‘safety’ in the workplace seems a hard-to-grasp-notion is at the heart of government itself.
Week in and week out, allegations filter out of male MPs and special advisors behaving inappropriately towards their staff.
Westminster is still in the stone age. At the same time, MPs are falling over each other to talk about ‘protecting’ women. But their own behavour after a few drinks or recreational drugs is very different.
Hypocrisy runs riot in politics.
As for the Metropolitan police, all the hand wringing and apologies in the world won’t convince me that they understand what protecting women and treating them with respect actually entails.
The reason Daisy Goodwin has spoken out now – 10 years after the breast-grabbing incident took place – is because Mr Korski was hoping to be chosen as the Tory candidate for London Mayor and one of his big campaign pledges was to ‘protect’ women.
And even though other women have come forward with allegations about Mr Korski, the Cabinet Office (where he worked at the time) have decided that there is no need for an enquiry.
Mr Korski has stood down from his mayoral campaign, saying the claims (which he robustly denies) have become a distraction. Caroline Noakes, chair of the Commons equalities committee, said she believed Daisy Goodwin and that sexual harrassment complaints were dealt with extremely slowly in Westminster.
Why would women working in a junior capacity in government make a complaint, knowing that the target of the complaint would probably be allowed to remain in post for the many months it would take to investigate?
Even if perpetrators are found guilty, all too often they are barred from the House for a few days or weeks, and then allowed to return to work.
During my time in television and journalism, I have been groped and stroked by Cabinet Ministers, fellow editors and executives. I have always been robust enough to dismiss these incursions into my private space as a bit of a joke.
But this latest incident, on an empty suburban road in Kent, seems a bit more worrying. How can any man sleep at night knowing he frightened an elderly woman (me) walking alone?
It’s hardly a battle of equals. He’s in a car. I’m on foot. He drove off hardly giving me the right of reply.
Shall I tell the police? What would be the point? They are over-stretched, and what are the chances of finding this weaselly coward?
But I must tell the police, otherwise this creep might think it’s OK to terrify other women for ‘sport’.
I want him to feel ashamed for not treating a fellow human being with respect.