'I just want to feel safe walking down my street' - Rugby women share accounts of harassment and sexual assault

This story contains accounts that some may find upsetting - but we have chosen to publish them in full in the hope it highlights the extent of the problem

Friday, 19th March 2021, 6:46 pm
(Photo: Shutterstock)

Scores of women have contacted the Advertiser to share harrowing accounts of violence, abuse and sexual harassment on the streets of Rugby.

In the wake of the death of Sarah Everard, women across the country have been bravely sharing their own stories of threats, violence and sexual harassment in the streets.

The Advertiser put out a call on social media, asking women from Rugby to share their own experiences in the hope of beginning a local conversation on the extent of the problem.

The response was overwhelming, with many harrowing accounts of everything from catcalling and wolf-whistling to outright violent sexual attacks.

Many of these incidents occurred against either very young women or children - with some reporting being harassed while in school uniform.

Below are all the accounts we have been sent.

Readers are reminded that all of these accounts contain information and language that may be deeply upsetting, and some contain lucid accounts of violence and sexual assault.

The Advertiser would like to hear from Rugby women on what should be done to make the streets safer. Do you have a view? Email [email protected]

Account 1

"When I was 17 or 18 I was finishing work one night and a lad that came into my work regularly was standing near a shop in town in the direction I usually walk home. I just walked past, said hi and he followed me.

"I got through an alley not thinking anything of it and not knowing he was following me - until in the alley he grabbed me, pinned me up against a wall and started masturbating in front of me. I couldn’t move as I was stuck.

"Luckily someone I knew walked past and saw me and it scared him off. I managed to run away.

"I reported to the police and was given a rape alarm I was offered any help with keeping him away from me.

"Another scenario: I was walking home one night and a car pulled up beside me and asked if I wanted a lift. I said no, I’m going to my boyfriend's house (when in fact I was going home) just to get him to back off.

"He was persistent, he pushed his passenger door open and kept asking and driving with the door open.

"I said no thank you again. I must have said no five times. And he then stopped and tried to grab me and put me in the car.

"I was lucky that my mum taught me self defence at a young age. I managed to run and sprint away and I hid behind a bin and the car drove off.

"Another scenario: I was in a nightclub working and I was taking a drink to the DJ when a group of men crowded round me and all were grabbing my bum and boobs.

"I couldn’t get out of this swarm they’d created. I was shouting and fighting them off and luckily a man who I worked with saw it and intervened and kicked them all out.

"Another scenario: I had a man rugby tackle me to the floor because I turned him down and said I wasn’t interested in speaking with him. When I got up one of his mates grabbed my hair, pulled me and said 'that’s what you get for being a tease' - bearing in mind I was in jeans and a top with trainers.

"I could go on about what I’ve experienced as a girl but realistically there isn’t any point because this is how as a girl your shown what men can be like and what burden it is to be a women when it comes to a man's sexual desires.

"This needs to stop and women need to stop living in fear of everything and having to prepare before they go out and having to worry about friends or family that are females one a day to day basis."

Account 2

"I have been approached by a man as I walked home from the town centre one evening. I didn't live far from the town at that point, maybe a five-minute walk, if that.

"I noticed a car that passed me a couple of times. The next time it came by, the car stopped and a man asked me to get in his car, I said no.

"He tried saying that he was doing me a favour by taking me home. I said no again, that I was outside my house.

"He then told me that I should get in the car so he could take me home, he didn't believe I was home. I wasn't, I was a couple of doors away. I told him I was home and that he should leave me alone.

"I walked up the path to the house, acting like it was mine, getting my keys out. The man called me a bitch before driving off.

"It was terrifying, and I hate being out on my own."

Account 3

"I was on my lunch break at work and needed to go to the shop to get a few bits, as I was only 16 at the time and couldn’t drive yet, I had to walk.

"I arrived at the shop with no issues, picked up some lunch and as it was sunny I decided to sit on a bench outside to eat.

"Ten minutes passed and suddenly a car pulled up next to me with two grown men whistling and shouting things at me such as ‘need some company’ and asking why a girl like me was all alone.

"At that point I started to feel extremely uncomfortable and scared so got my phone out and rang my mum, at this moment in time they were parked up metres away from me with their door now open trying to get me to go with them.

"The only thought going through my head at that point was, 'I don’t stand a chance against them'.

"Luckily my mum answered and once it was apparent I was on the phone they closed the car door and drove off so I quickly collected my bits and started to walk back to the office.

"After about five minutes of walking I was close to work when the car suddenly reappeared next to me on the road, it had driven off from where I was sitting, turned around and was now following me back to the office.

"Thankfully I was still on the phone and wasn’t far from where I needed to be, however for the last bit of my journey they continued to drive slowly behind me whilst constantly honking their horn.

"Finally after arriving back in the safety of the building and they’d driven off I felt like I could breathe and knew I was safe.

"Two years later and I haven’t walked to that shop since, it shocked me that men feel they can openly shout, follow and honk at girls from a car in broad daylight.

"I’m so aware many get it a lot worse but it needs to be stopped, we shouldn’t be made to feel unsafe by popping to the shops, especially from a young age."

Account 4

"As a young girl growing up in Rugby, incidences of inappropriate behaviour or sexual assault were quite common.

"There were a number of unnerving incidences with men saying vile things to us (young girls 13/15 years old) walking around Rugby in school uniforms.

"There was also some questionable behaviour from male teachers in school contexts.

"There are two particular incidences (amongst many) though that haunt me because I recognise now that I should have reported these to the police.

"I don’t really know why I didn’t report to the police at the time but I didn’t want to get into trouble because on both occasions I was alone and remember thinking that I would be in trouble for not being more careful and being with others.

"My reason for sharing this now is that I’ve been increasingly worried over the years whether the two men might have progressed on to do worse things to other girls and women and I do feel really guilty not to have spoken out at the time as it might have stopped someone from continuing this type of behaviour.

"The first incident that haunts me is the taxi driver that picked me up age 15 (after calling a Rugby cab company) and took me to a friend’s house.

"Once we pulled up, to drop me off, I was expecting him to tell me the cost but instead he leaned across me and starting touching me inappropriately and kissed me.

"I was in total shock and couldn’t even speak - I just kept moving my face away until I managed to grab the door handle to get out.

"I remember him saying, as I got out, that there was no charge for me and if I ever wanted free rides again just to ask for him (he told me his name).

"I still remember his name and face really clearly.

"Obviously it goes without saying that I never called that company again but it does worry me that a grown man could do that to a teenage girl and think that was ok.

"The second incident that has stayed with me is when I argued with a friend walking home from dance class about age 16 and I stormed off on my own.

"I ended up using the cow field path to get from St Cross to Dunchurch Road but as I climbed over the gate halfway through the field, a man appeared from nowhere and grabbed me from the gate.

"He was touching everywhere but luckily I was wearing my dance leotard so even though his hands were down my trousers, he couldn’t get through the leotard.

"I feel so lucky that I was wearing that. I did fight him off and eventually I managed to scream but my voice wouldn’t come out for ages - I remember it being really hard to make a sound and when I did start screaming it was easier to fight.

"I still remember his face, and his smell.

"I feel awful that he might have gone on to do worse to someone else but I felt so stupid for putting myself in that situation.

"I did tell my friend afterwards but he said that he had come that way afterwards and hadn’t seen anything.

"I remember thinking that if he didn’t believe me then there was no point telling anyone else.

"There are many other incidences I can tell you about but these are the two that make me most uncomfortable because they involved grown men who were strangers to me and I was a child. It is sad to think how common these types of incidences can be."

Account 5

"About two years ago I was walking back from my boyfriend's parents' house after having dinner.

"I went to the shops around 8:30pm to grab a drink. It was late in the year so it was dark. The shops are right over the road from the so I assumed I’d be fine.

"I Watched my boyfriend and son walk off. Anyway, as I enter the shop I saw a gang of lads, roughly four of them and they had bikes in the shop.

"I didn’t give any eye contact, I placed my drink down and paid for it and then left. As I left the shop I could hear them behind me.

"My heart was pounding so I walked home fast and thankfully I didn’t get attacked.

"They followed me to my street and were out there for a little bit and left. I remembered thinking what would happen to my son if I didn’t make it home?

"I felt so angry and upset, so the next day I was determined to report the issue but of course I needed evidence.

"I went back to the shops and luckily the manager was there. I spoke to him and reported the issue.

"We looked at the cctv footage and it made my skin crawl watching the moment I was followed out of the shops.

"The police were contacted and we were able to give a description of the lads. And that was about it.

"Never heard back from the police, nothing. I have no clue if anything was done about it.

"It’s frightened me from going out after 8. Having to walk home from work at 8 gives me the creeps.

"Constantly looking back to make sure I’m not being followed. It left some damage after."

Account 6

"I'm 20 now but since the age of around 16 I've been catcalled.

"Once I had just finished a shift at work in town and I went into the little garden area between the library and central surgery to eat my crisps before walking home.

"A man walked past and asked for the time and thinking nothing of it I told him but he took it as an invitation to sit next to me.

"He started off by saying I hate how a man can't sit next to a woman without it being sexual harassment which was the first flag.

"I was wearing my work uniform which included black trousers, a white blouse and red suit jacket (which was both oversized and had shoulder pads).

"He asked me if where I lived so I told him I was about to meet with my older brother and lied about where I lived and, despite saying I had a boyfriend (even though I didn't), he wanted to go off and talk somewhere more private.

"When I told him no and went to walk off he put his hand on my knee and wanted a kiss.

"I stood up and told him I had to go because my brother was waiting. While walking speedily home I stayed on the phone with my best friend because he followed me half way home.

"It was 4 o'clock in the winter so it was dark and I was walking along the road Lawrence sheriff is on (a main road) and I heard a man walking behind me, I sped up walking towards the school and as I sped up so did the footsteps.

"I started to jog and the steps got faster and closer so I turned to face whoever it was because I'd read on snapchat that if you face the possible attacker they're less likely to attack as you could pick them out in a line up.

"The man loudly said "shit" and put his hand firmly in his pocket and ran down a side road.

"I ran into my dad's car but if I had to walk home or I hadn't turned around I don't want to think about what his intentions were.

"I got home and posted a story on snapchat to ask people to be careful in town that night.

"Another time in broad daylight I was walking to town along a main road and I'm used to men staring me up and down, honking or yelling out of their window but one man pulled up and told me I looked really good in shorts - he was around 40 and I was 17.

"He then told me he was going to park around the corner and told me to meet him there.

"Obviously I kept walking and when I told my friend he stayed on the phone with me until I got to town where I was going to meet him.

"It's not all men but the point is the man in the car and the man on a bench, there was no way I could know what their intentions were by just looking at them.

"Better safe than sorry, hence why I'm cautious unless I know the guy well."

Account 7

"I experienced street harassment for the first time just after I had turned 16.

"I was walking down the street on a hot summer day, and a group of men in a van were driving past me, and started honking their horn at me.

"They looked to be in their 40s.

"The same day, I noticed other young men staring at me while I was trying to shop for groceries. I stopped wearing skirts for years after that incident.

"Between the ages of 15 and 17, I was in an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship.

"Once I got out of that relationship, I constantly felt paranoid and scared while walking around the streets of Rugby.

"I was constantly afraid that I would be assaulted again while simply trying to go about my life. If I leave work when it has gotten dark, I will purposefully take a longer, more well-lit route, because the shortest route takes me down two dimly-lit alleyways, with several annexes that could be used as places for someone to hide.

"I have been known to run home once I’ve gotten off the bus, even though the bus stop is a two-minute walk from my house.

"I will sometimes carry my keys in my hand, just in case, and I know my sister does this too.

"On several occasions, my sister and I have become extremely uncomfortable when we pass groups of young men in Criss-Cross Park.

"Sometimes we would get shouted at, or simply stared at.

"It may not seem like an act of aggression, but two young women walking alone are going to feel uncomfortable.

"We now take a longer route along roads if we need to access the shops, so that we can avoid the park.

"Several times at work, I’ve been called so-called ‘pet names’ by several men who are many years my senior.

"Again, this is something that to a man, may not seem very serious or an act of aggression, but when you are working alone on the shop floor as a young woman, and an older man starts calling you ‘sweetheart’ and ‘angel’, it can make you feel extremely uncomfortable, especially as some men will change their tops in the middle of the store.

"While I have conveyed my experiences to the people I work with, not much can be done as it is not unlawful to do these things, but it can make young women extremely uncomfortable.

"An experience I had only a few months ago happened right outside of my house. I was walking home after posting a letter, and a car containing two men slowed down and dawdled right next to me and followed me at my pace, while the men shouted something unintelligible at me.

"After they had finished shouting at me, they quickly sped up the car and drove down the street.

"In that moment, I didn’t know whether I should just run into my house, but then the men would know where I live.

"These are some of the experiences that stick out to me as a young woman in Rugby, but I have experienced harassment far beyond this.

"I am a university student in London, and I have lost count of the amount of times I have been shouted at, harassed and groped.

"I now don’t go outside at night unless my boyfriend is with me, because it is the only way I will feel any kind of safety.

"I think it is a sad moment for women if women like me have lost count of the amount of times we’ve been harassed.

"I hope that the movement sparking lately will lead to actual cultural change, but unfortunately, I’m not optimistic.

"I just want to feel safe walking down my own street."

Account 8

"I went for a walk at 10am one morning near my home through some woods.

"I smile at everyone I pass but obviously one young man took it the wrong way, as I was walking I just sensed someone was following me.

"I turned round and he jumped in a bush. I have never been so scared in my life, I began walking faster and suddenly he was behind me.

"He exposed himself and was just laughing. this is ten in the morning remember.

"Luckily I my phone and I called the police who were great. The lady on the phone told me to head for a road and describe what he looked like as I went.

"The police were there in minutes, although unfortunately the man was never caught.

"I’m just trying to highlight that it doesn’t have to be at night."

Account 9

"At 16 I would walk, in the summer when it was still light, through the underpass near Rugby school, after finishing working in the Clock Towers on a Friday night.

"I would then walk on down Bilton Road.

"On this particular night, as a walked through the underpass a young man was walking towards me.

"As we passed each other I became aware that his footsteps had stopped, the next thing I know he’s running up behind me where he then pushed his hands between my legs, he then ran off ahead of me.

"There are no houses along that stretch, and it was before we had mobile phones.

"I remember being terrified that he would be waiting somewhere for me.

"I remember stopping a passing couple asking if they could help me as someone had just grabbed me, but they ‘couldn’t as they lived just here’ and then went to their home, leaving me alone and terrified on the road.

"I made it to the phone box at the top of Bilton Road and called my boyfriend, now my husband.

"He came and got me and we called the police. I then was driven around the streets of Rugby in a police car to see if we could find him, of course we couldn’t.

"Then a few days later I had a call from the police, that they believed that the same young man had just assaulted another woman, and they were holding him at the police station.

"I had to stand outside the station and when he came out with his parents, he was 17, I had to walk right up to him, place my hand on his shoulder and say “this is the person that assaulted me”.

"This was 35 years ago, but I remember it like yesterday, the emotions and trauma so high, not only for being assaulted but then having to ID him face-to-face.

"Due to his age no charges were ever brought and for years afterwards I dreaded being in town, in case I saw him.

"Then I did at a park, actually out of town. My heart was literally beating out of my chest as I relived the assault and all the feelings of terror that I had that night and at the id all over again, and I just had to leave.

"It’s been many years since I’ve thought about that night, I guess it’s something I’d rather not recall, as it still stirs uncomfortable emotions in me even now.

"But Sarah’s murder needs these stories to be told and shared and something really has to change on our streets."

Account 10

"A few years back (and it is a few, probably 15), I was drugged because I left a drink unattended in a pub while I went to the loo.

"I was very scared because I didn't know what was happening to me, being completely sober in my mind, but I was not in control of my body.

"I since discovered it was most likely to be rohypnol.

"I made my way home by myself in a taxi because I could feel that my state was deteriorating.

"I got home and was very ill, but as we didn't didn't know what was wrong with me we didn't report it.

"I have never felt safe since in a town centre pub."

Account 11

"I run every other day and I’ve had to change my running routine for winter as I’ve been followed, cat called, insulted numerous times and I do not feel safe going out when it's dark.

"I think I get cat called every other time I go running, this is infuriating and making me feel very unsafe."

Account 12

"I have quite a few to share, sadly. The first being age 16 with a school friend and walking home from town, early evening, and a guy jumped out of the gates of the cemetery on Lower Hillmorton Road and ejaculated on us.

"Aged 19 up town and walking past the toilets on North Street, a guy came out from behind a wall, grabbed me, pulled me behind the wall and started forcefully kissing and groping my body.

"I managed to push him off and ran back to the pub I'd been in (I feel I have to say that I wasn't drunk as I didn’t enjoy drinking back then, that came after having kids!)

"Another was on my way to work on a Saturday morning, 4.30am as I was a postie.

"I was on my bike and I'd stopped at the traffic lights at the top of Cromwell Road and two drunk blokes were on their way home from town.

"One shouted at me, I don't remember what, but the kind of 'alright darling' thing.

"I told him to get lost, as I'd read the situation and felt there was potential danger and wanted to get across to not even bother hassling me.

"He didn't like that response and started running towards me, so I started cycling even though it was a red light and he then chased me. It was terrifying.

"Other instances have been a man 20+ years older than me at a friends house following me into the kitchen and forcefully stuck his tongue down my throat.

"These are the main events but there has always been the unnecessary touching of men walking past you, or when talking to you putting their hand on the small of your back or on your bum.

"And catcalling; the show us your tits/wolf whistle/nice arse etc.

"I would always walk anywhere with keys between my fingers if it was dark out.

"Never wear earphones when walking as much as I'd love to.

"There are so many more instances, the small things that you just accept, like being somewhere crowded and someone touching you unnecessarily, or pushing their penis up against you.

"It bothers me that my daughter is 13 and I don't want to have to have these conversations with her about how to be "safe".

"Poor Sarah has highlighted that she did everything "right" and was still attacked in the most awful way.

"I've barely told anyone about that first incident aged 16. I think because it was embarrassing and just so disgusting. My mum still doesn't know.

"This is a societal issue and really deep-rooted.

"But by us being open and sharing our experiences, I hope it makes some people think about the potential consequences their actions can have.

"I feel I got off lightly to be honest with what I've experienced.

"We're brought up to be polite and nice, but I learned in my 20's that being vocal and calling out their behaviour made it stop.

"Like a chap I used to work with who always had wandering hands with the women.

"When he did it to me I loudly said in front of everyone "get your dirty f-king hands off me you creep" which made the other men turn around and then tell him off.

"He never touched me again after that, even though he still did it to polite women who didn't dare say anything to him.

"Believe me, that's not how I would normally talk and I'm not hugely confident but I'd already thought if he ever did it to me I'd speak up."

Account 13

"I often finish work most nights at 10pm and walk from Oliver Street to Murray Road.

"Most nights I feel very unsafe and vulnerable when walking up Clifton road by the shops.

"Often there are groups of people, nearly all men, drinking, shouting and acting in an antisocial way.

"I've been approached in the past by people there asking for cigarettes or money with no respect to personal boundaries.

"I ashamed to say I have given them money (even though I don't have that much myself) before as I worry about what will happen if I say no.

"Even though it is a bit more out the way and not on main road, I have found walking up William street much safer then Clifton road. I hope this helps others to make safer decisions."

Account 14

"I was followed by a male from one of the night clubs in rugby.

"I told him to stop and he continued.

"I had to go to McDonald’s to tell one of the bouncers about it.

"The bouncer walked me to the taxi rank waited with me till I got in the taxi because the man still stood watching me.

"Was the last time I left a nightclub by myself."

Account 15

"Few times now within last couple of months our au pair and I have been honked, screamed, whistled, shouted at or otherwise harassed when walking my dog.

"This happens when we are walking together as well as on our own.

"I live near the town centre.

"I don't understand why these men feel that they can do this to women.

"It's really disturbing and scary quite frankly."

Account 16

"Eight years ago I was followed and assaulted on my walk to work.

"It was a Wednesday at 8am and as I left my house I saw a man hanging around the bottom on the street.

"I thought about waiting in my house for him to leave but I was running late for work and shrugged it off.

"After I got halfway up the street and heard running footsteps and when I turned around the man was stood next to me.

"He grabbed me and kissed me before I had chance to do anything.

"I pushed him as hard as I could and ran.

"As I got to the top of the road I found a lady walking her children to school.

"I asked if I could walk with her as he was still following me.

"I called the police while walking with her and as he continued to follow me they caught him and took him straight in.

"I couldn't thank the lady and police enough. The police were amazing and dealt with it so quickly and was offered counselling afterwards."

Account 17

"I was videoed by a lorry driver the other day whilst he was parked up on the industrial estate.

"I was running, minding my own business.

"It's made me really nervous to run that way on my own now. I really wish I had reported it to the police but that last time I reported something to them they got rid of it."

Account 18

"When I was 14/15 I had a local paper round.

"There was a man that used to follow me and perform sex acts on himself, either in his car or his pushbike.

"I informed the police and had to go in and look through books to see if I could identify him.

"However I couldn’t and nothing was done about it.

"This man is still in rugby I’ve seen him a few times with his wife/gf.

"It’s a shame nothing was ever done about it.

"It was a long time ago and very horrific at the time. But it’s a shame the police never took it very seriously."