JENNI MURRAY: 'I saw man punching woman and to my shame I did nothing'

JENNI MURRAY: ‘I witnessed a man punching a woman and to my shame I did nothing about it’

Twice in my life, I’m ashamed to say, I have witnessed an event that has involved sexual harassment or even violence and I have turned away and done nothing about it.

The first took place on a Tube train where everyone was crushed together like sardines. I noticed a young woman looking uncomfortable and trying to put her hand behind her back. An elegantly dressed middle-aged man was fondling her bottom.

She tried to stop him. He continued and began to push his body into hers. She looked around for help. None came, not from me or anyone else, though we could all see what was going on.

The second incident took place as I drove through central London, near Buckingham Palace. At a street corner, a couple were having a terrible row. As I passed them the verbal interchange stopped as he slapped her face, then punched her in the stomach, knocking her to the ground.

I was not the only driver to see what happened and there were pedestrians around. I could have stopped the car, got out and helped her, telling him that what he was doing was illegal. I did nothing. Neither did anyone else.

Why are we so reluctant to interfere when we see such behaviour that is clearly so wrong?

Speaking for myself, on the Tube I was simply embarrassed to get involved. I was busy. I was on my way to work. Did I really want to be seen as a busybody who might be drawn into an altercation and perhaps insist on knowing his name and reporting him to British Transport Police?

On the second occasion, I thought twice about stopping the car to offer help. But then, was I prepared to risk being punched by a violent man not afraid to use his fists in such a public place? He had no concerns about witnesses. He thought he could do as he pleased and get away with it.

JENNI MURRAY: I thought twice about stopping the car to offer help. But then, was I prepared to risk being punched by a violent man not afraid to use his fists in such a public place

Twice in my life, I’m ashamed to say, I have witnessed an event that has involved sexual harassment or even violence and I have turned away and done nothing about it

This avoidance of pitching in has to stop. A campaign called Enough was launched after the abduction, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by the Metropolitan Police Officer, Wayne Couzens. The safety of women and girls was to be a priority for the police and backed by women’s groups and charities. The police were to listen to victims and keep alleged violent perpetrators locked up rather than releasing them while further investigations were carried out. In one example, Kay Richardson was murdered by her estranged husband after he was released while under investigation by the police.

Such proposals make sense when allegations of serious violence have been made by women, but it’s not enough. What’s needed is for everyone to be made aware that sexual harassment, domestic violence and the sexual abuse of any other person of whatever age is simply not to be tolerated.

So in the second phase of the Home Office’s Enough campaign we are all urged to intervene.

Maybe we can reduce violence against women and girls by adopting what the Home Office has called ‘the five Ds — distract, delegate, document, delay and direct action’. So, when I saw that man on the Tube abusing the woman, I should have called him out. Or I could have shown him by the expression on my face that I disapproved of what he was doing, as could everyone else who was witnessing what was going on.

Maybe by always showing disapproval of harassment and violence we might make it clear to men and boys that aggressive language or unwanted touching is not acceptable, and we won’t put up with it.

As for the couple in the street, I’m not sure direct action is a good idea. It’s not always wise to put yourself at risk, but I like to think I might have pulled up and called the police. I could have pinpointed where the abuse was taking place, given a description hoping officers would get there fast enough to protect the woman and punish him.

Children need to be defended, too. The report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has revealed that millions of young lives have been ruined over the past 25 years.

When children cried for help and told of abuse in schools, sports clubs, church, families, care homes and at the hands of grooming gangs, we didn’t listen. We didn’t want to believe their stories. We turned away.

The inquiry recommends a law placing a duty on those in a position of responsibility — carers, social workers, doctors and teachers — to report abuse. Failure to do so would be a criminal offence.

What a pity we need a law to persuade us to protect children, or Home Office guidance to persuade us to make it known the abuse of women and girls is just not on.

Perpetrators have got away with it for too long. Boys have thought smutty banter is OK; men in positions of power have used fear to terrify children into silence.

We have all been too well-mannered, too afraid to cause offence, to take matters into our own hands. It’s the responsibility of all of us to be brave enough to say: ‘No! Stop that! It’s wrong.’

I’ve always rather scoffed at sell-by and use-by dates, saying to my children when they were young: ‘If it smells OK, it’s OK.’ Sunday morning, all alone, I fancied porridge. I made it, ate it and became so violently sick I thought I might die. I checked the use-by date. May 2019. That’ll teach me. 

My cosy weapon against the cold

Yes, it may soon get chilly, but I won’t be. I don’t have the heating on and I haven’t bought an electric blanket. (I had one of those years ago, forgot to switch it off and couldn’t bear the heat.)

I have two things — the Oodie, which I wear all the time, even out to dinner one night. It’s navy velvet, lined with artificial sheepskin, has tight wrists and a hood (left, £69 in the sale theoodie.co.uk). It is washable and I’ve ordered another for when the first one’s in the wash.

Secondly, in bed, two dogs. Cosy as can be — no gas or electricity required.

I met the singer Carly Simon in her home when I was making a programme about Boston for Woman’s Hour. She wouldn’t tell me who ‘was so vain’, although like millions of others, I suspect it was her former lover Warren Beatty, but she was very open about her breast cancer — a nightmare we were sharing. My heart goes out to her after news her two older sisters have died of cancer a day apart. Truly tragic. 

Ralph Fiennes has defended JK Rowling over what he calls the ‘disgusting’ verbal abuse she suffers from transgender activists 

What took you so long, Ralph? 

Well done, Ralph Fiennes. The actor has defended JK Rowling over what he calls the ‘disgusting’ verbal abuse she suffers from transgender activists. Fiennes, unlike younger members of the Harry Potter cast, says he understands where she’s coming from. About time, Ralph. You’re a grown-up. You should have spoken up earlier on her behalf. 

My Whats Apps with my former Ukrainian guest Zoriana, back in Lviv, show the grim reality there. Power switched off for six hours because generators have been bombed. Her son Ustym struggling to complete his studies with no electricity. ‘I’m just trying not to lose heart,’ she says. 

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