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Sexual assault survivor explains why we must stop teaching girls to be “nice”

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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A model has shared the details of her horrific sexual assault, in order to make an important point about how young boys and girls are being raised in our society.

Jessica Leahy, an Australian model and editor, wrote an open letter on Whimn in which she said she had been the victim of sexual assault, as well as experiencing some form of casual sexual harassment in “every country [she has] been to”.

In the piece, Leahy reveals that she “did nothing” during and following the assault, and attributes this to “our cultural obsession with raising girls to be ‘good’”.

“From birth, we are told not to be rude, or bossy, or difficult and above all, not to be a bitch,” she writes. “It’s this obsession with ‘being nice’ that is getting good girls into bad trouble.”

Going on to reveal that the sexual assault happened during a mundane, everyday moment, while she was travelling on a train in “broad daylight”, Leahy shares further details of the incident to make her point clear.

“A stranger forced his hand up my skirt and grabbed at my ‘pussy,’ as one world leader might say,” she shares. 

“Perhaps more shocking was the fact that I did nothing. I made no attempt to attract attention, I had no desire to make a fuss. The train doors opened and I rushed out onto the platform without looking back.”



Leahy notes data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that show one in five women in Australia will experience sexual assault at some time in their life.

Here in the UK, the most recent Crime Survey for England and Wales for the year ending March 2015 showed that police recorded 88,219 sexual offences, encompassing rape (29,265 cases) and sexual assault, and also sexual activity with children. Statistics from Rape Crisis estimate that 11 adults are raped every hour in England and Wales, while nearly half a million adults are sexually assaulted every year.

Noting the prevalent of sexual harassment and assault, Leahy describes how she has learnt, over time, to push down her nurtured instinct to be a “good girl” and instead stand up for herself in the face of sexism or harassment.

“Now, in my late 20s, I’m less of a ‘good girl’ and more of a ‘nasty woman’,” she says, adding that she is “becoming more and more incapable of pretending to smile when a man does something slimy”.

And now Leahy wants to use her experience to challenge the way we bring up boys, as well as girls. While she is firm in her belief that girls should not be taught to be “good” and “nice” above all else, she is equally adamant that boys need to be taught how to recognise sexual harassment and assault, and to call it out when they see it.

“I’m going to change my battle cry – we need to change the way we raise boys,” she writes.

“Too many men are silent bystanders to sexual harassment which is too often seen as a women’s issue, when it’s clearly a human issue.”

This, she believes, will help lower incidences of casual sexual harassment, by helping to stop women being “reduced to beings that only exist for sexual gratification”.

As she notes in the essay: “Perhaps the ladies mightn’t feel they have to pick and choose their sexual harassment battles but have allies in decent guys raised to be equally invested in making bacon out of chauvinist pigs.”

We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

Images: Instagram

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Sarah Biddlecombe

Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Features Editor at Stylist

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