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Channel 4 newsreader Cathy Newman: I was sexually assaulted as a teenager by a boy in my school canteen

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Anna Brech
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The reporter says she tried to “laugh off” the incident, which happened when she was one of the few girls studying at the sixth form of a private school

Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman says she was sexually assaulted by a fellow pupil in the canteen of her private school.

The journalist was 16 years old when the incident happened and did not even tell her own parents about it until last year.

“We were in the lunch hall and a boy sitting next to me unzipped his flies and grabbed my hand and forced me to touch his penis. I didn’t talk to anyone about it [for years],” the journalist tells The Sunday Times

 “Now we’ve got online abuse and the [concern] about someone taking a naked photo. I think back to that incident. How much worse would it have been if it had been being filmed and put out [online]?”

“I was just having a nice chat with people over a meal, so it was completely unexpected”

Newman says that, as a teenager, she tried to laugh off the assault. 

But with the #MeToo movement sweeping the globe, she now feels empowered to go public with her experience.

 “Your instinct is always, or has been I think, to sort of laugh it off and then question whether you were in some way to blame,” she says. 

“I think that’s exactly what I did. I was just having a nice chat with people over a meal [when the assault happened], so it was completely unexpected. 

“I just shrieked in a fairly comical way, laughed at myself to get over the humiliation of it, but afterwards I felt really embarrassed and quite … you know, you’re a 16-year-old girl, you’re not that sure of yourself, you’re just trying to work out who you are, what you want out of life — and something like that makes you feel humiliated.”

Cathy Newman is urging school girls to speak out and report sexual harassment 

Newman faced other degrading incidents after she won a scholarship to study at Charterhouse, a private boys’ school in Surrey.

The school had only just begun admitting girls to their sixth form in the 1970s, and Newman was one of only a few female pupils at the time.

She says was hosed down with water by her fellow Sixth Formers so that they could see her bra, and was rated on her looks when she walked into the school’s chapel in the morning. 

Newman, who describes herself as a “girly swot”, did not report the bullying or the assault at the time but says it knocked her confidence. 

The presenter and mum of two daughters says she is speaking out at the start of the school term to encourage girls to report incidents of harassment. 

Charterhouse school says it was not previously aware of Newman’s “serious allegations” and has now reported them to the police.

If you’ve been the victim of sexual violence, get free and confidential support with Rape Crisis

Images: Getty

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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