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The stark message behind Fern Britton’s sexual assault story

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Kayleigh Dray
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Fern Britton

Fern Britton has revealed she was sexually assaulted by a man in a lift after a televised interview.

Sexual harassment has, worryingly, become an everyday experience for many of us here in the UK: all one has to do is scroll through @EverydaySexism’s Twitter feed to see the shocking prevalence of harassment, catcalls, whistling and assault that women are faced with on a daily basis.

And, sadly, it is a global problem: in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal, a number of women have taken to Twitter to share their own stories of men making them feel “uncomfortable”.

Now, in a new interview, Fern Britton – who is currently starring in a musical adaptation of Calendar Girls – has revealed that she was assaulted in a lift by a man she had just interviewed.

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Explaining that the incident occurred when she was working for Television South in the late Eighties, Britton told the Daily Mirror: “I remember doing a television show when I worked for TVS. I was in a lift with a man I’d just interviewed.

“He suddenly jumped me and started snogging me. I asked him what on earth he thought he was doing. But it didn’t seem to shame him into stopping.”

She continued: “The fact remains the most privileged person on the planet is still the white male.

“But unless they can feel as uncomfortable as single women do walking home at night in the dark or getting into a taxi alone, there’s always going to be that gap in understanding.”

Reflecting on the power of #TimesUp and #MeToo, Britton added: “Is the pendulum beginning to swing back in the other direction? Yes, it is. But there’s still a long way to go.”

It is not the first time that Britton has addressed the showbiz industry’s generally poor treatment of women. In 2018, the former This Morning presenter recalled how she had been “taken out to lunch with the rest of the team and the star of the show — a guy — was sitting there”.

Britton continued: “We had done the lunch and we had met the team, it was all very nice and I was 23 or 24… [but then] this guy looked at me and said, ‘I wonder how long it will be before I am having an affair with you. Because I do have a very big c**k’.

“It was not the first time a man had made some comment. Every one of us has been in a situation somewhere where it has become uncomfortable and inappropriate.”

Anticipating the slew of unhelpful questions (after the #MeToo movement, many victims of sexual abuse were asked why they didn’t come forward sooner), the presenter-turned-actress, who previously spoke out about being raped in her own home in 2008, added: “You think: ‘It was my fault as I turned up for the meeting or agreed to have lunch’.

“We have been quietly groomed for centuries without knowing it.”

Britton isn’t wrong: women have, for a very long time, been conditioned to believe that they are somehow responsible for acts of sexual violence carried out against them. Indeed, Jackson Katz, a social researcher and author of The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help (which was first published in 2006), famously carried out a simple, yet brilliant, social experiment to prove this very point.

“I draw a line down the middle of a chalkboard, sketching a male symbol on one side and a female symbol on the other,” Katz explains in the preface of his book, as referenced by one user on Facebook.

“Then I ask just the men: What steps do you guys take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted?

“At first there is a kind of awkward silence as the men try to figure out if they’ve been asked a trick question. The silence gives way to a smattering of nervous laughter,” Katz explains.

He continues: “Occasionally, a young guy will raise his hand and say, ‘I stay out of prison.’ This is typically followed by another moment of laughter, before someone finally raises his hand and soberly states, ‘Nothing. I don’t think about it.’”

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Finally, men are being given tips on how to make women feel safe in public

However, to draw a stark comparison, Katz then poses the exact same question to the women in the room.

“Women throughout the audience immediately start raising their hands. As the men sit in stunned silence, the women recount safety precautions they take as part of their daily routine,” says Katz.

And their answers make for an extensive list:

  • Hold my keys as a potential weapon.
  • Look in the back seat of the car before getting in.
  • Carry a cell phone.
  • Don’t go jogging at night.
  • Lock all the windows when I sleep, even on hot summer nights.
  • Be careful not to drink too much.
  • Don’t put my drink down and come back to it; make sure I see it being poured.
  • Own a big dog.
  • Carry Mace or pepper spray.
  • Have an unlisted phone number.
  • Have a man’s voice on my answering machine.
  • Park in well-lit areas.
  • Don’t use parking garages.
  • Don’t get on elevators with only one man, or with a group of men.
  • Vary my route home from work.
  • Watch what I wear.
  • Don’t use highway rest areas.
  • Use a home alarm system.
  • Don’t wear headphones when jogging.
  • Avoid forests or wooded areas, even in the daytime.
  • Don’t take a first-floor apartment.
  • Go out in groups.
  • Own a firearm.
  • Meet men on first dates in public places.
  • Make sure to have a car or cab fare.
  • Don’t make eye contact with men on the street.
  • Make assertive eye contact with men on the street.

Thankfully, as Britton has noted, the pendulum is beginning to swing the other way. As we reported earlier today, Plan International has published seven tips on how to prevent sexual assault.

Rather than tell women to dress appropriately or avoid poorly lit areas, though, the campaign has focused on telling men how they should behave in public. For example, they are advised to “leave a good amount of distance” between themselves and women when walking at night, and not to stare or make comments, as this could be viewed as “intimidating”.

You can see all of the tips here.

Image: Getty

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is editor of Stylist.co.uk, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends. 

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