The world is a totally different battleground for little girls and boys, but no one ever realises it till they’re much older. None of my male friends have ever asked me to escort them to their car at night: they stride purposefully to their intended destination without a second glance in either direction, whatever the time.

Yet, since the age of nine, when I noticed that my overdeveloped hips were going to cause me trouble, I have walked with keys in my hands and nervous glances over my shoulders whenever I hear footsteps behind me at night. In fact, as a general rule, after a night out, I always ask my friends to walk me to the car. A few months ago, I didn’t.

It was late and I had been vying to go home for about an hour, but my friends, drunk on the prospect of meeting someone and a discrete amount of alcohol, wanted to spend another pointless hour on a dying dance floor. After waiting around like a muppet, I decided that I’d make my way home. Being guys, they simply wished me goodnight and told me to message them when I got home.

I started to walk up a well-lit street only to realise almost instantly that I was being followed. I kept walking briskly, praying that the person behind me would go away but the footsteps kept coming faster and closer, until he caught up with me, grabbed my hand and demanded I go home with him. I felt like a startled, trapped animal and started to scream and shake his firm grip off me but he was insistent. I spotted a group of people I didn’t know and started screaming in their general direction. When they came running towards me, he took off.

Even now, I can taste metallic fear in my mouth and the confusion of feeling powerless. It’s this ghost, and that of a hundred other experiences, which help shape every single decision that I make, and it’s the memory of this fear which has filled me with disgust at one of the latest court rulings regarding a woman and her would-be rapist who got away with a slap on the wrist.

I felt like a startled, trapped animal

Let me start by saying that no court case on earth should require eight years for a judgment to be handed down. Not only does this add to the victim’s stress, but quite frankly, the perpetrator can also strike again in the interim.

In this particular case, a young woman who was walking and minding her own business was literally hauled off the road not once but twice, hit over the head numerous times and almost raped. Had it not been for her screaming and some passers-by which led the perpetrator to flee the scene, heaven knows how that would have ended.

Now, I know that the keyword here is ‘almost’ and that the act itself is what constitutes the crime, but what I can never, ever agree with is the judge’s parting words: “The charges are very serious but the court cannot ignore the fact that the accused was only 20 years old at the time so it is going to give him this only chance to reform by suspending the imposed jail term for a period of four years.”

I need you to read that again and again and imagine what the last eight years may have been like for this girl. I need you to then imagine that she were your own daughter, sister or mother and then look at them and say “he was only 20 years old at the time”.

Do all people make mistakes? Yes. Should we be giving people the chance to reform and not go prison? Also, yes. But that “he was only 20 years old at the time” rankles and smacks of Brock Turner defender-speak.

Everyone misjudges a lot of situations when they are young and inexperienced, but I don’t know about you: I wasn’t going around trying to rape people when I had had one shot of tequila too many in my twenties.

Rape, attempted or successful, is not justifiable behaviour for young people anywhere in the civilised world. We need to do a better job at making women feel like they are safe and valued, and that doesn’t come from taking eight years to hand down a judgment or from saying that the guy who did it was just too young to know better. With that reasoning, most of our jail cells would be empty.

The damage of rape or attempted rape may not always be physical, but the victim will have to live with what happened to her every day, for the rest of her life.

Shouldn’t that count for something?

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