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Escaping abuse is never as simple as 'just blocking' an abuser, writes Charlotte Lynch
4 October 2023, 17:24
When I read about what had happened to Royal Artillery Gunner Jaysley Beck, the teenage soldier who is believed to have taken her own life after being harassed by her boss, one thing in particular stuck with me.
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Jaysley's mum said that people had asked: "Why don't you just block him?".
I've lost count of the amount of times I've heard that question asked in some form in response to a woman receiving unwelcome attention, or advances that once were seen as harmless that have now crossed a line. I've been asked it myself on numerous occasions.
I've seen victims trip over their words as they try and answer it. I've struggled to answer it myself. There is something within you that knows you should have ignored them. You should have told someone how they were treating you. You should have 'just left them'. You start to question yourself - why didn't I?
It's not as simple as that. Far from it.
In Jaysley's case, the man was her boss. Can you imagine, being a 19-year-old soldier, wanting to impress your superiors and make a good impression - blocking your boss? You're joking, aren't you?
The last thing you'd want to do is get on the wrong side of anybody, let alone your boss. Jaysley's mum said "she didn't want to cause any upset on his side, she was the kind of person who put others before herself".
But she would have no doubt been worried about what it could have meant for her. Jaysley was young, she was new and very junior. I can imagine what would have gone through her head: What will happen if I upset him? Will anyone actually understand why I've got a problem with this, or will they think I'm trying to cause trouble? Has he even done anything wrong - they're just a few messages? Surely if I just reply and keep him humoured - it'll all be fine.
Recently, I was in the room when an interviewer asked a rape survivor about why she "wanted to be polite" to the man that had attacked her. The man was a police officer. The woman, who wasn't much older than me, couldn't put it in to words - but I knew exactly what she wanted to say.
I knew exactly why she kept calm until he dropped her off at home. She had agreed to a date with him. She was much younger than him, and she trusted him. She knew he was a police officer. It was about much more than "being polite" - what else could she do? Run in the other direction screaming? To where? To be accused of over-reacting or being a 'psycho'? All the while, filled with questions about whether anyone would believe her over him, and partly blaming herself for trusting him and letting him take her on the date that ended so horribly.
We also saw similar questions asked recently when allegations emerged about TV presenter, actor and comedian Russell Brand. Social media was flooded with sceptics asking: "Why are they speaking out now - why didn't they say anything then?".
The answer to all of these questions is so obvious to me.
There are many experiences I could draw on, but I can relate to Gunner Jaysley Beck in some way, because I have experienced unwanted behaviour from a boss.
It happened when I was 20 and I was working in a restaurant. All of us who worked there had a comradery and we'd always have 'flirty banter' - it was fun, but it never crossed a line, until my manager started to take it too far.
He was at least 15 years older than me and he was married. My female colleagues started to notice that he would pay particular attention to me and that it was getting a bit 'creepy'. One day, as he was briefly leaving the restaurant during a break, he stopped to talk to me as I was standing next to a colleague. He told me not to cause any trouble whilst he was gone - and said: "I know how naughty you are".
Before I could even react he was out the door. My colleague, who was my friend, was gobsmacked. So was I.
Another day, he lifted up my top in the middle of the restaurant and sprayed my back with water. I shrieked, and he said that's what he was trying to make me do.
He humiliated me for enjoyment on numerous other occasions. As manager, he was responsible for signing our time cards when we clocked in and out.
One day, as I tried to take a 15 minute break, he repeatedly threw my time card on the floor. Again, in the middle of the restaurant, he told me each time to bend over and pick it up. He finally stopped when another manager intervened.
After several other comments and almost perverse bullying, of my colleagues eventually suggested I should report him to HR.
My immediate response was "no".
I felt like it was my fault. We had a laugh at first, so I must have encouraged it. I didn't want to cause trouble, and I didn't want to upset him. He'd just tell them I was flirting with him back. I was scared about how he'd treat me as a result and how I'd be seen by everyone else around me.
I didn't want to cause trouble, and I blamed myself.
Thankfully for me, it stayed at work, and I only spent a few hours a week there. For Jaysley Beck, work was her life. She was hundreds of miles away from home. It was the place she lived and she was supposed to be safe. She saw no other way to escape this man who she felt she couldn't upset.
I don't know what the answer is, but I do know as a young woman exactly why Jaysley didn't "just block him".