People share their experiences of being exposed to porn without consent

From revenge porn to cyber-flashing, sexual harassment and assault have taken on new forms in the digital age — and watching porn in public is just a further example of this.

Despite the growing conversations around women’s safety, sexual harassment, and misogyny in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder, women and other minority genders being confronted with porn against their will has become all the more common — in the workplace, on public transport, and even in their own car.

Although viewing pornography in public isn’t specifically illegal, people have been arrested for doing so in the past, and according to Dr Charlotte Proudman, who spoke to the Telegraph, watching porn in public should be considered an offence in order ‘to keep up with society and the proliferation of porn and how it makes women and girls feel vulnerable’.

Many might find the case of now-former MP Neil Parish watching pornography in the Commons shocking — but those who have experienced it know that watching porn in the presence of someone who doesn’t consent to it happens a lot more frequently than you might think.

In light of this, we spoke to a number of people about their experience being exposed to porn, exploring how it impacted them and whether they think being non-consensually exposed to porn — in public or otherwise — should be considered sexual harassment.

When she was 17 years old, Leda Reynolds worked as a waitress in a golf club. ‘Some of the members used to put hardcore porn in the TV lounge, asking me if I liked it,’ she tells us. ‘I’d never seen anything like it at the time. I was horrified and probably a little bit frightened too.

‘I remember my hands shaking when I went to serve those golf players.’

Leda said she never complained about these instances because she was from a single-parent household in a council estate, and so her earnings from the job were ‘vital’ in ensuring she and her mum could make ends meet.

‘I was too frightened of losing my job to complain,’ she adds. ‘I felt a sense of shame, which seems ridiculous now.’

Despite Transport for London launching a campaign in October to tackle sexual harassment on public transport, another woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells Metro.co.uk that she was able to see someone watching porn on the Tube before.

‘It makes me extremely uncomfortable,’ she said. ‘Men viewing it in public just serves as a reminder that many men see women as purely sexual objects, as fictional f*** recipients.’

Yasmine Summan tells us that they have seen people watching porn on public transport more than once. ‘There’s been a few times where I’ve been on the train or the bus and someone is watching porn,’ Yasmine says. ‘I never quite understood it.’

In some cases, the people Summan saw watching the pornography were not masturbating or acting inappropriately in public — they were just watching the video.

‘But then why would you want everyone knowing you’re watching that in public?’ they ask. ‘It’s so strange to me.’

‘It’s always the weird kind of porn, too.’

Meanwhile, another woman named Alex tells Metro.co.uk that she was exposed to pornography without her consent while volunteering at a homeless shelter with ‘exclusively male guests’.

‘There would generally be one man, one woman on shift and I was the only young woman in the building,’ she explains.

‘A friend of one of the guests was hanging around inside one evening before bedtime. He was being flirtatious but not to the point where it was super antisocial. But then he started looking at hardcore porn images on their phone and sort of gesturing from it to me.

‘At that point the male volunteer who was on with me asked him to leave, which I was very grateful for.’

Although a lot of these people encountered porn in a public setting, that isn’t the only way people can be exposed to explicit material without their consent. For one anonymous woman, it happened in a relative’s car when she was 14 years old.

‘I was a passenger in the back of my aunty and uncle’s car, on a trip back from a family holiday,’ she shares. ‘I had two adult (18) cousins who were sat in the back with me on the three seater. They were watching porn between them on an iPod, and they weren’t obvious to my discomfort. They actually asked me if I wanted to watch it, which honestly — felt pretty dodgy in itself.’

She continues: ‘I said no, but being autistic I didn’t really know how to express, in a car, that I didn’t fancy being sat next to adult relatives watching porn. Much less if I wanted to watch it too.

‘They had headphones in, and their mum and dad had never been particularly great with technology, so they genuinely thought we were all watching a nice film.’

‘Not a pleasant experience,’ she adds. ‘I felt as though I had no power. I felt disregarded and disrespected.’

In light of their experiences, all of the people we spoke to said that they think something should be done when it comes to people being exposed to porn.

‘I wholly think watching porn at work should be banned,’ Leda says ‘It’s impossible to know who’s been a victim of abuse or assault, and it could be a trigger.’

Alex believes that watching porn in public should ‘absolutely’ be considered sexual harassment, while Yasmine, who also agrees that it constitutes harassment, points out that it’s a matter of consent.

‘They’re doing it in public for the risk and fun of it all, so they are intentionally involving the public in their sexual acts,’ they said. ‘And we can’t consent to that.’

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