‘I was sexually harassed on the phone as a young girl’

Businesswoman Vanessa Boon on being harassed as a young girl which inspired her to organise Derby's International Women's Day

Vanessa Boon has organised events for International women’s Day in Derby.

Vanessa Boon is the organiser of Derby International Women’s Day, here she tells Alex Murray what inspired her to become involved in the event…

“I felt such a sense of shame and embarrassment and discomfort.”

Vanessa Boon is recalling the time she was sexually harassed as a young girl over the phone.

After an innocent photo in the local paper, a person claiming to be a market researcher called the family home. Vanessa was asked to come to the phone. Initially all seemed well but then matters took a sinister turn.

“He started asking more personal and degrading questions like what colour underwear do you wear?” The humiliation Vanessa recalls, left her too ashamed to tell her parents.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time Vanessa has experienced unwanted sexual attention, at just age nine on holiday, Vanessa describes wearing a pink skirt walking along the seafront as she heard male voices commenting on her appearance, “Oh she’s alright, I’d do her if I was older”.

Despite being too young to understand, the degrading comment left her feeling uncomfortable and only then she realised she was treated differently to her brother.

This year’s International Women’s Day celebrates 100 years since the suffragettes earned the right to vote. However, Vanessa stresses how a disturbing “one in three women and girls on this planet of our generation will experience gender based violence”.

Vanessa, who runs Energise, in Derby, a business which aids people’s development and diversity within community and the workplace, claims many young girls are groped in nightclubs and receive unwanted comments. She recollects wearing a school uniform on her way home from school.

“I was quite visibly a child and I’d get wolf whistled, or ‘get your breasts out for lads’ or ‘smile for me darling’ from adult men. It just becomes a horrible thing we deal with and comes part of life.

“You’re taught it’s your fault. You must have done something to revoke that behaviour and it’s such a terrible message for young girls to grow up with.”

There is no doubt that there is a massive amount of pressure on young girls of this generation to look a certain way.

They’re made to feel it’s their fault for dressing a particular way or it’s the way they walk that encourages unwanted sexual male behaviour.

The anger that Vanessa feels has inspired her to work with International Women’s Day to take back the control she didn’t have as a young girl, in the hope her goddaughter will have a secure future without the issues Vanessa faced.

The day is a result of her beliefs and the work she has done to work towards female rights.

“The time for words has gone,” she says, “what’s needed now is action.”

  • International Women’s Day consists of uplifting performances, over 40 stalls of activities, food, arts, sports and more. A suffragette memorial march will be held at the market place at 4pm, marking 100 years since women were given the right to vote. Everyone is welcome. The event takes place on Saturday, March 10, at Derby Market Place from 10am-4pm.