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#metoo

Actually, just writing that hashtag feels quite good, like a tiny little weight has been lifted without even writing anything else.

But I won't leave it there, because the whole reason behind this post and the #metoo movement is to speak up and be vocal about sexual harassment that women have been subjected to, mainly in the workplace, and that includes myself.

So a lot of you if you're already familiar with the brand, will know that before we started Spectrum we were both freelancers, I was a photographer (fashion when it was paid) but mainly weddings on the weekends to make the cash to save towards starting our own business.

Actually, when I think of all the times that I could have been at risk of unwanted sexual advances, on nights out in London, on photo shoots, as a young woman who you would certainly classify as chatty, I've often felt lucky that I had never experienced anything untoward.

Yes I've been flirted with and had men who have hinted that they 'fancy me' on lots of jobs or while growing up, but I know the difference between harmless (although unwanted) attention, and anything more than that. I don't want to make this a post about saying all men are predatory, because I don't think they are.

My point is that through my whole life until one of my last wedding jobs when I was around 26, I never felt physically threatened, but then I did, and it was something I'd never experienced before, and not really spoken about much, but it did happen. 

Now, I pride myself on being a strong woman, in business and in general everyday life, and we often get asked as a pair of sisters in business to be on a panel to talk to, inspire and encourage other women in business, and although this area isn't my forte, if I can help or inspire other women in this area too then I will. 

I'll try to keep it fairly short, and really, the idea is to stay factual, there's no room for elaboration in writing like this, I just want to recall what happened and how we want to help support the #metoo movement by sharing an experience with others.

It was August 2014, I think, to be honest the years kind of blur together when it was just a stream of weddings and saving for Spectrum funds, and August is probably the busiest month of the year for weddings.

I was photographing my third consecutive wedding, so I'd worked the Thursday, Friday, and this was the Saturday, safe to say I was tired (if you've ever watched a wedding photographer properly you'll know they work hard) but the bride, groom, and whole wedding party were so lovely, the weather was amazing, and the location was just beautiful, so really shooting the wedding was a pleasure rather than a job. 

During the course of a wedding, being as you're there all day, you do talk to everyone, well I did anyway, as I said, chatty. And you have to be a people person to really get the best out of taking the pictures. Mine were always natural and really fun and captured the day in a candid kind of way, so being friendly and easy going was a big part of my work - starting to sound like an advert...FYI I don't do weddings anymore lol!!!. 

So it turns out one of the the best men was also from Barry, we chatted about this a bit as I took some pics with 'the boys' a vital part of any wedding, and everyone was having great banter, as you can expect, and really, there's nothing wrong with banter! You can't be too serious all the time.

The end of the day came after lots of brilliant speeches, amazing music and loads of laughs, so I was heading home, driving back from West Wales to Barry which was a really long drive, around 3 hours, and it was 11pm ish.

The bride and groom, as I mentioned previously were the most lovely couple, and they asked if I wanted to stay and have a few drinks with the wedding party, if I did they were more than happy to book me a room in the hotel. They knew it was a long drive back and that it was my third wedding in a row, so they were looking out for me.

I said no it's OK, and that I'd head back, but they asked again and really did want me to stay, so being as I was actually really tired, and not looking forward to a 3 hour drive home, I said OK great and thank you very much.

I rang my mum and dad, as I was living at home, and told them the plan, they were fine with it and knew where I was, and that they'd see me the next day around midday ish.

So the party was amazing as were the crowd, particularly the brides group of girlfriends and bridesmaids, and I remember doing lots of jaeger bombs with them sat outside and literally just having a laugh.

Numbers dwindled, and as I started drinking a lot later than everyone else, I was one of the last ones still awake in just a small crowd. I grabbed my camera bag and headed towards my room to go to bed, when the best man said, 'I'll walk you'. 'OK' I said. The place was quite big and I hadn't been there for a wedding before, sometimes I'd know a location like the back of my hand and would just wander off on my own, but I didn't know this one. So we headed out across the courtyard towards the rooms, but then we took a detour, which I didn't really know was a detour.

We ended up inside again, by an indoor pool and spa type area, weird as they should be closed at that time I thought, but that's where we were, me and just the best man, no where near any hotel rooms.

'Let's go in the pool' he said, and I remember him walking towards me and grabbing my jacket like he was going to take it off, 'no' I said before heading away the same way we'd wandered in. He tried to persist but there was no way I was getting in the pool. Then on trying to walk towards where I thought my room was he kept grabbing at my clothes and trying to pull me towards him, even though I'd made it clear I wasn't interested. 

I then was lucky enough to see one of the bridesmaids, going into a room, so I called out to her and said can I sleep in your room I don't know where mine is, and she said yes sure, although she didn't seem too happy about it at the time, but it was late. I thought I'd escaped.

He then tried telling her that I wanted him to stay with me as he was looking after me, and could he come in, at which point I just thought there's no getting away from him, I grabbed my camera bag, which is all I had brought with me, and headed towards my car, thinking I'd sleep in my car.

He followed me to my car.

At which point I just thought I would drive away and try and get home. I was completely drunk.

I called my boyfriend at the time, now husband, and told him I was leaving, and why, mumbling, as you do when you're drunk and upset. He called my parents straight away, who were up and on the way towards the venue as soon as they'd hung up the phone, this was about 2 in the morning I think.

I got about 5 miles away from the venue, which is a lot when you've had jaeger bombs, and I'm just thankful that I didn't cause an accident, but I did get picked up by the police.

So they took me to the local station, and held me overnight, for drink driving. I did try and explain to them what had happened, and I do understand that their job is to arrest people who are committing a crime, which I was, but I vividly remember the police woman (they were a pair, a man and a woman) saying 'oh you're just one of those girls' meaning someone who in her opinion deserved unwanted sexual advances by a random bloke. Nice.

to cut out a bit of the legal details, I was basically arrested and held over night, mean while my parents arrived at the wedding venue really early hours to ask where I was, the bride and groom were horrified that I wasn't still there, as intended by them, in a comfortable room, and they had no idea where I was.

When I was allowed, I rang my mum and dad, they came to pick me up, and we basically went home and I talked to them about what happened on the 3 hour drive back to Barry.

What followed was a recommendation to a great solicitor, as I was going to have to go to court, I was looking at a 2 year driving ban and a pretty large fine.

However, I did have a case if I wanted to claim extenuating circumstances according to my solicitor (who is still a friend now) After I told him what happened he had a lot of empathy, and in the couple of days following the wedding while the legal stuff was going on, I'd had 3/4 texts off the best man saying how sorry he was, and how he realised he'd acted badly, I think the bride and groom had given him my number, and I also think my mum and dad turning up and asking where I was had scared the life into them.

So I had a case to please non guilty in court, meaning no fine, and no driving ban if the judge agreed. 

But...that would mean gathering more evidence, including asking the bride and groom to be witnesses, and getting the best man into court.

I didn't go down that route, I didn't want to tarnish their wedding memories mainly, any more than I had, were my thoughts at the time. I was self employed, I wasn't going to be sacked, and I had the full support of my family and boyfriend, so I just braved court and went 'guilty'. Ironic really, and quite wrong in the circumstances that I was the guilty one.

So I did get banned, 18 months actually, and I think my fines and court fees were around £1,700. Pretty hefty when you're saving to start a business, but it could have been worse. I basically felt glad and relieved it was over. 

But now, after quite a few years, I think it's so important to share a story like this in the wake of the #metoo movement which has inspired and encouraged so many women to speak out, myself among them.

I always think now, why didn't I just kick him in the balls and tell him to fuck off? Then I realise that's what the 'me' now would do, or at least I would hope so after going through it. Really, I don't think I realised how serious it was until I was the one standing in court taking a fine and a driving ban, and a really big mark on my personal record, instead of dragging others into the mess.

 

Another but....I'm over it now, and I'm also through my driving ban, ironically I think it was Hannah, Paul my other half, my best friend and my family who came off worse there, they had to drive me everywhere, and mainly on weekends between different venues while I was still working freelance, so I'm really grateful to them.

 

Finally, I'm just glad that in comparison, this isn't a life changing experience and hasn't changed me as a person, as with all shitty experiences it usually makes you a hell of a lot stronger. Compared to what a lot of other women have been through, I still feel lucky my own experience didn't take a different, even more traumatic turn, but it was most certainly enough to make me feel like I want to really try and support this movement, by sharing an experience, and more so, to encourage other women to do the same.

Don't feel guilty, certainly don't plead guilty, when you have done nothing wrong. Let's continue to support each other, and hope that the #metoo movement makes a difference for women everywhere.

 

 

Sophie xxx