When I was groped on the Tube it was easier to move on and not speak up — but we must end this silence

Susannah Butter
Susannah Butter: Daniel Hambury

There’s a game my friends and I like to play at the cinema called Guess The Advert. Most end up being for cars or televisions but on a trip to watch Bombshell on Sunday we saw an ad we couldn’t place — it had vibesy music and showed beautiful young people beaming as they whizzed around sunny London on Tubes, buses and bikes. Surely it couldn’t be an advert for TfL? Despite moaning about the Circle (of hell) line daily, it made me want to go to this Underground utopia pronto.

My fantasy vision was short-lived. Yesterday, a survey revealed more than 37 per cent of women and 12 per cent of men say they have suffered sexual harassment on public transport in London . Only two per cent had complained.

We know it happens but we don’t know how to react. The first time I was groped on the Tube I was 14 and I thought it was an accident. I felt a hand on my thigh, but we were all squashed in so tightly that it could have been innocent. I made eye contact with the hand’s owner, his face blanched and he removed it. But I didn’t think to report it — I wanted to get on with my day, not to be defined by it. The new series of Sex Education captures the confusion around incidents like this. A man on the bus ejaculates on Aimee’s favourite jeans while she is carrying a birthday cake. Although she appears to shrug it off, the incident lingers and affects her in subtle, unpredictable ways.

I’ve heard accounts of men masturbating on the Tube, watching porn in full view of the carriage and putting their hands up strangers’ skirts, even taking photos. Ways of harassing people are evolving, with cyber-flashing — when you send a fellow passenger a grotesque picture via Apple’s Bluetooth AirDrop function. But what can you do?

The cast of Bombshell at the SAG Awards: (L-R) Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, and Margot Robbie (Getty Images for Turner)

Cyclists are not immune — harassment is often more openly aggressive, a man once entreated me to “swap your bike seat for my face so you can sit on me?” I turned down his offer with words that are too rude to print.

Posy Simmonds kept a tube of red paint in her bag and would squeeze it menacingly at anyone who approached

Illustrator Posy Simmonds told me that, in the seventies, she kept a tube of red paint in her handbag and if she felt at risk of harassment she would get it out and squeeze it menacingly so men would back off for fear of being daubed. Now it’s easy to report incidents: text what happened, where and when to 61016, and CCTV and Oyster data can be used to trace the culprits.

But for that to work we need a culture where people feel they can speak up. Simmonds worried she was to blame for strangers groping her — a concern shared by the women in Bombshell who allowed abuse from the management at Fox News to continue because of a climate of fear. As anchor Megyn Kelly says, once you report abuse you expose yourself to questions about your own behaviour. This is why we must stick up for each other.

Admittedly the best way to get through the commute is to pretend you are elsewhere. But try to have some fellow feeling. A friend only felt confident enough to report a man touching her bum on the Central line after a passenger told him off. If we stop harassment in public transport we will be one step closer to the utopia shown in that advert and it will snowball into the rest of our lives.

Love is still in the hair for Brad and Jen

Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt’s reunion stole the show at the Screen Actors Guild awards on Sunday night and brought joy to January. There is so much to savour in their encounter.

Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston reuniting at the SAG Awards (Getty Images for Turner)

Aniston greeted her ex and, as she walked away, he grabbed her wrist. It was a gesture implying he couldn’t bear to lose her again. Don’t go, Jen. Could there still be a flicker of love between them? Or is it too much to dream, like when you wonder if your divorced parents will reunite? They both took home an award: Pitt for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Aniston for Apple’s The Morning Show (I think she was a bit wooden, tbh, but was still glad to see her getting the same recognition as the man who left her for Angelina Jolie). I’d go back to Pitt if only to find out how his hands look so young at 56. The most striking feature was how alike the pair look, right down to hair colour. Did Br-en, as I like to call them, have shared custody of their colourist? Pitt often mirrors his girlfriends’ looks — does this mean this isn’t the end of Brad and Jen? Or, better, the start of a will-they/won’t-they friendship?

Monkeying around

I spent a surreal 17 minutes watching David Lynch interrogate a talking monkey in his new black and white Netflix film What did Jack Do?, released yesterday (which was also Lynch’s 74th birthday). Like Brad and Jen, Jack the suit-wearing primate and Lynch have the same hairdo – here twin peaks of grey. Jack is suspected of murder and likes black coffee as much as Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks. Pity the waitress who is late with his order. I have no idea if Lynch is making a clever point about society or simply monkeying around, and I don’t mind either way as there’s a hilarious gem in every line. Best of all, Jack says he still reads newspapers, so there is hope for this industry yet.