Standing on the Victoria line during the morning rush hour, Sareeka felt something grazing at her crotch area. She assumed it was someone’s bag or somebody mistakenly touching her. She double checked and saw the hand of a repellent old man standing next to her. Sareeka Linton’s story is one of the reasons why the London-based photojournalist Eliza Hatch founded her new quest in retelling women’s stories of sexual harassment.
‘Cheer Up Love’ is a photojournalism project gathering women’s experiences and stories, putting them out there, creating so an empowering platform for them to speak up. All whom participated share a sense of relatability through their stories, their faces. You feel their experiences through the photographs of Eliza Hatch.
4% of women aged from 18 to 24 had experienced sexual harassment in public places. Moreover, 64% said they feel unsafe in public and half of them have to do safety planning when going out in the evening.
These statistics represent a wider truth of what women have to go through in their daily lives, and are one of the reasons that pushed Hatch to create her ongoing photojournalism project.
It’s a platform for women to turn the vulnerability that they experienced while they were sexually harassed into power. “The themes behind Cheer Up Luv have been a constant factor in my life, but it was only when earlier this year a strange man on the street walked past me and told me to cheer up, that it really bothered me. That single phrase, which I am used to hearing, finally irritated me so much to the point where I needed to do something about it”, Hatch explained.
This sentence prompted her to have a conversation with her friends, that made her realise how much sexual harassment was normalised. “I realise that it wasn’t just the harassment itself that was the problem, it was the awareness surrounding it”, she added.
Sareeka, 24 years old, is one of the women who have been photographed by Hatch. During a rainy Thursday afternoon, in a noisy café over a fresh mint tea and a hot chocolate, I met Sareka, she explained how she became involved in this project, “Actually it was quite random, I found it on Instagram. Eliza and I have a few mutual friends, I thought her project was really amazing, I contacted her and we worked from there’’. When it came to talking about her story, she laughed disheartened and said, “The distressing thing when Eliza asked for a story to tell, I actually had multiple ones to choose from”.
As she took another sip of her fresh mint tea, she shared her experiences of being photographed by Hatch. “The way Eliza has done it and the photographs really add a personal element to the stories which I think is really important. I felt so empowered when I had my photo taken and all the women look very strong and not vulnerable at all”, she said.
Hatch explained that the shoot won’t work unless the woman is feeling strong about what she is saying. She always wants to depict the woman as empowered by her surroundings as possible.
Hatch shared her opinion on the #MeToo movement created in early October, by the actress Alyssa Milano which had a worldwide impact, “I think the #MeToo initiative is a very powerful movement. It’s a way of giving women a chance to let men know if they had been through something without having to single themselves out or explain their story if they didn’t want to. It gives you just the right amount of anonymity and solidarity with other women”.
Sexual harassment is an important distress that still persists in our society, it exists and will always exist. However, it is being challenged and tackled by projects such as Cheer Up Luv, who gives an opportunity to women to have their story heard. Hatch said, “I do think a change is possible, it’s already happening with awareness being raised. I think a lot of the reason why harassment goes unreported is that women don’t think they will be taken seriously, or doubt anything can be done about the incident. This attitude needs to change”.