I was about 14 when I was first pursued by an older man. I’d come bounding home from school one late afternoon in my uniform – a black tracksuit with red accents known to pretty much anyone who lived in the area – and there he was.
Minutes away from my front door, he pulled up alongside me – he looked like he was in his mid-30s – and wound down his window for a chat.
The actual words that came out of his mouth weren’t explicitly inappropriate, save for the obvious fact that he was a grown man who had stopped to socialise with a kid he’d seen in the street. But the undertones of flirtation were there. There was small talk about the weather, with a knowing glint in his eyes. A comment about us being neighbours; he lived further up the street at the time. And finally, a request for my phone number. I gave it to him.
When I found out about Natalie Portman’s response to the section in Moby’s memoir, Then it Fell Apart, which alleged that they had been an item when he was 33 and she was 18 (in the widely shared extract, he incorrectly says she was 20), this is where my mind went.
It’s likely that this is where the minds of countless women who’ve been approached by, or had exploitative relationships with, much older men went too. So many of us have been too young to make sense of those situations, only to realise years later, just how wrong it was that we were targeted by men who should have known better.
In Portman’s case, the public realisation came recently. In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, the actor responded to Moby’s claim that, somehow, a teenage girl had more agency than he did as a fully grown man. “I was a bald binge drinker and Natalie Portman was a beautiful movie star. But here she was in my dressing room, flirting with me. I was 33 and she was 20 but this was her world,” he wrote.
Portman responded: “I was surprised to hear that he characterised the very short time that I knew him as dating because my recollection is a much older man being creepy with me when I just had graduated high school.
“He said I was 20; I definitely wasn’t. I was a teenager. I had just turned 18. There was no fact checking from him or his publisher – it almost feels deliberate. That he used this story to sell his book was very disturbing to me.”
When I look back to when I first met that man, I see a girl at the height of teenage naivety, anxiety and general insecurity. I knew, after he asked, as I reluctantly tapped my numbers into his phone that I had possibly made a mistake. But I didn’t have the judgement to stop it entirely, just enough to know that I couldn’t tell any adults in my life about the encounter.
He never made any physical advances towards me, thank god. But in the two or three years that followed, I’d see him around the area, on my road, in his car. Sometimes he’d call me to check on how I was doing, let me know he was thinking of me, or send flirty texts.
It was only when he made an attempt to talk to me one day, this time from the gates of his large home, in the height of summer some years later, that the penny dropped.
Even then, I still hadn’t told my parents about the sporadic encounters. I was around 18 at this point, the same age as Portman. And although I knew it was wrong, the social expectations I’d internalised (always keep men happy, don’t be too frigid, flirtation is always flattering) meant that I was still too nervous to tell him that. So, instead, I took minimal steps to keep him at bay. Not answering when he rang, and ignoring text messages in the months before I left London for university. As luck would have it, it worked. It was the last time I saw him.
When I look back to that time, I shudder. But I also wonder how he would explain his behaviour today. Would he, like Moby in his Instagramed response to Portman’s comments, say he was adamant that we had been “briefly dating”? Would he have accused me of “misrepresenting the truth”? Maybe. Probably.
Because to older men like him, like Moby, these things are usually entirely the fault of the young girl who dares to interact with someone who finds them attractive. Never mind that they barely know how to look after themselves, and don’t have the power to dominate or somehow corrupt men almost double their age, as we are so often accused of doing.
That attitude, the same one Moby displayed in his condescending retort to Portman’s statement, must die. Failing to challenge it will just embolden more men to indulge in the same predatory behaviour and continue to go unpunished for it. Or in Moby’s case, before Portman spoke out, be celebrated for it.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies