I Told Everyone but the Police
Trump has done it again – he’s managed to vilify, undermine and dismiss women in under a second, using fewer than 280 characters. On Friday, Sept. 21, Trump’s latest tweet appeared to question the credibility of Christine Blasey Ford accusation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the 1980s (Kavanaugh denies this, of course). Trump’s patronising comment caused immediate and widespread outrage on Twitter. The hashtag #WhyIDidntReport has gone viral, and women (and men) across that world have united and opened up, to explain the reasons why they are among the 86% of victims of sexual crimes who keep silent.
Statistically, one in every five women will be sexually abused in her lifetime, 80% of which will happen to women under the age of thirty, yet only 32% of those assaults will be reported.*Maybe these figures mean nothing to you, because that’s not something that will happen to your daughters/friends/yourself. You’re not stupid and you don’t put yourself in that position. You come from a good home and understand that no means no. You are streetwise and you are confident. Well, so am I. Yet I’ve been sexually attacked twice in my life and, both times, I wasn’t taking a risk.I was also among the 68% of female victims that didn’t tell the police. Was I traumatised by the attacks? Did they change my life and the way I see the world? Yes, they did. But I still kept silent – and here’s my story. Here’s #WhyIDidntReport …
My attacks didn’t happen on the nights I would weave my way through the jagged streets of London’s Soho at three o’clock in the morning, squinting through the light night fog searching for the orange glow of an available taxi, with nothing but my dead phone in my hand for protection. It didn’t happen then. It didn’t happen on the countless nights when my drinks were too strong, my skirts too short or my judgment too weak. Or on the nights I desperately fought sleep on the night bus home, staring through rain-streaked windows trying to make out my stop, surrounded by drunks and madmen. It didn’t happen then.
Both occasions that I was sexually attacked had four things in common:
1. It was dark.
2. I was surrounded by people.
3. I was doing something I did every day and have done every day since.
4. I never saw their faces.
The first time it happened I was eighteen years old and on my way home from work. It was a bitter winter’s evening and I was standing in the ticket hall of my local tube station. It was a time before mobile phones and I stopped to call my boyfriend on the payphone, he told me he was running late from work and he would meet me outside his house. I dropped my purse, I bent to pick it back up and I turned to exit the station. And that’s when I felt a man’s fingers, sharp and hard as a dagger, ram themselves between my legs. I think I shouted out something stupid like, ‘oi, do you mind?’, but he was already running too fast to hear me.
When faced with a surreal situation the human mind tries to come to a logical conclusion. But in the half a second that it took for me to realise that I had just been viciously fingered by a stranger in a packed tube station, he had already run away, giving me nothing but a glimpse of his dark shaven head and light grey hoodie. I screamed out ‘he just grabbed me’ – sending orange coated security guards running around aimlessly looking for this mysterious ‘he’, leaving me confused and incredulous. Because incredulous seems to be my go-to emotion where most women would feel fear or disgust.
The train staff asked if I wanted to call the police but I shrugged and brushed it off. What was I going to say? He was young, skinny, dark-skinned and wore a grey top? That described half the guys in North London. Whatever – he was just a pervert – I’d be fine. They agreed with me. What was the point?
I walked the seven minutes to my boyfriend’s house, in the dark gloom of early evening, jumping every time a man passed me on the pavement. A mantra of ‘Thank God I was wearing trousers! Why did he pick me? Was it because I bent over to pick up my purse? Did I look at him? Is he waiting for me? Had I not made that phone call would he have attacked me in the station car park?’ running through my head in a loop until I reached the safety of a corner shop. After what felt like forever, my boyfriend finally got off the bus and I collapsed sobbing into his arms. My poor helpless boyfriend, who wanted to kill a man I couldn’t even describe.
The next morning I got back on the tube to work, determined not to let my life be affected by an opportunistic pervert. The same pervert that two weeks later would appear on TV’s Crimewatch as the man who had been carrying out a string of sex attacks and attempted rapes along the Northern Line. The same man who, had I only reported him at the time, would have had my statement hammer an extra nail is his sordid coffin. But I thought these things happened to everyone, it was no big deal, and I told everyone about the attack except the police.
And it wasn’t to be the last time.
Fast forward seven years and I’m on the other side of the world sharing a room with five strangers. This was nothing new, I had been known on my backpacking adventures to find myself in a dorm with six bunks, eleven of which were occupied by men I had never met. Was I attacked then? No. Was I attacked on the many drunken nights abroad when my legs would open more often than the back page of my passport? No. My sexual abuse occurred when I was sober, in a room with other people, and I wasn’t even awake.
Lucy, a girl I had met that day was asleep above me listening to her headphones. Across from me lay a guy whose name I didn’t hear properly the first time so never asked again, he was also sleeping soundly. The empty beds on the other side of the room belonged to two Australian guys I’d befriended who worked in a nearby nightclub and would be back soon. Which was why our dorm room door was sometimes accidentally left unlocked, which was how my abuser got in.
Many things happen in hostel bedrooms when you spend a year backpacking on your own. Strangers aren’t very good at getting into bed without turning on lights, rummaging through bags or talking. Sometimes there would be a fight, many times you’d lie there pretending the couple below you weren’t shagging loudly – but most of the time it was fine.
I’m a light sleeper and on this night I could hear a sound that I recognised but couldn’t quite place. Rhythmic and wet. Through my half awaken state I eventually realised it was the sound of a man masturbating. I reasoned that it was late, perhaps whoever it was thought he was being discreet, I kept an open mind (because, once again, the human brain rarely jumps to the worst conclusion) so I loudly turned over and faked a sleep mumble to alert my neighbouring wanker that I was now awake. But he continued, and the sound was getting closer. I half opened my eyes and through my lashes could make out the silhouette of a short man, trousers around his ankles, penis in hand, looking at the top bunk but pointing at me.
I tried to make sense of the situation, clearly, that was my forte, and I wondered whether this was a joke. A drinking game? A dare? (The men I told this story to afterwards explained that no, nobody would ever dare anyone to wank in the face of a sleeping woman). Did I scream, cry, flee or hide under the covers? No, that only happens in the movies. What I did was sit up and stare into the darkness at the direction in which I presumed the perpetrator’s face was and asked, calmly and very matter of fact, ‘what the fuck do you think you are doing?’
His answer was to silently tuck his cock back into his briefs, pull up his trousers, take the time to re-buckle his belt and slowly let himself out of the dorm room. Lucy above me, and whatever-his-name-was in front of me, slept on none the wiser that my acute sense of hearing had just prevented me from meeting a sticky end. I incredulously (there it was again) huffed and puffed and locked the door behind the pervert.
But I didn’t call the police.
Why? Because everyone agreed there was no point.
I should have though, because a few nights later the police were called to the hostel after a woman had got into bed and found the masturbating perpetrator waiting for her, followed by another woman getting out of the shower to be faced with the same. The problem was I had no evidence, all I could say was ‘he was in my room too, but I don’t know what he looked like’ – so the exasperated policeman rolled his eyes and scribbled something down. He didn’t even take my name. By the time they caught the local lad, who got his kicks breaking into backpacker’s rooms and knocking one out, he was steps away from taking it further. He nearly raped a girl.
So why am I telling you this?
Because both times I was attacked, society reinforced the notion that they weren’t worth reporting. Everybody I spoke to found the stories ghastly, wrong and – yep – even funny (apparently, having a narrow escape from a face-full of a stranger’s semen is hilarious). I told myself I wasn’t a serious-enough victim to make a fuss, that these things ‘just happened’, so I did what I knew the police, society and every man I spoke to would do – I dismissed them. I let the bastards get away with it, and I allowed them to go on and do it again.
This is #WhyIDidn’tReport. Because my stories were deemed as not a big deal and I felt STUPID for painting myself as a victim. I kept quiet, turning my stories into just stories, not evidence, and my silence led to these men doing more. That’s what sexual predators depend on, society’s dismissal of the smaller acts until by the time a bigger act is committed there isn’t enough evidence to pin them down. Sex offenders start small but rarely stop there, they keep going until they can’t go any further. They keep going as long as there is no one there to stop them.
So please understand, if someone didn’t report a sexual attack the moment it happened to them, it doesn’t mean they are liars. If they didn’t report it, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter or it didn’t change their lives. And if they didn’t report it, it doesn’t mean the perpetrator is innocent. It means that the victims were expecting this – exactly what the President of the United States is doing – they were expecting indifference, dismissal and victim-blaming. When you’ve been raped, or sexually attacked, you already feel powerless and hurt, yet your biggest fear is feeling all those emotions at the hands of your protectors too. It’s reliving that pain and getting nowhere, which is what happens in the majority of cases.
So what’s the point?
Until law enforcement, the judicial system and the media shines the spotlight on the accused instead of those attacked, and until people listen and believe, before they dismiss or demand more evidence, then victims will remain in the shadows.
It’s not easy to share your story, but it is easy to be an innocent victim of sexual crime when attackers know they are protected by people like Trump.