Trigger warnings: fattism, sexual harassment, police uselessness, rape, mental health
As regular readers of the blog will know from this post, I’ve had my fair share of negative experiences with sexual harassment or assault. This post is about another such episode, but one where I decided not to take the law into my own hands, but to do it ‘properly’ and report it. Be warned, this story isn’t pretty and there is no happy ending.
Three weeks ago today I got on a bus at 10:30pm after a wonderful date with a gorgeous chap I’d met on OKC. Despite the hot weather that day I’d stupidly worn jeans and a long sleeved (but fairly tailored) black top. I sat in the back left corner of an otherwise deserted bus. I had a good forty minutes for my journey home, so I swapped my heels for flats, put my earphones in, and sat back to replay the day’s events in my mind (and the snogging).
When the bus reached town, an older (fifty-ish) couple got on the bus, and the man clumsily sat down next to me, nearly sitting on me in the process. I shuffled up to the window without comment to make room, and his hand shot out onto my arm in some kind of ‘oh I’m sorry’ movement. Still listening to Rammstein at full whack, I smiled at the couple and continued to look out of the window. Then I feel a hand on my thigh – not only unwanted and unsolicited hand of a stranger, but that this hand was very high up on my thigh – inches from my crotch. As I looked at him in utter shock and revulsion, he was saying something to me that I couldn’t hear.
Having been touched now twice by this drunken fucktard I stood up, sat on the seat opposite (out of hands reach) and when he asked why I had moved, I said that I didn’t want to be touched. I put my earphones back in and looked out of the window, seething that yet another lecherous old man had felt it appropriate to enter my personal space and touch me in what I considered an intimate and unwanted way. I felt that I’d made my feelings very clear and that would be the end of it.
How wrong I was. This drunk fucker was with his bulldog wife, who having witnessed this, felt that my reaction was inappropriate. She proceeded to tell every single person who got on the bus and sat near us about the ‘fat slag’ over there, and how dare I say ‘don’t touch me’. I may have had Rammstein on full blast, but I could still hear what she was saying, and still lip-read in the reflection of the window. After about ten minutes of this abuse, I was genuinely afraid of what would happen when I went to get off the bus, and got my keys out and plaited my hair.
As I got off the bus, they said something. I snapped and went to the driver, asking him to radio through to the central office that there had been a sexual assault and that I was reporting it to the police now. By chance there was a police officer on the street as the bus pulled up, and the bus driver suggested I go speak to them. The police officer asked the bus to remain where it was as he asked me what happened. I very calmly told him what had happened, and that I wished to make a complaint. People on the bus began to get rowdy, shouting at me for being pathetic and others asking who my assailant was so they could kick their heads in for me.
Another police officer had responded to the call out and arrived. The two people I was complaining about were removed from the bus and began to hurl abuse at me in front of the officers. Between the events, and people’s responses to what had happened, I couldn’t remain calm any longer. I turned my back on the bus and broke down. The officers boarded the bus and asked if anyone had witnessed this event. Not one person came forward. Not one of the people who had been told the story by this drunk pair and had laughed along with them came forward. Not one.
The officers were uninterested and unhelpful to say the least. As the couple were drunk and becoming increasingly aggressive towards me and each other, they were repeatedly interrupted from taking my statement to go and deal with them. Eventually seeing how distressed I was they moved us further away so I couldn’t hear their abuse, and took our details. Both officers repeatedly suggested that they ‘give them words of advice’ there and then, and that be an end to it. I repeatedly said I wanted to take this as far as possible, so they know they can’t treat people like this. This didn’t go down well with the officers, as they were in the area investigating a murder, and this seemed like insignificant shit to them. They suggested because it was my word against theirs, they could only charge them with a public disorder offence.
After taking both our details, the officers said they would go and see the couple after four days. We were not given a crime reference number or the police officer’s details. They were seen onto a bus and we walked the few streets to our home. I sat in shock for ages, trying to take in what had happened. I felt numb, but couldn’t stop crying. For the next week I refused to go out alone, terrified I’d bump into them at the shops or find them sat on my regular bus. I was angry at my own weakness. I emailed the bus company the next morning to advise of the incident, quoting my ticket details and advising them to retain the cctv as the police would need it.
Over a week since the incident, I called the police to ask for an update. You can imagine the distress when I was told there was no record of my incident ever having taken place. Imagine the anger at my own stupidity for not taking some kind of reference number or officer’s details. Imagine the gut wrenching feeling of knowing someone has got away with it yet again. The police offered to come and take my statement again, but as I advised them, two of their officers had my assailant’s details in their books, and I was vehement that they track them down.
Two weeks after the incident I received a couple of texts saying they had tracked one of the officers down, and then later they found the other. I finally heard back from one of the officers saying that the bus company had deleted the cctv, and unless I had any other witnesses, there was nothing they could do. They haven’t even interviewed the assailant (who at the time did not deny he had touched me). Their delay in recording and requesting the cctv has meant this will not even result in a caution.
To those reading this going ‘well, this incident is minor’ – you’ve got a point. This was a minor sexual incident in the bigger scheme of things, but it has greater implications. Look at the way a person alleging a sexual assault is treated not only by the police, but also by the general public. Look at how the report was delayed and evidence destroyed. Look at how I have had to chase and push and be adamant something would be done. Look at how the world looks on as people’s boundaries are breached and people are made to feel dirty and ashamed by these fuckers. Look at how often someone is sexually assaulted once it has happened to them already.
A hand on my thigh might not seem like much; but it has awoken every other incident and feeling from a sexual assault I have ever had. And this happens every time – every time the victim of an assault is re-assaulted, the earlier wounds are reopened. The sickening feeling of your personal space being breached. The gross feeling of someone touching you in a way you don’t want, and ignoring your requests for it not to happen. The terrifying feeling of what might have been, in different circumstances. The panic as you try to decide in a split second whether to punch the person, make a scene or quietly slip away.
This assault might be minor, but it’s affected me in more ways than seems appropriate. I’m on edge and jumpy, and when I’m in public I prefer to be with someone, as though their presence can prevent such an attack happening again. I choose the inside seat on the bus or tram so people can’t sit next to me, or if I am alone I try and sit in spaces that won’t make me feel trapped. I am perpetually expecting to bump into them and have a fight; if my hair isn’t up I wear a bobble so I can put it back quickly in a fight. I refuse to walk alone down the street at night. I’m tearful at the drop of a hat and struggle to talk about what happened. My partners have been amazingly supportive and understanding of my mood swings; explaining what has happened to others so I don’t have to talk through tears, giving me cuddles when I need them and understanding that sometimes I can’t bear closeness. How I veer from desperately needing to reclaim my body’s agency and sexuality to not being able to stand the idea of sex and intimacy.
So why am I writing this tale of woe? Mainly, for my own mental health. I have to get this shit out somewhere, in the hope that when the sorry story is out and stored for posterity, I can try and forget it. I am so, so angry not only at what happened to me, but the way I was treated on the night by the officers and people on the bus, and how I have been treated since. I am angry that these fucking bastards have got away with it, without so much as a caution or a visit from the police. I’m angry that even in this blog I felt it necessary to explain what I was wearing and where I’d been, as if I could have somehow been responsible for this bastard’s actions. Sometimes I am so angry I’m afraid of myself and what I might do if I run into them.
Maybe someone will read this and it will help them understand that the vile things a sexual assault makes you feel are totally normal. Partly this is me calling out South Yorkshire Police and First Bus Sheffield for being total, utter and complete useless cunts. You add insult to injury when you don’t treat victims with kindness and respect, when you minimise their distress, when you fail to properly investigate matters and when you destroy vital evidence. FUCK YOU.
One important part of writing this is to appeal to all of you to understand the bystander effect and to override your instinct to not help. If you see someone being harassed, go over and ask if they are ok. If you don’t feel safe doing so, ring the police. Don’t stand by and witness a crime, be a citizen, do your duty. Because one day, you may be the victim in a crowd of people who pretend not to see.
Next time I won’t sit meekly, soaking up the insults, the touching, the abuse. I will go fucking vigilante style on my assailant, and I’m damn sure there will be a record and cctv then. Because fuck sitting quietly, and fuck reporting. Until the world changes for the better, if someone breaches my boundaries, the rules are void and equal retribution is fair game. I will happily tell that to any judge. I am never going to let this happen to me again without doing something about it; if someone tries to rob me of my personal space and agency, I am damn well taking it back by force. I will happily accept the consequences, because I’ll be able to look at myself in the mirror without shame.