Last Friday night I published a post on my own blog about my experiences with sexual assault on trains. The response was overwhelming with over 2000 RTs, 150 blog comments, tweets from the likes of Amanda Palmer, and horrendous confessional emails from those who could relate. Since then, publications such as the New Statesman have picked it up, and the British Transport Police and various train companies have been in touch to see how they can help. To make a change. All because one 19 year old spoke out for thousands of women. Here’s that post.
I’d just turned 17 when I had my first. It was my first day of work experience in London and I’d spent an age deciding on an outfit. The heavily fallen snow the night before didn’t help. I was made to wear gloves, hat, and scarf by my parents so obviously they now had to match the rest of the outfit. And boots. I had to wear my boots. But that meant I couldn’t wear my jeans because they went all crinkly at the bottom when I tucked them in. I went for shorts and tights in the end. AND TIGHTS. I WORE TIGHTS WITH THE SHORTS, STOP SHOUTING AT ME.
“No, I’m not cold.” I mumbled as mum dropped me at the station, my knees shaking so fast they went blurry. I’d be on a train soon anyway, then speed-walking to Shaftesbury Avenue to make sure I wasn’t late. The trains were cancelled or delayed because of the snow and rammed. Rush hour on a Monday morning together with cancelled trains meant some serious invasion of personal space on the 8:21am to Liverpool Street, but with my earphones in and an effort to not make eye contact with the lady shouting down her phone centimetres in front of me, I was alone on that train. I was fine.
My first time started about ten minutes into the journey. I didn’t even realise at first, I thought I was just standing funny. So I moved and it still felt weird, so I moved my bag thinking it was that. But it wasn’t either of those things. And that’s when I realised I was having my first time. Someone was touching me up behind me.
He was rubbing my thigh. He started circling and moved his hand up my shorts. I didn’t do anything. I turned my music up and let my first time just…happen. I mean it was bound to happen at some point, right? Why not now? Might as well leave him to it. It’s obviously because I’m wearing shorts. Best not to cause a fuss on this packed train full of probably nice adults who might have told him to fuck off if I shouted out. No. Best not.
I was late to work that day.
It was a long break before my second time. November 2012, actually. Not long ago. I was on a train back to uni, to Bournemouth, and the train had emptied after a few stops. There was just me and a man left who slowly moved to the seat opposite. Then he had a wank in front of me. So, again, I turned up my music and stared at my reflection in the window. Best not cause a fuss. It was late, I’d be in bed soon.
I didn’t sleep that night.
Not long until my third time though! Yay. In December I was on a packed train home from Cardiff and a man had his hand firmly grabbing my arse all the way back. I was going to say something this time and tap the shoulder of the lady in front. But she was in a suit and looked so tired, tutting at the group of drunk lads in front of her. Plus it was late again. Ah well, it’s happened twice before, I’m used to it now. I’ll be alright.
I felt lower than low, actually.
But wait for it…it happened again the DAY AFTER! Cor, twice in 24 hours. Aren’t I the lucky one? Aren’t I lucky to be chosen for a stranger’s pleasure? I mean I clearly look hot if this is happening to me. I clearly look like I’d be totally okay with that. This time I was on a tube and a guy was actually trying to finger me from behind. I didn’t turn up my music this time. I moved forward. But he moved with me and pushed his fingers in further. The tube pulled into the next station and the doors opened. I stared outside, at that gap a few metres away, and screamed at myself inside to move. So I did, I ran out. And I ran down the other end of the tube and jumped back on, grabbing the centre pole as the doors closed again. Then I turned up my music. Then I stared at one spot until I reached my station.
I was sick a few hours later.
I like to think I’m quite a confident and feisty person. I roll my eyes a lot and I’m very good at being sarcastic. I’ll fight against most things my family say and I’ll stand up for what I believe in. But I was, what, touched up? Just touched up? Molested? Sexually assaulted? What do you call it? A crime?
Yes, yes you do call it a crime.
What did I do? Nothing. I froze. I let it happen and I didn’t want to make a fuss. But what if it’d been worse? What if one of those men then followed me off the train that night and raped me? What if I was approached walking home one night and was still too scared stiff to stop it happening?
I didn’t deserve any of that. It wasn’t how I was dressed and it wasn’t how I was standing. Those men treated me as a faceless object of their satisfaction. Ironic, isn’t it, when I never saw three of their faces. But it happened FOUR times to me. Three of those times were within weeks of each other. SURELY I must have been doing something wrong? There’s not just one man, there are a lot of them. So it must be just me. I haven’t heard stories of this happening to anyone else.
The thing is, it happens a lot. Every day, in fact. I ended up speaking to a group of ladies about what happened to me and it had happened to all of them, too. But I didn’t know about this. I was never warned about this (I shouldn’t HAVE to be, ffs) so I didn’t know how to react. Neither did these ladies. Of course, the argument is that MEN should be taught not to touch women up. Not to rape, not to take advantage, and to just respect women. Women shouldn’t be taught how to stop it happening to them. But in turn, women aren’t taught how to react if it DOES happen to them. I didn’t know to shout out, to build up my confidence, to face these men, to know that those on the train WILL support me, to talk to people afterwards, to know that I am worth so much more than these dirty men who think they can get away with this shit. Because they CAN’T. My god, they can’t. They NEED to be shamed, and they NEED to be caught out. Otherwise they’ll do it again, and again. And women’s, mostly young women’s, self-esteem will plummet and they’ll bury what happened and it’ll drive them crazy. And women are amazing. And as long this keeps happening, feminism will exist.
I won’t let it happen again. I’m speaking out now and I’ll speak out for all the women who have and will endure this. People need to know that this happens a lot and it NEEDS to be talked about. Stories need to be shared and those men need to be shamed and caught. Shout out and grab his arm and demand respect and attention. Support a woman if she does shout out. Look out for it happening to those who are frozen. Look out for me. Make him cry and call the police. Make the biggest fuss you possibly can.
Then turn up your music.