Yet when I look at my life and the way I react to and feel in certain situations, then that incident, 13 years ago this month, has massively impacted on my life.
13 years ago this month I was sexually assaulted on a train, heading home from school on a Friday night. I was sat on the train with my little sister, she had just started Year 7 and we had just returned to school after the summer holiday that week. We occupied a set of seats on the old style metropolitan train. Across the aisle on the smaller pair of seats was another girl from our school who had just started year 7.
The train journey itself lasted 10 minutes maximum. We got off on the 4th stop. However, this particular Friday, the doors stayed open at Rayners Lane for a little longer than normal, which wasn’t out of the ordinary. The doors closed, then re-opened, as they re-opened a group of boys/guys/men jumped on the train. I would be lying to say I didn’t feel relieved when they walked by my little sister and I. Plus we were now on our way to our stop, so nothing bad was going to happen in the short time frame!
However, they soon turned around and came and sat amongst us. I remember someone sitting next to me on each side, one by my little sister, and open opposite the girl from school I didn’t know. A couple of them were standing in the walkway.
Time seemed to stop still, I was sexually assaulted on that short train journey home, and was appalled that the adults stood in the middle section with the pole bit, who could clearly see us didn’t step in to help. I was adamant that they were in no circumstances going to touch my sister or the other girl. As it approached our stop, I made sure the girl got off with us, and that evening my dad was picking us up from the station and I made her drop the girl off where she had planned to meet her mum. I would never have lived with myself if I had left her on the train with them.
What followed then was an evening of trying to remember and write down everything, police visits, a trip to the hospital, buying a new school blazer and skirt, over the next few weeks various trips to the police station,and for a little while an undercover police officer walking near us on the way to school and the train journey.
So am I victim?
I guess I am, but I don’t spend my time thinking about what happened, and this is the first time I have ever written about it, plus hardly anyone knows this about me.
Yet, everyday I am impacted by what happened that day. I am so anxious on public transport, I would rather stand than sit down, I am super anxious if there are relatively empty carriages, I used to dread coming home later on at night if drunk people were on the train, I hate carparks day or night, I hate getting taxis/cabs, I don’t like walking around in the dark (and sometimes even the day). I check around my car before getting into it, and then have to reach around the back of my seat just to make sure I am safe. I triple check my front door is locked. I am constantly scanning around when I am out and about, trying to remember what people near me are wearing, just incase something happens. I don’t even think about doing that, it just happens.
Please don’t think I am crazy!
However, if you follow my blog or social media, you will know that I still do most of those things. In DC I spent my life jumping in and out of cabs getting to conference venues and then after parties. I get the train into London frequently (I used to do it everyday for work), I get the train home after I have seen friends, I even sit down sometimes on the train, I leave my car in carparks and return to my car etc. I sat and watched the sunset by myself down by Boston harbour and walked back to my hotel every night.
I refuse to not do these things even if they make me ridiculously anxious and uncomfortable. Sometimes though my nerves do get the better of me. I walk around anxious and paranoid more often than not. I constantly think that the people around me might be potential attackers, and it is awful to think that about complete strangers, who 99.9% of the time are just innocently going about their day.
Sometimes it does all get a little bit much, and I had full blown anxiety attacks when I arrived in DC in 2016, to the point where I considered spending thousands of pounds on a flight home!
I know that everyone is relatively cautious when it comes to some of these things, and personal safety is paramount. I do sometimes wonder whether I would have been like this anyways, even if I hadn’t been assaulted? Would I have always been a little bit extra paranoid? Maybe, maybe not. I guess I will never know the answer to that.
One thing I do know is that my family and the police helped me massively through that period of my life. At the age of 13 having to do police interviews and be subject to some pretty harsh questioning (by one particular women) was tough and knowing that people had my back made such a difference. I also know that by reporting them, they maybe/hopefully wouldn’t do it again!