Monday, 5 July 2010

3am and that-time-at-the-bus-stop

I've spent the last day or so in a lot of pain* and so I've been just chilling out reading this and all the comments below it. And for some reason it dredged up this memory that I systematically repress every time it comes to the surface.

For back-story, I have been subject to sexual, emotional and physical abuse from many people in the course of my life-time. This ranges from childhood sexual abuse, to stranger-rape, to acquaintance rape, to parental violence/emotional abuse to extremely controlling emotional abuse from an ex. Until I met my now-husband, there wasn't a year in my life that went by that I wasn't subjected to some form of abuse. So I did not come to this situation wide-eyed and bushy-tailed and full of the fluff and joys of the world.

I had an office job in London Bridge. It's a densely populated area, with a wide-range of people. There are offices, shops, cafe's, homes...all sorts of people around, all the time, for all sorts of reasons. I left work one day and stood at my usual bus-stop, waiting for my usual bus. There were at least 10 people there, possibly as many as 25. It was on the main road, not tucked out of the way. I've included a picture of the street, the bus-stop is next to the black streetlamp that goes halfway over the road. You can see there is very obviously a lot of people that would have been around or within sight around the time that this particular incident occurred.

I was a young-looking 18, 5'6 and maybe 8 and a half stone, wearing office-clothes. It was April or May so still light out. I was standing with my back against the building, the normal London-Appropriate amount of space between me and the people around me, allowing for crowded-bus-stop-adjustments, of course. As I waited, I barely registered that a man was approaching, walking down the pavement. Without resorting to class-privileged snubs, he was clearly either homeless, or mentally ill or both. He was what most people would term a hobo, dressed in baggy dirty clothes, unwashed, long matted hair, carrying a blue plastic bag I would later realise was the type usually given out at cornershops and off-licences. As he came up to the bus-stop, he very marginally sped-up, and with no warning, swung out his arm and smacked me full in the head with his bag, which had cans in it. He swung it again, without even breaking stride, only missing my face because I somehow, through my shock, put my arm up and caught the blow. He didn't even turn, or slow down, he just carried on going.

And not a single one of those 10-25 people did a thing.
Not one of them tried to stop him.
Not one of them moved to protect me (although the speed at which the attack happened, I don't blame them for this really)
Not one single person asked if I was ok. In fact, they pointedly avoided even making eye-contact with me.

I was a teenage girl, alone, who had just been assaulted by a strange man, and sustained a serious blow to the head, and not one person acted as though anything had even happened.

I was fine, physically apart from a sore head. There was no concussion, no head injury. But there was a much much worse injury, which was mental and emotional. It was the knowledge that I was not safe in public, not because people might attack me, which was something I had learned many years before, but because no one cared. It was deeply and profoundly shocking to me to discover that my previous assumptions, that if any of my attacks or abuses had happened in front of witnesses that someone would have stepped in or helped, were completely off-base. That was worse, in a way, than the attack itself. I felt like by being silent and ignoring the attack, these people were sending me a message. Shut up. Don't make a fuss. Don't embarrass us with your hysterical display. We don't want to know or hear about your problem. Just forget it. I bit my lip and tried to stop my shoulders from visibly shaking as I cried in pain, fear, and humiliation. I got on my bus and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with people who clearly wished the ground would just swallow me the fuck up so I would go away. I ended up getting off the bus two stops later and walking the few miles home, chain-smoking and crying, calling my then-boyfriend (Mr A) and blubbering about how much I wanted to vomit.

Soon after this incident, abnormally soon, in fact, within days, I suppressed it to the point whereupon reading a line about it in my diary a year later, I couldn't remember what on earth it was referencing. In fact, I didn't remember it until I randomly remembered it about 6 months ago. I then immediately forgot about it again, after feeling overwhelmed by the apathy shown by those strangers at that bus-stop.

This isn't really going anywhere. Just a memory that cropped up in response to a lot of reading about rape-culture and it surprised me that I've suppressed it not once, but twice. It surprised me that at a crowded bus-stop a young girl can sustain a vicious and unprovoked attack and even when there is no risk of danger to them, the people around her will decide not to get involved, not even to ask if she's ok. Even as I write this, I'm making excuses in my head. I should have gone back into work and told someone what had happened. I should have screamed, to alert my fellow bus-stoppers that what had happened was Serious Business (because they might otherwise have assumed that getting hit in the head with a few full cans of beer wouldn't have bothered me, obviously). If I didn't scream, it's my fault, right?

NO. NO IT'S FUCKING NOT. This is rape apologist language applied to a much milder assault. And don't get me wrong. I know that this is nowhere near the worst thing that could have happened to me. I would rather take another 100 blows to the head than ever be raped again. But this particular instance and something that happened around the same time, when work-colleagues got me way-way-way fucked up, took me to a strange place and then completely failed to even attempt to throw up the vaguest concern for my well-being, which in turn led to them watching a complete stranger walk me out the door and into a cab despite the fact that I could barely stand, did a lot to wreck my trust of the average person. We live in a culture that allows this sort of shit to happen by not ACTIVELY and LOUDLY stepping in and stopping it happening. Why did not one single person at that bus-stop ask if I was ok, or offer to take me to the tube-station so I could find a police officer? I shouldn't have been getting on a bus. I should have been being checked out for a concussion and making an incident report. Because not one single person there acknowledged that something had even happened, I somehow felt like it was my FAULT. Like I was making a big deal over nothing, like this was something I should just accept, that he was allowed to assault me and why was I getting all fucking uppity over it?

This has been a blog about why I wish I had a son so I could teach him to be a Good Man. This has also been a blog about why I cried some tears of sadness when I found out I was going to be raising a daughter.

*I will talk about this soon. And not in a general 'I'm tired and in pain' way like usual!


  1. Fucking hell...

    I have no words... So what I'm about to say feels woefully inadequate in the face of your experiences...

    I cannot believe that those surrounding you were so callous, so wrapped up in themselves, so grateful that it wasn't they who were attacked that they couldn't react to what happened .. I'm just .. I'm still lost for words.

    I share your knowledge, your fear, of not being safe (esp in public), of feeling no-one cares (though I'm very lucky that the way I've learnt this lesson has been through *way* less harsh methods).. all I can offer is that it was always about them and not about you, darling, and to send you love and hugs, as ever.

    Yours, inadequately xxx

  2. I know it was always about them. And that's terrible. I sometimes feel so sad to live in a society that not just tolerates this sort of indifference, but cultivates it, by spreading the myth that we should all mind our own business and keep to ourselves and Not Get Involved.
    Especilly in the current political climate, we ALL need to start getting involved, for the sake of those in our society who are weakest and most at risk, otherwise they're going to be metaphorically beaten about the head, and we're all going to be averting our eyes.

  3. I'm really sorry to hear that. I haven't had any in my entire life, luckily, but I guess i shouldn't underestimate how much it happens......