A Totally Shit Thing That Happened

When I first moved to London, my parents were constantly asking me if I was safe. They would ask me about my neighbourhood, what the buses and trains were like, how I got home at night, how many people were around if I was walking home late. They worried. I had lived in big cities before but London is a different beast. I think it’s because it’s more faceless: it’s famous for being a city of individuals who are wrapped up in their own affairs. My mother pictured me getting mugged on a dark street and being stepped over by locals annoyed at being inconvenienced by my body on the floor.

So it came as a surprise to her that the first time I felt truly frightened since I moved here over 4 years ago was on a brightly lit train, at 9 in the morning, surrounded by people.

A Totally Shit Thing That Happened

Photo by @technicallyaaron (instagram)

The internet is full of tongue-in-cheek listicles (hate that word) of the crimes of commuting. Don’t manspread. Don’t hover at ticket barriers. For the love of GOD get on the right side of the escalators. My personal pet peeve is people leaning on the pole designed to be held to stop you going arse of tit onto the poor person next to you. So when I had to angle my arm behind a man leaning on the pole on the tube, I did a silent sigh of annoyance. He was not happy at my ‘intrusion’ and let me know by slowly pushing his weight onto my hand. This escalated: I would flex more, he would push more until I asked him to move. He refused and crushed my fingers with his elbow. I told him he was hurting me. He grabbed my wrist – hard – shoved me backwards and hissed in my face ‘Well move your fucking arm then, you fucking bitch’. The man on the other side of me took a half-step between us: ‘Woah, have some manners’ (a weird reaction but one that was much appreciated, especially as everyone else around us averted their eyes).

I couldn’t move away from him as the carriage was rammed. My legs were shaking so much I could barely stay upright. I pretended to read my Kindle as my eyesight blurred. I dug my fingernails into my arm in order to not cry. I absolutely would not cry in front of this man. 5 stops later I got off the train, as did he. My relief at being off the train quickly turned to fear that he would confront me outside the station. If you’re the kind of man who grabs hold of a woman in a tube full of people, what would you do in a less populated area? He didn’t do anything, of course. He shot me a smug smirk and walked in the opposite direction.

I spent the morning at work trying not to cry. I felt shaky and weak and absolutely terrified. My boss asked what was wrong and it was then that I finally allowed myself to cry. She was horrified, as were other colleagues. One asked if I was going to report him. I don’t know why I didn’t. Technically he assaulted me. He assaulted me. I was furious. I was furious at myself for not standing up to him, for getting so upset. I was furious that only one person intervened. That more people didn’t seem shocked. At first I felt silly calling it an assault, like I was making a mountain out of a molehill. Quite a few people I spoke to saw it as an unwelcome, but unavoidable, downside of commuting: ‘People get horrible commuter rage don’t they?’, ‘What an overreaction to such a small thing’, ‘This is why everyone hates Londoners’.

More than anything I am so angry that he made me feel scared in my own city. I put off leaving work for as long as possible, as the thought of getting back on the tube made me want to be sick. This happened weeks ago and I still look round the carriage to see if he is there, even though I know the chances of that are miniscule. I’m angry because it brought home to me that I’m incredibly vulnerable and a large part of that is because I’m a woman. I was lucky that it was a minor assault, but it made me wonder what he would have done to me if we’d been on an empty train when I got on the wrong side of him. These are the things that run through your head in that split second when a stranger grabs you and you know in your gut that you couldn’t stop him if you wanted to. I’m about average height and I like to think that my nails could probably disembowel a man, but I’m not at all strong and the moment it happened all of the strength went out of me. It’s a very sobering thought and one I had never allowed to fully form in my head, although I’d be willing to bet that most women have had a similar one at some point in their lives.

I know that there is a fear that if you get involved with someone else’s business that you will put yourself in danger. I am not advocating that. But if one person had asked me if I was okay, it would have made all the difference. It would have shown me that people could see what was going on, it would have made me feel less alone. I would have felt safer. And it would have shown that awful man that what he did was not okay, and that he had been seen. A quick ‘are you okay?’ or ‘do you want to switch places?’ if the person is still near them. You’re not confronting anyone, you’re offering support to a person who needs it. And that is incredibly powerful.

There isn’t much of a point to this blog post. I am basically using it to vent and to try to make sense of what I am feeling. I am shaking writing this and feel unbelievably sad that it happened. I love this city and I feel as though that man has ruined a tiny part of it for me. I worry that I’ll have those conversations ex-Londoners have where people say with a laugh ‘Oh but I bet you don’t miss the commuting!’ and this will be what springs to mind. I don’t want this man in my memory of London and I don’t want him lurking at the darker edges of my paranoia when I step onto the last train home, or walk down my quiet London suburb street. I’m just not sure how to get him out.

Lex

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9 Comments

  1. 30th September 2015 / 10:43 pm

    What an absolutely loathsome experience and turd of a man, and thank you so much for sharing it, even if it must have been horrible to relive it while writing about it.

    A couple of years ago, I had a similar incident – it was about 10pm, I was in King’s Cross station racing to catch a train after a show, when a guy in front of me deliberately kept trying to get in my way and block me.

    I ran around him, ran up the platform and hopped onto the waiting train – and he followed me and started yelling abuse at me. All I had done to provoke this was to try and walk past him.

    Very segregated, I know, but three men got up to confront him (including an ex-colleague who I hadn’t seen for about 10 years! – we didn’t recognise each other) while in the rest of the carriage, there were a few women, who dragged me away from the confrontation and helped me get into the next carriage where I’d be safe.

    Anyway, the police ended up with several reports and CCTV yet they never prosecuted him because of reasons. And this tells us that men are free to abuse women as much as they feel like, regardless of witnesses and opposition, because TfL enables them to do so and will not take action against them.

    We women pay the same amount as them to travel, how is this allowable? (It was a long time before I used King’s Cross station again after that. Which is just silly when you live in Finsbury Park).

    • Lex
      6th January 2016 / 11:47 am

      Chantal, that is awful. I’m so sorry that happened to you but so glad that there were some good people who stepped in. I cannot comprehend the entitlement of these men: how dare she walk past me without acknowledging me, how dare she inconvenience me in order to stay upright on a tube. URGH. I do think that things like this aren’t taken as seriously as ‘nothing really happened’. Feeling intimidated, fearful every time you get on a train, the after affects… these incidents aren’t considered worth reporting by many people because of the reaction you get from others. If there wasn’t a ‘traditional’ assault you feel like you might be wasting their time, even though I think these behaviours are indicative of someone who is one bad day away from assaulting someone.
      Thank you so much for your comment. It’s sad how many people could offer similar stories but I really appreciate the support x

    • Lex
      6th January 2016 / 11:29 am

      Thank you Emma, he was obviously a very unpleasant man. Hopefully he was just having a bad day, I don’t like to think of him being like this all the time. Thank you for your comment – sorry I’m so late getting back to it. I think I posted this to get it out of my system and then tried to forget about it x

  2. j
    1st October 2015 / 5:14 am

    I just wanted to say I’m sorry this happened to you and to let you know that *you can still report it* if you want. Your choice… but it may help you feel better. There may be CCTV but even if they are unable to prosecute, crime stats matter for stuff like policing levels or having it on record of he does something to someone else, so it would still useful.

    Strength to you, lovely X

    • Lex
      6th January 2016 / 11:28 am

      Thank you so much for this comment (sorry for my late reply). I was worried people would think I was making a mountain out of a molehill so your message means a lot x

  3. 1st October 2015 / 10:17 pm

    I’m sorry to hear about your bad experience. I had something similar when I stumbled over a suitcase after being accidentally nudged by someone in a very packed, rush hour St Pancras station.

    The man I then accidentally (gently) bumped into accused me of doing it on purpose, but as we were packed together I couldn’t get away from him. He repeatedly kicked me on the back of my legs to the point that he drew blood. I’d told him to please stop and that he was hurting me but he started to swear at me. No one else helped me. By the time I saw the transport police on the concourse the man had gone out of sight.

    I was upset and shaken at first, but then I actually started to feel sorry for the man. What must have gone so wrong in his day, or even life, that he had to hurt someone else.

    It doesn’t seem like it was a personal attack on you as a person, but more that he probably would have mistreated anyone who got in his way that day.

    This was a cruel thing to happen (I’m not belittling it), but the problem lies with him not you. There’s nothing you can do to change anything now other than choose whether to let him continue affecting you – you’re giving him all the power while you remain fearful of him. Make a decision about whether to report it (it might be wise to just have a chat with an officer to reassure you), and then choose to walk with your head held high.

    I’m sure others will be helped by your post, so some good will come of a lousy situation too.

    • Lex
      6th January 2016 / 11:26 am

      Thank you so much for this comment. I’m so sorry you met such a nasty person, it sounds awful. I really appreciate your message – it does actually help to put it onto him. He would’ve been vile to someone regardless, I just happened to be the person in his way that day. I do hope that others can find something in my post to use in their day to day lives – I would never condone the potentially dangerous situation of confronting a man like that, but just letting the other person know that you are there and you are witnessing it would make such a difference.

  4. Amanda
    23rd July 2017 / 9:45 am

    This is appalling. I’ve been in many passive-aggressive stand offs with pole leaners – how scary to have someone behave with such venom. Looks like this is an old post, but I vaguely think you get on at Canning Town and I change from the DLR there – if you ever need some company, let me know

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