Wednesday, 11 December 2013

In which I'm assaulted and the police won't help

On Monday night, I was assaulted.

The Metropolitan Police, despite having caught the guy who did it, are doing nothing about it.

One sentence I hoped I'd never write, and one that's just horrifying. You choose which is which.

I was walking home in the evening, a journey I've made hundreds of time. It was dark and quite cold, but early and there were people around.

As I crossed a road, I registered the guy a few paces to the side of me. I don't know what it was - maybe his demeanour, or an imperceptible turn of his head - but my gut instantly told me something wasn't right. It's a powerful evolutionary mechanism, the gut feeling. I slowed my pace and dropped back so I was walking behind him, still in the same direction.

He turned into my road. I, slowly, turned into it too, down the other side, thinking I was far enough behind him to be safe.

Some ten paces in, I saw him ahead turn around to face me, run across the street with outstretched hands, and then grab me by my arms.

I've never been so utterly terrified. This is it. This is the moment I'm killed ten feet from my own front door.

Rooted to the spot by fear, I did the only thing I could: scream. Loud, bloodcurdling, blue murder.

He froze. Still screaming, I ran towards my flat, where I could see lights, but no one in the window. I thought no one was coming. I screamed louder. My neighbours came barreling out of the front door, and behind them The Writer, in no shoes, who flew up the street like a whirling dervish to grab the guy as he began to walk away.

The next minutes are a bit of a blur. I remember TW keeping the guy there, and the neighbours taking a picture of him, and phoning the police. I stopped screaming, and instead started yelling (I blame the shock - it was massively undignified) directly at the guy: how dare he? How dare he touch me? Come after me? What gave him the right? Would he accept that behaviour against a family member?

The police on the ground were good. They took me seriously, they told us they knew the guy in question, that "he's not a nice guy", and they took a statement. I had a call yesterday morning to say they'd kept him overnight and were interviewing him, and I'd hear more soon.

Then came the call to say there's no CCTV on our street. That there were no witnesses to the actual incident. That the suspect has mental health issues. That his lawyer had advised him, instead of keeping silent, to give an account: in it, he said he'd been jogging and had bumped into me, throwing out his arms to steady himself. And, despite the fact he's known to them, because of all this, it's my word against his, so there's no further action they can take.

Oh, but the PC I spoke to did suggest I change my route home and carry a panic alarm. I can easily imagine him telling a woman not to wear a short skirt if she didn't want to be raped. 

I was completely terrified. I've never felt so threatened. I was convinced that this was the point at which I was raped. Or stabbed. Or, like my darling friend earlier this year, had my head smashed against a car until I passed out (and no: she's never had any help from the CPS either).

I understand it's hard to prove. I do. I understand police budgets are shrinking. I understand mental health services are under the cosh. But what I don't understand is an unwillingness by the people who're paid to protect us to make a stand, and to say, "we might not have irrefutable evidence, but it's your word against his and if you're willing to take that chance and the stand in court, then we'll fight for you."

I don't understand why I get to be terrified when I've done nothing wrong. Why this guy - who clearly has problems - is allowed out onto the street where he clearly thinks that this is acceptable behaviour; why he isn't looked after better, and cared for, so that he doesn't do this to women going about their private lives. I call bullshit on budget cuts: it's not good enough. Why should he get to be out there with every possibility that he'll do it to someone else?

You hear that the crime rate is falling, and it's easy to think no more of it than, "well, that's excellent." And then it's reported that crime stats are being fixed in order to meet targets, but it's so easy just to tut and think, "how awful, they should have more integrity." 

And then it happens to you. And you're terrified out of your wits. You're convinced that this might be "your rape", and this is the moment you become a statistic.

And then the police, there to protect you, fail you. And you think, well, I'm not even a statistic now.


Jo said...

I'm really sorry that you had to experience that. I would be absolutely fuming if I were in your shoes

Anonymous said...

What would be the possibility of a civil suit? Could you get legal aid?

michaela said...

The police are disgusting. I was subject to domestic abuse from my brother and came out with bruises and nearly death and their answer when I kept calling them out to help 'clearly just a brother and sister tiff. Make up and get on with it' luckily I've moved and ut in an official complaint but even that wasn't dealt with

Rebecca said...

So wrong. And not only unfair to you, but as I and one of your other Twitter followers mentioned, it endangers other women who might not be so lucky. I've just ordered bright orange safety whistles for my sister and me, and I plan to keep that in my left hand while holding a big ring of keys in my right, as I walk home from work every night. It won't be enough to hold off an attacker for long, but I hope it will buy enough time for help to arrive or for me to get away.

Unfortunately, over here, we have an added problem of insurmountable magnitude. There is always the not very slim chance that I'll end up facing a gun. In which case, my little whistle and my big ring of keys are going to be pretty much useless. Still not going to apply for a concealed carry permit, tho. The statistics are very clear that the most likely thing in that case would be that any gun of mine would end up being taken away from me and used against me. I feel like I've done what I can, and it's all I can do.

In your case, though, I hope you can derive at least some comfort from the fact that you faced one of the scariest situations a woman can and you got yourself away. Your instincts were good ones, they bought you time and brought you help. I know it was horrifyingly scary, but you did good.

Miss Selfish Years said...

This is horrible. I'm so sorry.

A friend recently got attacked for her iPhone and now can't walk anywhere on her own.

Something which seems more like a sexual assault is so much worse. It is terrifying that this guy is still walking around.

I also agree with you in these circumstances: police on the ground are lovely and reassuring, it is the managers that seem to treat you like an idiot.

I really hope that this situation is somehow resolved or at least that you are able to leave it behind. (terribly hard)

Much admiration for your writing btw and loving your blog.


Angela Bowron said...

I'm fuming for you! I was harrassed and threatened on the tube by a man with the lower half of his face covered in a bandana. There were no staff at the tube station to report it to- this was 7pm in the evening- and when I called the police they could do nothing to help and could only give me a reference number. I asked them what about the CCTV on the train and platform and they said they would refer it to the British Transport police. Hopeless! said...

I am absolutely spitting on your behalf. How on earth can they not press charges? As for no witness statements - what about yours? Or TW's - that bastard must have said something when he caught up with him. Again, I am so sorry that you have gone through this, and I am deeply unimpressed by the police. (My opinion of the CPS was already sufficiently low that this incident has barely affected it.)

Dominic said...

All criminals probably have "mental health issues" of some sort. It's a cop-out (no pun intended).
Please follow it up and insist on a prosecution - for your sake and others'.

Lizzie Mabbott said...

This is horrendous, and terrifying. When I was attacked a couple of years ago and the witnesses deleted the CCTV footage, I was so full of rage but at least the police were good, just not the witnesses.

But in this instance, well done for escalating it - their 'actions' are just not good enough.

Liberty London Girl said...

oh sweetheart I am so sorry. And incredibly impressed with your bravery and presence of mind for banshee-ing. SO furious on your behalf. LLGxx

Anonymous said...

Saw this from LLG's tweet and I am so so sorry you had to experience that. What a terrifying and awful experience and the fact that you reported it was so brave and THEN they don't do anything about it. That's the heartbreaking thing. :(

DewdropDream said...

This is so horrifying, just so fucking awful! I hope you're doing okay now. It's really infuriating that they aren't willing to press charges. Do they honestly think that women report things like to this for a lark and therefore need not be taken as seriously, that your word isn't good against the perpetrator's because you don't have witnesses?! What about the fact that there aren't any witnesses to support HIS version of the story?!

Why won't they just do what they're supposed to do instead of putting the onus, yet again, on a woman, to keep herself safe? Carry an alarm indeed!

I hope they change their minds and don't let this man walk the streets endangering other people. I'm enraged.

exiledstardust said...

Horrifying. So sorry this happened to you.

Brennig said...

I'm afraid that crime statistics are a fiction. I believe the only way to actually reduce personal crime is to visit the offenders in the dead of night with a baseball bat. It's called retaliation. And if it's sufficiently terrible, it stops all reoffending. Not very liberal or PC, I know. But it works. I know it.

Best wishes xxxx

Sean Fleming said...

Have the police canvassed all your neighbours (both sides of the street) to see if anyone saw anything?

If not, they haven't finished investigating it and you might be able to apply pressure to see that this is done.

Falling back on "there's no CCTV" is just fucking lazy policing, frankly. What use would these fuckers have been pre-CCTV? Would they have left every crime to go unsolved? Every perpetrator to go free? Every victim to go unsupported?

I *get* the pressure to secure a conviction. But - once again - we see the actual human cost of living in a society that's become unhealthily concerned with targets.

Keeping A&E targets low means patients get checked in and then left on trollies waiting for treatment. Keeping school achievement targets high means pressure on some schools to persuade some kids to do BTECs and not GCSEs. Pressure on the police and criminal justice system to have a higher conversion rate (from arrest to conviction) means they only prosecute the easy stuff.

You're right to call bullshit on the budget cuts.

As for you... thank God you weren't more badly hurt. I can only begin to imagine what a truly upsetting event this was. It is completely unacceptable that anyone should feel vulnerable to attack. Stay strong. The ultimate victory is not found with a baseball bat or gun, but with the conviction to remain unbowed.

Anonymous said...

This is absolutely sickening.

"I don't understand why I get to be terrified when I've done nothing wrong. Why this guy - who clearly has problems - is allowed out onto the street where he clearly thinks that this is acceptable behaviour"

I know some people might take what I say the wrong way but I'm saying it anyway: I have several friends who were attacked by someone with 'mental health issues'. I am sick to death of this sort of health 'problem' being a ticket out of jail for so many attackers/murderers, of the victim being told to change their behaviour or told to accept that the person who hurt them and made them feel unsafe is 'ill' and therefore should be felt sorry for rather than blamed and punished. I know that some people reading this might say 'oh but if this person is ill they don't know what they are doing'. And so what? Does that mean innocent women such as yourself and so many others should be made to feel unsafe just going out and living their lives? Fuck that, nobody should ever feel unsafe. Anyone who is 'mentally ill 'and causes harm, and has a strong history of behaviour like this should not be allowed out in public or if they are, they should be undergoing treatment that means they are not a risk.

Marcheline said...

There are three very important parts to this story.

One of those parts is that there was a dangerous individual walking at night in your neighborhood. Sadly, it's something you can't do anything about.

The second part is that the cops aren't doing the right thing. This completely sucks, but it is something that you don't have control over.

But the third part is the most important. Read back over this post again, very slowly. You wrote that before you were attacked:

"I don't know what it was - maybe his demeanour, or an imperceptible turn of his head - but my gut instantly told me something wasn't right. It's a powerful evolutionary mechanism, the gut feeling."

This is the moment when you had the most power in the situation.

Whenever - wherever - you EVER get a feeling like that, immediately get out of the area. Run in the opposite direction until you find a cafe, a store, or a group of people in a well-lit area. Call the cops, and tell someone about the person that's made you afraid. Hail a taxi or jump on a bus or run straight to a police station - whatever the closest option is that will get you completely out of that situation.

It's extremely fortunate that the person who assaulted you did not do worse than grab your arms. It could have been so much worse than that. When you hear that little whisper of intuition, treat it like a screaming alarm and beat feet. It's that moment when you feel something's wrong that you have the most capability of avoiding the attack. If you can see the person in your field of vision, you are not safe.

I'm telling you this because I've studied self defense - and I know that human nature immediately tries to make things seem less than they are. Social pressures make us feel "silly" if we "overreact" to something that's just a funny feeling in our gut. But we need to be told, and we need to understand that it's more important to listen to our inner voices than to worry about what other people might think.

Think about it - so what if you felt threatened by someone that was completely harmless, and you ran away? No harm, no foul, and you're still safe.

People say "Oh, get a purse mace, a knife, a gun"... but these things can only be used when you are already in confrontation with the individual. Already in danger. Already close enough for them to do harm to you. Use that little whispering voice that says something's not right, and get away immediately before they're ever close enough to hurt you. In an attack like this, the offender is an unknown in the equation - you have no idea what weapons he may have, or his physical strength, or what drugs he may be on. These are all factors that could overpower whatever weapon you're counting on to get you out of the situation.

Before anyone jumps in and says "stop blaming the victim" - I'm not casting any blame - we all have that overriding "it's going to be okay" social pressure that tends to get us in dangerous situations when we should be listening to the first instinctual feeling we had.

It's a case of learning from what doesn't work... and planning ahead. I just want you to stay safe, and the best weapon you have is your brain and your guts. They will warn you - then it's time for the feet to take over.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, as we have learned over and over again -- I am on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts, in America -- the criminals have all the rights and the victims have none. We've reached this egregious situation because of so many miscarriages of justice. The police HAVE to be able to prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt or some liberal shyster lawyer (I am a liberal but not a lawyer) will make mince meat out of you and the police. As to being attacked -- walk carefully in well lit areas, and carry some protective stuff: Mace, an alarm, a big flashlight (shine it in someone's eyes or brain them with it) a stick or cane. Carry a can of some sort of spray stuff -- doesn't matter if it is bug spray or WD 40 -- something that you can spray in their eyes. You shouldn't have to do it but if it keeps you safe............

Ren said...

Firstly, I'm sorry you had to go through this. Secondly this makes me SO ANGRY.

In August 2012 I was sexually assaulted on my doorstep by a pizza leaflet guy who had followed me to my door, at 3pm in broad daylight. I called the police immediately, and they luckily had a patrol car in the area and arrested him. In the meantime two police officers came round to take statements from me, my sister and her friend, who had seen me walk past with him on my tail. I didn't report it for me, but for the people he might attack in the future. If he is capable of assault in broad daylight, what could he do at 2am in a dark alleyway?

The thing that annoys me when I read your story (though my "assailant" wasn't mentally ill) is that I was simply lucky - with the police officers that I spoke to (all women - I don't know if that has anything to do with it), and the fact that he admitted it.

Why should you change your route home or carry a panic alarm? That's pure victim blaming. It's the lack of action in cases like this that get people killed by those who shouldn't be out on the streets.


Anonymous said...

well done on making the complaint. Please let us know how things progress.

Daniel Grosvenor said...

I spent this evening catching up on some very overdue blog reading, and yours and Jo's were naturally at the top of my list. I'm really sorry to learn you experienced this, although find the tenacity with which you're approaching the flagrant injustice of the situation truly inspiring. The world needs more people like you who aren't willing to just bury their head in the sand.

A difficult lesson I've come to learn is that explanations are not excuses. Having a mental health issue does not give you a free pass to behave inappropriately, nor should anyone shrug such behaviour off because of that explanation. If a person is *so* mentally ill that they truly cannot be held responsible for their actions (and their consequences), as it seems the police were somewhat implying, then such a person requires help and it's the duty of the police to ensure that person poses no risk to others until/while they receive it.

I hope you get justice, and that this experience doesn't restrict you living your life the way you want to.

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