Tuesday, 4 February 2014

In which I don't like walking home

So here’s a thing: I don’t like walking home alone when it’s dark. I don’t much like walking home alone full stop. And even when I’m walking with someone else, a man walking towards me up the pavement is enough to make my heart rate shoot through my furry headband.

I’m not one given to hippy-drippy, mumbo-jumbo claptrap, but an incident of some two months ago that left me physically unharmed has irritatingly seemed to worm its way into my brain, and give me a daily dose of the heebie jeebies. And now I don’t seem to be able to get from the top of the road to my front door without a bout of shuddering terror.

After the event, I was pretty squeamish, but steeled the no-nonsense side of the brain and told myself to get on with it. Having people walk me home, I reasoned, would just delay the inevitable moment when I’d have to do it myself, so I decided just to bite the proverbial rather than creating another problem for myself to get over later down the line.

But when I walk home now, I spend the entire journey looking over my shoulder. I fleetingly identify people in the street who look non-threatening enough that I could run towards if I needed to. I look closely at the face of every guy I pass, wondering if all men in hoods, or everyone playing music out of their phones, or all black guys are him, and whether he’s going to do it again.

As soon as I leave the tube station, my keys are in my hand, each key pushed between my fingers just in case someone comes close enough that I need to lash out. I had a long and not entirely jokey discussion with The Writer one evening about the best way to defend oneself with a golf umbrella. And, giving myself the best chance of running away if necessary, I’ve not worn heels out in public since it happened.

The very worst bit – on top of a) not feeling safe outside my front door, and b) generally feeling like a prized idiot – is that I’ve seen the scumbag around since. I’ve seen him from the window and watched as he’s walked up my road; and I’ve seen him hang around in the doorway of a bar that I walk past on my way back to the flat.

He, I assume, hasn’t given a passing thought to that woman he went for in the street before Christmas; not the foggiest idea that even though he didn’t make off with a phone or a bag or having fucked her, he’s sufficiently screwed the bit of her brain that made her feel safe in public. And if he has done, I imagine he probably couldn’t care. Which is overwhelmingly the attitude I've had so far from the police too, despite claims that victims of crime are their priority.

There’s not much I can do, other than carry on and power through – to keep reminding myself that, statistically, it won’t happen again; and in time rewire my synapses to realise that. Oh, and always carry a golf umbrella.


Rebecca said...

This lasting effect, totally understandable and shared with so many other women, is even worse, imo, than the original assault. Have you looked into the availability of women's self-defense crash courses? Many major cities here in the States have them. They're usually an hour or two, just basic information and moves that can be practiced at home, though some women will take refresher courses every several months.

The goal is the same, do whatever it takes to buy time and get away, which is often easier in big cities where help or sanctuary is often not too very far away. But many women find that just knowing a handful of things that have been proven to help dials back the fear to a more manageable level.And, of course, the extra knowledge and moves are well worth having just for the extra protection they bring.

But it really does make me savagely furious to think of those men in the Met, blithely dismissing women they think are unharmed. Especially that asshole who said what do you expect, if that's where you will live. They have no fucking clue about the scars you can't see, the trauma that lingers. Men like that shouldn't even be allowed to take reports on these incidents, shouldn't be allowed to investigate them.

The problem is, those kinds of changes take forever. In the meantime, a basic down and dirty self-defense course might be of some help, in more ways than one. And I hope the thug that terrorized you gets what he deserves in a way that you will get to hear about. That would be a lovely way to achieve some closure, as well.

Or at least I think so, but then I am a vengeful beast. In any case, I wish you the very best in dealing with all of this.

Rebecca said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention a whistle. Or anything that makes a godawful racket. Sometimes, just being able to draw attention to your predicament is enough...which you found out the hard way. But there may be times when a noisemaker comes in handy, and they are so easy to carry around. So that's something to think about, as well.

nuttycow said...

Some great advice from Rebecca there which I can't do anything but add my support to. Maybe a self-defense course would help with getting your confidence back a little? Maybe combine it with exercise. Kick-boxing, par example?

Alicia Foodycat said...

How awful. I agree that a self-defence course and a whistle or personal alarm might be a good idea. The self-defence will make you feel stronger and more confident even if you never use it. And do maybe talk to someone about that nagging little bit of your brain that is making you feel unsafe. It's bad enough that you were attacked without your brain turning on you as well.

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

I hate everything about it - I hate that me and my friends automatically have to arm ourselves with keys in case someone deems us a target, I hate the "let me know you're home safe / text me when you're back" that we automatically say when someone goes home on their own.

I can only third the others and say self defense classes might give you back some confidence x

Amy said...

Self defence classes are a good idea - I know that my aikido classes have made me more confident in walking through Wood Green on my own late at night - but it makes me so, so angry that you've been made to feel like this and you aren't getting support from the authorities that might make you feel safer xx

Sam said...

I got mugged years ago in another part of London, but that sort of thing is always in the back of your mind. It's a goodly chunk of the reason I drive everywhere in London, even if it means spending £15 on parking on the odd occasion I go into central London...

Marcheline said...

Everything you've said that you now do and think is the way I always do and think. And I've never been mugged. In other words, I do those things on purpose, as a precaution, not as a result of something that happened. And I don't consider myself fearful or weak. I'm just doing the very best I can to avoid being an easy target.

Don't make the mistake of feeling weak because you now keep your eyes and ears open and you're mentally preparing yourself for defense. That's SMART. Weak is wandering around with your eyes closed, thinking nothing could ever happen. Strong is knowing the possibilities, and staying sharp and alert and as prepared as you can be.

If an invisible piano falls out of the sky onto your head, there's really no way to prepare for that. But protecting yourself against being a victim - that's something that will actually make a difference. The sensible shoes are a GREAT idea. The umbrella is a great idea. Keeping your eyes on other people and where they are is a great idea. You're being smart, and you're lessening the likelihood of being victimized because you've taken off the blindfold. Way to go, girl.

Make this a part of your regular life, whenever you are out in public - even if it's not dark, even if you're not alone. If it helps, pretend that you're an undercover detective, and always absorb visual and auditory information from the people around you. You'll learn interesting stuff during the 99% of the time when nothing out of the ordinary is going on. And you can save your own life, and maybe someone else's, during the 1% of the time when it is.

Your risk of being assaulted does not become greater because you have already been assaulted. The truth is, the risk is there for EVERYONE, every time they're out in public... only now you know that it can really happen. Forewarned is forearmed, and you are doing brilliantly at putting your precautionary protective skills to work.

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