TW: Sexual Assault
The prompt for Food For Thought this week is left open to use any of the subjects from previous weeks. The subject I have chosen to write about is Me Too. I have been meaning to write about this experience for some time and this is the perfect opportunity.
One day in autumn 2013, I was out for a walk as usual. I was going through a period of undergoing several operations and it was important to me to get regular daily exercise to keep a routine and to maintain good mental and physical health. I tended to change my route each day but it was generally within the neighbourhood I live in.
That day, I took a route I don’t often walk, which involves a short cycle and pedestrian trail just off a busy main road. I walked the short distance of the trail and then came to a road which I needed to cross to continue on the trail. I stopped before crossing the road and I noticed a man to my left on the other side of the road. He looked around and saw me and stopped. I smiled at him and said, ‘good morning,’ as I crossed the road, as I often do with people when I’m out and about. He was heavily set and considerably taller than me. He was dressed in salwar kameez and trousers and I guessed he was around 65. He said something to me that I didn’t catch so I stopped. He asked me if I was out for a walk and I said, ‘yes, I go for a walk every day.’ I saw no harm in talking to him and viewed our conversation as the type that one would have at a bus stop while waiting for a bus with a stranger. He said that he went out for a walk every day and he was on his way to the park nearby, which he did daily. He asked if I knew the park and if I lived locally, and I said yes on both counts. He said that he lived on the road near where we were standing and that he was staying with family while visiting from overseas. He told me his name and asked what mine had been. I then said that it had been nice talking to him but I had to go, and went to walk off to the other part of the trail. He said that he would walk that way as well. I wasn’t too happy about this, but the route I was taking was actually an alternative way to the park so I was not unduly concerned.
The next part of the trail was very short and would take less than five minutes to walk before the next road was reached. We went through the stile and immediately we got to the other side I felt him try to grab my hand. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to alarm him and put myself in more danger and I didn’t want to panic, so I just moved my hand right behind my back and just walked as fast as I could. He kept up with me and said, ‘ we will have to arrange to meet here every day.’ I didn’t know what to do or what to say. I had met this man just two minutes earlier and passed the time of day with him, and now he was trying to get hold of my hand and suggesting that I should meet him each day. He then proceeded to say, ‘I like your hair. I like your smile. I like your breasts. I like your legs.’ He then tried to grab my hand again.
In hindsight, what I should’ve done was run as fast as I could along the trail or turn back and get away from him. However, it was very muddy and I didn’t want to slip, plus I didn’t know how agile he was as he was a lot bigger than me. He repeated again that we would have to arrange to meet every day. I just humoured him and said it was impossible as I had children to take to and from school and my husband wouldn’t like it. I didn’t have children to collect but it was the only thing I could think of to say at the time. And again, I didn’t want to alarm him and cause him to do anything more or get violent with me.
Thankfully, we reached the end of the trail and once we were on the road I said I was going the way that I needed to go. He said that he was coming that way too as it was the way to the park. I was walking at great speed and he made sure he kept up with me. He repeated what he had said earlier about liking my hair etc and again tried to grab my hand. I knew I was only a couple of minutes from being able to escape him and there were cars passing and businesses along the road so I knew that I was in public view. As we reached the junction where I needed to turn off and where he could go to the park, which was thankfully in the opposite direction, I said calmly,’ I’m going this way and the park is up there. He asked if he could shake my hand goodbye. I stupidly held my hand out but he grabbed it very hard and kissed it. I yanked my hand away and yelled at the top of my voice, ‘just leave me alone.’ With that I stormed off, walking as fast as I’ve ever walked in my life. I didn’t look behind me as I couldn’t bear to see if he was following me or not. It wasn’t until I got a good five minutes away at fast walking pace that I stopped to look behind me and thankfully he wasn’t following me.
All the way home I was looking over my shoulder and trying to process what had just happened. I just sat at home not knowing what to do. Should I ring the police? But he hadn’t actually hurt me and would it be considered serious enough? But I knew what he’d done was wrong. Very wrong. Looking back, I think I was in a bit of a state of shock. I knew I needed to ask somebody’s advice but every person that I could ask was unavailable for some reason. I genuinely was at a loss. I didn’t want to bother the police without it being essential but my biggest worry was if he approached somebody else and something happened. The thing that also kept going through my mind was had I encouraged him in some way? I also kept thinking that I had been wearing jogging bottoms and a hoodie and I wasn’t dressed provocatively. But, of course, women should be free to wear what they like without worrying that men are going to grope them.
After talking it through with someone that evening, the next morning I decided to report the matter to the police. I called 101 and was put through to an operator who took all my details. The following day, two days after the incident, a lady police officer came to my house to take a statement from me. She was very kind and sympathetic, and spent a long time with me going through the statement. I told her everything I could remember and, in particular, I had noted that this man had a couple of very distinguishing features. I also knew his first name, his road and could advise in detail what he was wearing. While she was interviewing me she got a call on her radio to say that they had just had another report of a similar incident in the local park. It emerged that he had repeated the incident that I had experienced virtually identically with another woman in the park. I was so glad I contacted the police.
I found out a couple of days later that he had been arrested on one of his daily visits to the park. The female police officer who took my statement advised me that due to my good description and remembering everything he had told me, they were able to identify him and arrested him on his entry to the park. But what was distressing to hear was that he blatantly lied and said that two women had approached him in the park and asked him for money and when he had refused to give it to them they had made up the fact that he had sexually assaulted them.
Shortly after, I was asked to go to the police station and undergo a video ID of the perpetrator. As I mentioned, he had a couple of very distinguishing features and I was surprised to see all the mages had been put into black and white, which made the distinguishing features less obvious. However, I knew from the first viewing which one he was, but I asked to see all of the images a few times just to be certain. I can still see the image of him in my mind today. He had a smug look on his face and his upper lip was curled slightly as if in an act of defiance.
What followed after was an extremely protracted series of events. The case was listed three times for hearings at the Crown Court but each time it was adjourned due to the defence submitting various pieces of evidence to say that he was not fit to stand trial. I had a call from one of the investigating officers to advise that the Crown Prosecution Service wanted the opinion of the two victims as to whether they thought it was in the public interest for this case to proceed due to the defendant’s age: it turned out he was about 70. Both myself and the other victim were apparently in complete agreement that the case should proceed and he should be held accountable for his actions.
After a lengthy period of time, I was disappointed to find out that the case was not proceeding as the defence had successfully argued that he was not fit to stand trial. He’d also been allowed to return back to his country of residence. I was advised that if he tried to enter the UK again he would be arrested.
After the incident, I was quite nervous for a couple of weeks afterwards. I still went out for my walk, but the slightest noise behind me made me jump. As it was autumn, there were lots of fallen leaves around, and the noise of rustling of leaves in the trees or from people treading on them often startled me. I remember hearing people running up behind me, which turned out to be joggers, and I actually felt petrified. I couldn’t really sit in my house for a couple of weeks or so afterwards without worrying that he was going to be looking through the window. I knew this was unlikely, but the fear was still there. I think I was quite lucky to get over the feelings of fear and anxiety within a couple of weeks.
I know it was a minor sexual assault, but it was without doubt a sexual assault. I know it was at the bottom of the scale but it was wrong and he should not have done it.
I no longer look at people when I’m out and about walking. I tend to keep my eyes down now and I don’t really make eye contact with anyone, and I rarely now say good morning to many people, especially men. I should be able to pass the time of day with a man in the street without worrying that if I do so, he’s going to take it as read that I want to have sex with him, or that I’m available for groping or touching. But, unfortunately, that’s now been taken away from me.
After I had written this post, I remembered that last year (2018) I had been standing at a bus stop waiting to go home. Home was only about a 15 minute walk but I think it had just starting raining so I decided to wait for a bus. I noticed a man walking along the main road towards me. He was dressed in a similar fashion to the man I refer to above. I didn’t think anything of it and was engrossed with peering into the distance wondering if the bus was coming. The man stopped and asked if I was waiting for a bus. I said yes and added that one was due any time. He then asked me if I lived locally. This made me feel uncomfortable and I replied, ‘a bus ride away.’ He then asked ‘how many stops?’ I was now feeling agitated as his questioning gave me a bad feeling, and my previous experience was uppermost in my mind (I was only a short distance from where this took place). His body language and demeanour gave the impression that he was not waiting for the bus but had just stopped to talk to me.
I anxiously peered down the road to see if the bus was coming whereupon he asked me if a particular road was far away. I curtly replied that I did not know. I think my body language made it obvious that I was unhappy with the situation. I decided that I needed to get away from him, but before I could, he asked me if I wanted a cigarette (I detest smoking). This was the final straw. I said nothing but made a sharp exit and covered the walk home in half the time it normally would take. The bus did pass me halfway home and I was really worried that he had got on it and would get off at a bus stop that I would pass. Thankfully, I didn’t see him, but I did keep looking over my shoulder as I was worried he might have seen me and followed me to see where I lived. I felt very distressed after this experience and, although this was not on the same scale as my previous experience, this man had made me feel uncomfortable and forced me to alter my journey home due to his inappropriate behaviour. I should have told him to go away and stop bothering me, but he seemed an odd character and I was worried he might turn violent.