“I could not walk down my street without looking over my shoulder”

*trigger warning: mention of ‘attack’ and rape.

 

There is a Reclaim the Night event coming up soon and I am so excited. I’ve know about it for a long time and am tremendously honoured and proud to know the organizer. But, I didn’t feel as geared up for it until very recently. That’s because I remembered. I remembered that I had to go through an attack when I was younger because a man thought it was ok to follow and chase me down my own street and attack me.

 

It’s not like I will ever really forget, every time I have to walk at night anywhere new, I freak out. I walk around my new city (where I moved away to uni) at night and feel relatively safe which has certainly got easier but every time I move back to where I grew up I am scared. I get taxis for the 10 minute walk or rely on my brother to pick me up. Being picked up and getting taxis is the sensible option, it keeps me safe. But it makes me angry- why should I have to? I am independent.

 

The night I was attacked, I had not rang my parents to pick me up because it was a 5 minute walk in my home ‘endz’, as we called it, and because I know they had both been working and I didn’t want to disturb them. It was also 10pm. This was the first time I had not rang my parents. I could feel that I was being followed and so I ran. I ran down my own street where I had grown up. The man chased me and touched me. I grabbed his throat and told him to ‘f**k off’ (my bad teenage mouth helped then) and he ran. I then chased him and threw my shoe at him, screaming down the road.

 

I feel I am lucky now that it wasn’t more. I got him off. The attack was not as violent as it could have been and that many suffer. I survived and, with time, I have lived away from those few moments. I had a bit of counseling and a very supportive family and friendship network and it isn’t with me every day anymore which is good and so a lot of people don’t know because I haven’t always felt the need to talk about it. But, when there are the moments of fear and panic, it is sometimes hard to explain why I can’t ‘just walk for those 5 mins home’ anymore. I have done it and things have been ok. But that doesn’t take away all the fear. I struggled with what to call it- it was an attack but one which lasted only a few seconds. There was a sexual motive, perhaps, in which the man thought he had the right to touch my body when it was unwanted but I don’t know if he wanted to do more to me. I will never know this.  But what I will always know is that men do violate women at night and it scars. I could not walk down my street without looking over my shoulder at the exact point, 5 doors from my house, where I was attacked. It is easier now, but it has not gone. It affected my relationships and lack of desire to be in relationships and I would freak out when friends/boys would touch me in certain areas even when it was with love. I was also wearing a skirt that night and had an earphone in (I was told of by the police for the latter) and so it is very triggering and hurtful when you hear people comment ‘that she was asking for it’ or ‘look at what she was wearing’ – it was fecking SUMMER and, yes, I was wearing a skirt. Other than the irony being that I never (and rarely do now) wear skirts – wearing it does not make it ok for what that man did. Nothing will make it ok. Whether he thought me looking over my shoulder was an invitation or that I was on my own and, therefore, gagging for it. He had no right.

 

So, I have realised how incredibly important Reclaim the Nights and even though it has made me think about all this in a way I haven’t in a long long time, I can’t wait. Having never been to one before I am looking forward to feeling safe and being amongst women (and later, allies) that know that it IS NOT OKAY TO ATTACK WOMEN and that we must light up and RECLAIM THE STREETS. This is about getting together and getting that message out to others that they are not to blame and to men and society (so the patriarchy) that this is MUST STOP. I anticipate, with a few nerves, how it will make me feel.

 


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