NS November 22nd, 2009
Last night, I marched through the streets of central London with 2,000 other women and dozens of police escorts, holding a sign that said “End violence against women.”
Last night, I used my voice to chant and shout about sexual violence, unsafe streets and women’s rights.
Last night, when I should have felt at my most powerful, most inspired and safest, I was sexually assaulted.
I had to stop typing there for a minute and make sure I’d written that right and that it wasn’t just a strange dream. But yes, I was sexually assaulted at a march protesting sexual assault. How’s that for irony?
As we came through Leicester Square, a man pushed his way abruptly past the barrier and with one swift movement of his outstretched arm, managed to push me backwards and roughly grab my breasts at the same time. I swung at him with my right hand but he’s already stormed past so I only made contact with the back of his shoulder before he disappeared out the other side and down a side street. My friend Jen and I looked at each other in disbelief and shock. I hadn’t seen him coming until he was centimetres away and before I noticed the arm coming at me, what I undeniably saw was a face riddled with disgust and anger.
He, along with the man who had spit towards us earlier, and the one who had stood on the side shouting “Boo! Boo!” with his thumbs and his mouth turned downwards, and the significant number of men I saw mocking us — laughing, rolling their eyes and grabbing their crotches — were obviously disturbed by our presence. Perhaps we were reminders of violence they had perpetrated themselves, or a catalyst for the potential violence bubbling within them, just beneath the surface, like a nearly-boiled kettle. Maybe they felt threatened by our numbers and our voices and our demands. Maybe they were scared.
But whatever the reasons for their animosity, they will never know what it’s like to be scared of being humiliated and violated, in public, by people who feel they have a right to our bodies, our smiles, our time and our compliance. They will never know what it’s like to trade stories, with friends of the harrassment, abuse, assault and violence nearly each and every one of us has experienced, some of us in many different ways. They will never understand that we call these ‘war stories’ because every day is a battle and we are tired of feeling like soldiers, fighting off an enemy that has the better, more powerful weapons. They will never experience life and humanity the way we experience life and humanity because their view is unobstructed. They stand on the shoulders and backs of so many people, so many women, to survey their kingdom and claim rights to us, its spoils, with indifference and greed.
They will never know how powerless and unsafe I felt, despite my outward calm, even there amongst thousands and with police all around me, simply because of my gender and for daring to speak out. They will never understand why my heart leapt into my mouth when I approached the bus stop later that night on my way home only to see five loud, drunken men and why I stood 20 feet away with one hand clutching my keys (pointy sides out) and the other holding my phone in my pocket.
But what I know is that I will never stop chanting, or shouting or marching. I will never stop hitting back when I am hit, or stop demanding when I am commanded. Because too many women are not able to. Too many women never get up again when they are knocked down. Too many are beaten and raped and intimidated into silence. For them, and for myself, I will march.
And if I am ever assaulted in the street, yet again, I won’t hesitate to chase that motherfucker down and have him arrested.