Unsafe but undeterred

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.

52 Responses to “Unsafe but undeterred”

  1. MsKitton says:

    I am so, so sorry to hear this. I hope you’re feeling ok now. Did you report it to the police? How disgusting men like this are. They try to make a mockery of all the good men, as well as women pushing for change. *hugs*

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by thenoblesavage: New blog post: I was assaulted at a protest against violence. Figures. http://tinyurl.com/yhu35f5 #RTNLondon…

  3. sh4rkb41t says:

    i’ve read that post 4 or 5 times and i’m still left feeling wtf. it’s left me breathless and speechless in my anger.

    i really hope you’re ok.

  4. Jesus. I literally cannot understand why someone would do or even think such a thing. Though another part of me also asks what on earth was done to those people to make them like that.

    It’s no comfort, I know, but at some level you frighten him much more than he could ever frighten you. And his fear is of something that absolutely and rightly threatens that hollow, bitter little shell of an identity he’s hanging onto by his nails

  5. notSupermum says:

    Bloody hell, that’s just sick.

    It’s strange how we grow to live with our vulnerability – being cautious of groups of men at bus stops; not walking down unlit pathways, etc. because God forbid something did happen to us it would be Our Fault because we didn’t take adequate care.

    I’m glad you are OK but still, that’s totally bizarre and, as you say, ironic.

  6. Charlotte says:

    I am sorry and sickened to hear this. You should have been safe where you were and STILL you were not.

    There is still so much work to be done to fight the disgusting levels of entitlement in our society, and I really admire you for going out and doing it, and for using this blog to speak out loudly and forcefully for your beliefs.

  7. nicola says:

    Powerful writing as ever. And I am so sorry you had to experience such violation. Keep marching. Maybe next year I will be home and there with you. As you know, this is a subject very close to my heart too – it’s all too common and it needs to be dealt with far more seriously.

  8. I am so very sorry to read that this has happened to you Noble. I was there last night too but did not have this horrible experience – how wrong is it that I now feel lucky to have not marched near that man? I often feel this way, but why should we have to feel lucky if something doesn’t happen to us that shouldn’t be happening to anyone? I wonder with horror if it happened to anyone else too and hope not because one is too many already. I think you are very brave to have carried on and held your external calm. Take care.

  9. Heather says:

    I, like all women, know that fear well. A fear most white, straight men will never know. I could visualise the crowds you talk of as i was reading, i could see those young men, laughing and pointing and making rude gestures and i could feel your fear at the bus stop later.

    You were put in a horrible position in a place where you should have been safe. It’s sickening, really. and the worst part is those groups of men, laughing and joking, would tell you to stop moaning about it, he only grabbed you, you’re making a big deal out of nothing etc etc as if he, they, have the right to do just that whenever they feel like it. No, they don’t understand the fear at all.

  10. Kirsty says:

    I really don’t know what to say, except I am sad and furious and sickened on your behalf. I hope you’re OK.

  11. [...] from:  Noble Savage » Blog Archive » Unsafe but undeterred By admin | category: feet outward | tags: approached-the-bus, drunken-men, ground, keys, [...]

  12. Its unbelievable some people think they can do as they please. Where exactly are we safe these days? Glad you’re ok though and able to talk about it.

  13. nixdminx says:

    That’s a bit of a shocker. I had a similar experience in the summer when I man giving out free newspapers followed me down the street. Since his pitch was outside my office, the next day I saw him and I tried to cross the road. He followed me and grabbed my breasts. I was very shocked and shouted at him saying I’d report him. I tracked down the newspaper online and found the name of the person in charge of distribution. I emailed and explained what had happened and was suprised to get an email back the next day to say this man would be sacked. He disappeared in fact so I never saw him again. It appeared the men giving out papers were replaced by women in the whole area. That’s not to say I wasn’t nervous and did feel a bit freaked out. When I mentioned it at work, one man said ‘Fancy that a free newspaper and a free grope.’ He was very happy with his comment and guffawed, he was expecting laughter all round but was met with about five stunned faces – including mine. This stuff is so deeply engrained it’s almost institutional – keep marching, I may join you on the next one.

  14. Jennifer Drew says:

    I participated in RTN march last night and I am so sorry this happened to you. I hold this man and his male companions totally accountable and responsible for their cowardly attempt to silence women marching and calling out men who commit sexual, physical and verbal assault against women.

    I know precisely why this man sexually assaulted – it was because he felt threatened at seeing 2000 women boldly marching and telling men to cease raping, committing sexual and physical violence against women and girls. The only way he felt he could regain his ‘power over women’ was to swiftly infiltrate the march and physically attack the nearest woman he saw. Unfortunately you were the one who he sexually assaulted.

    This is why we need RTN and this is why the issue of male violence – and especially male sexual violence against women is still a hidden issue – because men like this cowardly bully have to resort to sexual violence against women in an attempt to silence all women’s voices.

    It doesn’t reduce the feelings of outrage and pain this woman-hater caused you Noble Savage and I’m glad you have spoken out publicly about the actions of this violent, woman-hater. I do hope the supportive comments you have received helps in a small way but nothing takes away the pain of being on the receiving end of men’s hatred and contempt.

  15. plump says:

    I’m at a loss. I really hope you’re doing ok.

    When I read that you were going to Reclaim the Night, I was filled with happy memories. My first experience as an activist and an active feminist was attending RTN when I was 18 and living in London. It was the start of something wonderful and many years of attending and sometime organising RTN (now at home, in Melbourne, Australia).

    Here’s to fuel and fervour and putting an end to ass-holery like this forever.

  16. I’m not really all that surprised.

    That sentence saddens me to no end.

    I’m terribly sorry that happened to you and I’m really grateful you weren’t harmed further. What a fucking asshole. God… and to think, that’s someone’s SON, someone’s little precious boy. Raised to be unfeeling, unsympathetic, a follower, a lemming, an abuser.

    I was just trading war stories with another woman the other day. You’re so right: we all have them. And that sentence makes me sad, too.

  17. TheMadHouse says:

    I feel very unnerved by the whole post, really good writing, but WTF was the man thinking of. I hope that you are OK. I would be completely disgusted, violated and shaken and truly unbelievable that this could happen in today’s society.

    The more I think about things and the way woman are still treated in today’s society I am determined to bring up my boys to show respect and to HAVE respect for fellow woman. As a mother and as a woman I owe this to my fellow females.

    I hope that MadDad can continue to be a good role model for my boys and I will remain a strong and positive force in their life. It is down to me to stop these things happening in the future

  18. Julia says:

    This is horrific. Jennifer’s post above expresses everything i want to say.

    Well done on writing so eloquently about it, so that we can all know about it and, regrettably, learn from your experience. Your indomitable spirit is a total triumph over that pathetic jerk, and i will be particularly inspired by your courage when i march at MWR in March.

    Do the police know what happened?

    Sending support and solidarity to you.

  19. depresso says:

    Another stunned and speechless comment, offering a hand of support.

    Karma can be swift acting, he probably walked straight into a testicle-height concrete bollard as he left the marchers.

  20. Jamey says:

    I’m so sorry this happened! Last year I was working as a sexual abuse support worker, and in town one night some guy walked up to me and punched me in the groin. For about a half a second I was so shocked that it could happen to me, and then this terrible anger came over me – the anger not just of myself, but anger for all my clients (women AND men) who had been sexually assaulted by strangers and by people they loved. I shouted him up against a wall, asking him over and over why he thought he had the right to violate other people. He seemed really shocked that I was angry. I was lucky – a police officer was nearby and came over to intervene before things got even uglier.

    Until that point, I had felt falsely safe in London. I get fewer requests to smile here, fewer lewd comments, fewer leering gazes, so it took me totally by surprise when someone acted in this way.

    Thank you for going to the march for all of us who, for other political reasons, don’t feel able to attend. Please report this incident to the police – they need to have accurate numbers of the violence and abuse women (and trans people) are experiencing. And keep shouting, sister – we’re all here shouting with you.

  21. Helen says:

    I’m saddened and sickened to hear of your experience. I hope you’re okay.

  22. Oh my god I’ve only just seen this. How absolutely vile and awful – I am so sorry this has happened to you.

    Hope you are ok. Although, of course you are not. How could you be.

    This makes me want to fight. And fight hard. What a bastard, how dare he do that to you?

    Huge gentle healing hugs to you my sweet xxxx

  23. [...] barricades, knocked her aside as she was marching and grasped her breasts. You can read her post here, and that of the friend she was marching [...]

  24. April says:

    What the?????? I am so shocked!!!! Who in the world does that kind of thing???? I am so sorry that happened to you and I hope you’re ok.
    I just don’t understand men openly negatively reacting to what is a common sense issue!!!!

  25. Deya says:

    I got here via F word. This is a terrible thing that’s happened to you. I am shocked that it happened, and that it happened at such an event.

    This is another addition to our collective list of angering incidents.

    If we ever have children, let us make sure our daughters know what their rights are, and let’s drill the message into our sons re what their rights are not.

  26. Liz says:

    How dare a man do that to you? What is their problem are they so threatened by women having a voice that they need to attack? Thinking of you x

  27. Finn says:

    Dear Sister,
    I am so sorry this happened to you on our RTN march. One always hopes that women will be safer on the RTN march than they are usually on the regular gauntlet run that is a Friday or Saturday night in any town/city. Obviously not and I am so sorry this happened on what should have been a safe and empowering night for once.
    We will ensure that this is fed back to the Police for their briefing and that they note this incident for next year so they can be aware of it. Perhaps they need to position themselves less far apart, this year they had mainly women police officers, but perhaps they need some more, especially nearer the back of the march and along the sides when we go through busy areas where taunters and assaulters can remain unseen and get away easily into crowds.
    Thank you for writing about this incident. As you say, it shows just how needed our march is and we must carry on Reclaiming The Night until we no longer need to.
    In Sisterhood,

  28. I’m so sorry that happened to you…the irony of it. Those men may not know what it is to be afraid in the same context, but in my experience the more insulting, offensive and violent the person, the greater that person’s hidden fear. Not justified, not excused. I am also sorry that he wasn’t caught and the book thrown at him. And that because I am polite and too nice to suggest other options. I’m thinking them.

  29. Anthony says:

    I’ve also commented on another site, but as a male, I find this character abhorrent, as I do anyone who taunted the marchers. Well done to everyone who went on the march – great women who are achieving so much. Any civilised person should support your cause and I wish you every success.

  30. geekymummy says:

    What a F*ckwit. Thanks for writing.

  31. NS says:

    Thank you all so much for your comments. I’m overwhelmed by the response this post has gotten. I will post tomorrow with an update on what’s happening but right now I’m heading to bed. It’s been a very hectic day with tons of emails to answer and things to do. Thank you again, your support is much appreciated.

  32. annalise says:

    i stumbled upon your blog form another blog that’s writing about the same incident. your post left me speechless, oh my gosh…

    i am so sorry to hear what happened to you. too many woman have been assulted before, but not enough of us speaks out about it, so i thank you for doing so.

    thank you for sharing the story.

  33. Anna says:

    I am so sorry this happened to you while you were marching to end violence against women. What kind of a man is so intimidated that he has to act the way that man did?

    Thank you for marching. Lets make our voices heard. Lets speak up for all those who can’t. No matter how much resistance we face we will not be silenced!

  34. Very tempted to use my favourite swear word in your comments, but I won’t.

    Not a pleasant experience, but fair play for fighting the fight, and continuing to do so.

    And on the subject of swearing, yours, in your final sentence, was most excellent.

  35. [...] response to my last post has been overwhelming. The F-Word picked it up and posted about it on their site, which then made [...]

  36. John H says:

    I have no words. There are some crimes which are comprehensible, and some where I just cannot get inside the head of the people who would do such a thing, and the crime committed against you the other night is one of those. (Especially since it probably hasn’t even occurred to the perpetrator that he was committing a serious criminal offence.)

    It’s excellent that you’ve posted about this and that the post has received such attention. Many of us don’t realise just how common incidents like this are, and posts like this help us realise how bad the problem is and what needs to be done about it (as outlined in your next post).

  37. Albert says:

    What a complete a***! Hope you are ok!

  38. Trish says:

    I read this when you first posted it and have been thinking about it ever since and trying to make sense of it. I can’t.

    Like everyone else who has commented, I am just incredibly shocked and angered by what happened to you. That it should happen while you were marching against violence is just… well, you couldn’t make this shit up, could you? I have never had anything like this happen to me but I have had a drug-crazed homeless man yelling nonsense at me in the street and that was enough to unsettle me for the rest of my life (I am now afraid of homeless men and give them all a wide berth).

    I have two daughters and I am insisting they do karate so that they might not find themselves feeling quite so vulnerable. It’s a tragedy that I should need to make sure they’re ready for the day when something like this happens to them. When, not if.

    If there is a silver lining at all, it’s that you’ve got many, many women (and a few blokes! hurrah!) fired up and determined to make sure this dreadful incident is widely reported and universally condemned.

  39. Rebel Mother says:

    I’ve just recently found your blog and wanted to congratulate you on attending the march.

    Although shocked that that git would have the audacity to do such a thing in such a big crowd, I am not surprised. These men know no boundaries and I am pleased you tried to sock him one back.

    I’ve had a few nasty things happen to me in my life, but I refuse to bow down and be a victim, because then they have won havent they?

    Fuck ‘em, never give up fighting back.

    Love RMxx

  40. andrea says:

    NS! NO! I am so so sorry. I have been out of town and am just checking in. Email to come.

  41. Platespinner says:

    Oh bloody hell, I’ve only just read this. I’m really, really sorry for what happened to you, and also heartened by the response to your post. It really does completely beggar belief. You are fighting back in the best possible way – through your words, powerful as awlays. Sending hugs your way xx

  42. Vered says:

    I remember reading somewhere that while women’s greatest fear of men is being physically hurt, men’s greatest fear of women is being laughed at.

    I’m so sorry that you had to go through this. I’m so glad that you have this blog and were able to write about it. And I’m especially glad that you’re undeterred.

  43. [...] Savage’s blog where she sadly reported being sexually assaulted whilst at RTN, and her follow up post calling for action and promoting One Million Women Rise’s candle lit [...]

  44. Vegemitevix says:

    I’m lost for words. I’m so very sorry this happened to you and I hope you feel the support displayed here through your blog comments. So many times abusive actions like these are shrouded in laughing, as if that somehow normalises the abuse, and isolates the victim who cannot ‘have a laugh’. I can imagine this man thought in a sick way it was funny – to abuse at a march against abuse. This attitude is the spawning ground for further violence and no laughing matter. Hugs to you and thanks for being so brave about posting your story. xx

  45. Mwa says:

    Wtf indeed. You did such a great thing by marching in the first place. I hope you are managing to cope with it. How terrible.
    I can’t even think how messed up that man must have been to do something like that. I wish he’d been arrested. x

  46. Furious to hear what happened but not surprised it is typical of that sort of man of which there are too many unfortunately to take an opportunity like that.
    But I fear his actions have only made stronger the argument and brought it to a wider audience. Thank you for blogging about it.

  47. Jo Beaufoix says:

    Oh my God what an arse. So angry that this happened to you but so gad that so many women were out there marching. Brilliant post. Over from Potty Mummy’s. You’re right, we’ve all experienced bloody wandering hands, so much so that in certain places is as almost the norm. And my two daughters will be venturing out into this some day. Sh*t.

  48. [...] Relacje: The F-Word | Noble Savage [...]

  49. [...] violence against women and girls. I was going to write about how the blogger Noble Savage had been sexually assaulted during the march, and about the candlelit vigil tonight in Trafalgar Square that’s been called in remembrance [...]

  50. I’m so sorry this happened to you. How awful. I never would have imagine for a minute that you would stop fighting and I’m glad you won’t. You should consider sharing your story on Violence Unsilenced too if you haven’t already. Check out http://violenceunsilenced.com