At Seven Months Pregnant, I Was Attacked On The Tube. No One Helped Me.

As a pregnant woman I already felt invisible yet a nuisance. Being ignored after being assaulted only made things worse, writes Amy Benziane
File photo of the London Underground
Getty Images
File photo of the London Underground

Although there weren’t any cameras watching, I can still see it from all angles.

He had tattoos. He had a red, bulging, Frankenstein’s monster-esque scar on his neck. He didn’t look healthy. He didn’t look safe. I should have moved carriages. I should have moved when he started to shout, but my stop was the next one. I didn’t want to seem judgemental. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

At seven months pregnant, I found myself crying in the control room at Highbury and Islington station. The room wasn’t one I was supposed to be in; nothing good could have preceded the scratchy, plastic chairs and the screens everywhere flashing pictures in black and white of the station. CCTV watching everyone.

But there weren’t enough eyes out there to see the man who attacked me. Nobody was looking and, aside from a brief shout, nobody intervened when I was attacked. Nor did anyone report my attacker to the police; it’s impossible to know whether they genuinely saw nothing, or chose not to see what happened.

“For several minutes his violent words had filled our end of the carriage. I never expected it to escalate beyond the ramblings. Then, he spat at me.”

For several minutes his violent words had filled our end of the carriage. I never expected it to escalate beyond the ramblings. Then, he spat at me. The train was about to arrive at my stop and so I hurriedly made my way to the door and tried even harder not to make eye contact. Next, all I could feel was his body behind me, blocking me against the door. His frame filled the tube doorway. When the doors opened to release me, he held onto the sides of the door and launched his foot into my lower back.

I was projected forward and downwards; he kicked me, bump first, onto the platform. I landed awkwardly, trying as best as I could to protect my unborn child. I was grateful that my baby and I had no lasting physical harm, but at such a vulnerable time in my life it was an intense and unforgettable assault on my sense of safety.

The shock of it didn’t hit until I’d climbed the escalators, on auto-pilot, as I did every day on my home-bound commute. There were people around, of course there were, but they were wearing headphones or blinkers – or both. Maybe I had ‘just’ tripped over. But if you saw a heavily pregnant woman lay on the platform, you’d check in with her just in case, right?

The staff at Highbury and Islington station were extremely kind and understanding. When I tried to explain what had happened I found I was sobbing and unable to talk. Once inside the control room, I composed myself and someone pressed a landline phone into my hand and I began to describe the awful train journey to the British Transport Police.

The author, Amy Benziane
Courtesy of Amy Benziane
The author, Amy Benziane

After the first few calls back from the police I was asked if I wanted to hear back on a weekly basis or when they had any leads. The last thing I wanted was a weekly reminder of that event with my baby about to be born. But that initial call was cathartic, a delicate male voice taking note of what I said through snot bubbles and asking further questions made me feel like someone was taking this seriously.

Nonetheless, for weeks after the attack I was unable to face crowds, and especially not on public transport. Once I’d been given the all-clear from my midwife and the pain in my back had lessened, all I wanted to do was go back to work. I missed the children I taught, I missed my colleagues, and I felt acutely aware that I only had a few weeks left before my maternity leave was due to start.

I didn’t want to feel like I’d been robbed of my freedom, but my daily commute involved two hours of trains and tubes. Thankfully, my headteacher offered to support my return to work with taxi rides to and from school. After a few weeks of getting back to my usual work routine I felt confident enough to commute by train. I made arrangements to meet a colleague on route so I wouldn’t have to travel alone the whole way. The more I ventured out, the better I felt, but it wasn’t perfect.

The realisation that nobody had stepped in to help made me feel extremely isolated and somewhat dismayed about the society I was bringing a child into. I was subjected to a horrible attack, but a hand up from a member of the public, even a kind word, something to acknowledge the frightening experience would have helped. Instead, I felt invisible and uncared for; it added to my already existing feeling as a pregnant woman of being a nuisance.

“I felt invisible and uncared for; it added to my already existing feeling as a pregnant woman of being a nuisance.”

I had felt excited and proud when my ‘Baby on Board’ badge arrived, but I soon realised that most times I got on the train, people would avoid meeting my eye. Throughout my pregnancy I felt like I was apologising for taking up too much space. On most days I would have to ask for a seat to avoid feeling dizzy or in pain, only to spend the rest of the journey feeling guilty for taking it.

It’s no wonder that by seven months pregnant I was conditioned to be more worried about someone else’s feelings than my own. Above all, when I think back to the day of the attack, I wish I hadn’t even considered him. I wish I’d just moved carriages or changed trains entirely. But from a young age I’ve been socialised to care about what other people think, to keep the peace, to make others happy... But this habit of apologising for merely being is not a skill I am passing on to my daughter.

Far from the strict diet of ‘sorry’ I was taught by this patriarchal society, I am now more focused on taking up space unapologetically. With it comes the confidence to intervene and support others, even if they’re not known to me. The idea that everyone out there is a risk is a dangerous one that pits us against one another. Obviously we aren’t going to be best friends with everyone in London, it’s the most populous city in Europe, but this pessimistic view of others is more of a risk than a help.

I’m not suggesting that anyone should put themselves in danger, but I believe that the risk of seeming impolite or patronising puts us off asking after others. Instead of going about our day avoiding eye-contact, we should be looking out for one another. The attack that day was a frightening experience, but so too is the realisation that I might be raising a child into a society that turns the other way when they see someone in need.

Amy Benziane is an educator and writer. You can follow her on Twitter at @AmyBenziane

Have a compelling personal story you want to tell? Find out what we’re looking for here, and pitch us on