A couple of months ago, I was sexually assaulted. Let me set the scene for you: It's a May evening, it's still bright out, but it's raining so no one's really hanging around the streets. I was waiting at the bus stop just five minutes from home, next to a relatively busy part of London, when a man walks by and says 'hi'.
I arrived in London two years ago as a wide-eyed teenager, clutching onto Google Maps and living away from home for the first time. I was so naïve. Little did I know about anything, really. I grew up in Hong Kong, a relatively conservative city where I felt safe. I would walk home by myself through poorly lit streets without anything on my mind other than a late night bowl of cereal. I wouldn't think twice about the man walking in my direction, especially during daytime. I would go out with my friends wearing weather-appropriate short skirts and tank tops and not feel self-conscious at all.
Now that I've lived in London for two years, I can't believe the kind of unknown luxury I enjoyed back at home. In my short time here, I've already had several uncomfortable experiences, as well as heard some horrific things from friends.
Back home, if someone said hi to me on the street I would respond positively. After all, I guess I'm a friendly sort of person and wouldn't want to be awkwardly rejected with cold silence if I ever said hi to someone. However, I've been wolf whistled at by middle-aged drivers in massive trucks, men have shouted 'Asian girlfriend!' at me, and once when I passed by a group of men on a busy street, one of them was brave enough to reach out a hand to stroke my face, yelling 'little girl!' as he walked on with his hilarious friends.
Imagine if I was actually a 'little girl'!? I'm certainly the height of one, I was even plainly dressed in jumper and jeans. I wanted so badly to respond to put them in their place, but disastrously my mouth was full with chicken fajita wrap (damn you) and all I could do was stare dumbly after them as they chortled their way down the street.
I did, however, manage a response to the men who so simple-mindedly shouted 'Asian girlfriend' at me. This was not long after my sister blogged about her chilling experience on the tube when a man ejaculated on her. I gathered all the strength I had in me, looked them in the eye and said 'No.' In my mind it was meant to come out all dignified and empowering, almost threatening. But what did come out was a feeble little 'no' in my glaringly female voice. Never did a single syllable sound so pathetic. I didn't want to aggravate two grown men so decided against swearing at them or approaching them, but never before has a word let me down so much. I felt weaker than ever - all it resulted in was a moment of confusion between the men as they processed what I said and then walked away out of apparent boredom. I didn't put them in their place at all, and I felt like I failed my sister, let alone my gender and race.
Returning to my sexual assault case: the man said 'hi' and I said 'hi' back without really looking at him, without any invitation in my voice for further conversation. I didn't want to provoke him by seeming rude, but at the same time I didn't want to seem welcoming of any advances. These are the kind of things I think about, and I'm sure many others do too, when approached on the street. I kept staring forwards, relaxing a little, assuming that the man had kept walking down the street, away from me. What I did not expect, and should never be expected to feel, was his flaccid penis pressed against my right bum cheek.
Thinking about it now makes me literally tear up in anger. Even as I'm typing my insides are burning and coiling up and it's an actual physical experience just remembering the incident. I was so completely grossed out. I turned around and started shouting things at him. I didn't care if he would yell back or physically assault me further, I was so furious and disgusted that anyone would feel that they could do that to someone.
I threatened to call the police. He was all like 'Yeah? Yeah?' but I was thrown off. I had never called the police and had no idea what to expect. Instead I called my friend for advice, my whole body still shaking with anger. Meanwhile the creep was disappearing down the street, but I didn't stop him and there was no one else around to help me. I don't ever want to touch someone like that and also feared how he would retaliate. My friend calmed me down a bit as I got on the bus. I phoned the non-emergency police line and reported the incident.
The policemen met me a short while later to take details. They were so kind and comforting that it restored my faith in humanity a little bit. Still, I was shaken by it and I'm not being dramatic when I say that it has changed my attitude towards many things beyond just men and strangers. It's definitely made me stronger and more vocal, but I've also become even more guarded with my physical self.
I'm so glad I told the police. The investigation is still going on, but I'm proud of myself for raising awareness of pedestrian perverts. I've told less than a handful of friends about this incident, as it's not something you can casually bring up in conversation. But I hope this sends a message to everyone to speak out against any issues that violate their personal comfort.
This isn't the end of public indecency. In fact, two days later in the early afternoon I saw a man masturbating in the park right next to the bus stop where I was sexually assaulted.