A disabled sexual assault survivor speaks out: “I had fantastic support and still felt to blame”
[trigger warning: description of sexual assault]
It was a Sunday, at about 5pm in 2003, at Derby station, and I was waiting on a platform when I clocked a guy walk past me a few times. I remember thinking it was odd because it was like he was literally circling me, and he was quite close. Typically British I didn’t really think anything of it, and thought that when the train got in, I could get on and wouldn’t see him again.
As the train pulled in and I went to get on, he was behind me all of a sudden. I always went for 2 seats on their own, and did again, but when I got near, he followed me in, oddly saying ‘you first’ despite me being in front. I still thought that it would be an awkward journey rather than dangerous and just started to look out the window rather than talk to him. I can’t really remember how long it was before he spoke, or what order he said things. I think he started by showing me some new trainers and then telling me of a club in Nottingham which wouldn’t let him in because he had the trainers on and because he was drunk.
I remember feeling uncomfortable how much anger he was showing about something insignifcant. He then showed me 2 peoms he’d written, I can’t remember the first but the second one terriefied me from the start. It was basically about a woman he saw from a distance in a club, he decided he wanted this woman and nothing would stop him. When he got close to her, he saw she had a wedding ring on, but believed that she only wore it as a flirtation, to encourage him to try harder. He told me that he had written it as he felt some women did things like that.
I can’t remember whether it was the poem, or him, which went on to tell me that he would treat her as badly (sexually) as he wanted and she would have deserved it, even secretly wanted it. I remember starting to feel really uneasy, I hadn’t really said anything by this time, I’d been looking out the window most of the time. A conductor came round and I felt an enourmous sense of wanting to get his attention, coupled with an enourmous sense of fear of annoying this man. I’m almost ashamed to say that I showed my ticket and let the conductor pass.
The guy then put his face close to mine and tried to kiss me, I turned my face to the window and caught my reflection, which was crying. He put his hand on my knee, and I tried clenching my legs together, he moved his hand further up my knee and between my legs untill he was touching me, I’d been saying no, probably too quietly as stupidly I didn’t want to make a fuss, and he said ‘you haven’t got any arms, you can’t do anything about this’. I haven’t mentioned my disability before as it has never been an issue, but this made it one.
We must have pulled into Nottingham around about then, I asked to leave as it was my stop, he got up but then gathered his things saying he was getting off too. I saw a woman get up about my age (I’d have been 22) and I moved as quickly as I could to her, still not really wanting to draw attention and I got to be stood behind her just a fraction before he got behind me, but before I could say anything, he put his arm round me and thrust his groin into me. I guess (apart from my tears) we just looked like a couple. He kept his arm round me till we got to the concourse, before we got there I saw two police officers walking in the opposite direction but again was scared to do anything.
I didn’t want to leave the station with him anywhere near so said I needed to get some tickets for an ongoing journey, he told me he was going for a drink, told me where and even invited me for a drink before kissing me on the cheek and saying how nice it was to meet me. I watched him leave then jumped a taxi home. I don’t know why I didn’t go to find the police, or tell anyone on the station, I just wanted to get home.
I didn’t tell anyone for a few days, I didn’t leave home actually. In the end I told a friend who encouraged me to go to the police. I finally did, and got an incredibly supportive response from them. I gave information over the phone then two officers came to take a statement later that day. One of the officers asked me what I was wearing on the day and I remember feeling glad I had been wearing jeans, a jumper and a long coat. I voiced my worries to the officer about how glad I was I wasn’t wearing something that could have been interpreted as ‘asking for it’, and the police man (I’ll always be thankful of this) admitted that whilst clothing was important in the court room, whatever I had been wearing would not ever give someone the right to feel they could take what they want. This policeman coincidentally turned out to be the one I had seen at the train station whilst I was with the guy.
They took a really detailed statement, reasurred me that none of it was my fault and left, promising to keep in touch. Asd they left, they told me they suspected who it was, he had really identifable tattos on his face, and knew where he often was. I heard from them again a few weeks later, they had arrested the man they suspected and had gone to his flat with a warrant where they found the trainers he told me about, and also the poems. He was arrested and charged and they said I’d be advised of any court processes as he was pleading not guilty so I would have to give evidence.
I got a letter from Witness Care with proposed dates etc but then heard nothing for 2 years. In that time, I had moved house, graduated, changed jobs etc, and one day in 2005, I received a call from the policeman who took my statement. He said that the guy had fled the coutry to India, he tried to enter the UK again and was arrested for my indecent assault, I never really found out why noone told me he’d fled. In credit to the policeman though, he had tried calling me at my old address, and somehow tracked down my Mums address who gave him my number, again I’ll always be grateful that he took the effort to find me. The guy changed his plea to guilty and was later sentenced to 4 years imprisonment and put on the sex offenders register indefinately. I received confirmation of this in writing, I remember thinking it was odd that it was the first time I found out his name.
At this time, I was contacted by victim support, they came and took information from me to be used in licence conditions, everything seemed perfectly sensible untill the lady asked if I’d like an exclsuion zone to be given to him so he couldn’t enter specified areas. She thankfully discouraged me from taking this as she said he would then be told my full name and part of my address so he knew where to avoid!!
Looking back, I find the whole thing really tough, but not for the most obvious reasons. I only remember small details, I remember what I was wearing, and things he said, but can’t even remember what month it was, let alone the date. I remember the physical aspect didn’t disgust me as much as his use of my disability against me. I never told many people what he said, just what he did, because he is about the only person who has ever left me feeling vulnerable for my disability, and it isn’t something I care to admit. I don’t remember his name, its something I tried to do intentionally. I’m not really sure why, I think it made it more real to attribute it to a person. I alse remember the importance of small things, such as how I was treated by the police. And I remember asking my sister what would happen if I gave evidence and he was still found not guilty. She said that him being found not guilty didn’t make me guilty. That single point is something I struggled with, I never made peace with the fact that people wouldn’t believe I had in some way, instigated it.
I had fantastic, and full support from everyone involved and still felt to blame. I still feel angry that it happened, but I find it harder to think people (men and women) don’t always get treated as well as I did, and don’t get enough support. My experience was relatively minor, I can’t imagine how people cope when they feel they are not only taking on their attacker, but also the system. It’s tough enough as it is.
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