This is the first in a series of guest posts from Ele Overvoorde. Ele is documenting her experience of sexual assault in a bid to support survivors and tackle flaws in existing support systems. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be publishing her posts here. If you want to check out her blog, you can find it here. You can also follow her on Twitter @EleJoy
Content Notice: Sexual assault.
On the 7th of July I was on my way home from a shoot. I arrived at Colchester station to discover that all the trains to Norwich were delayed for at least an hour due to a broken down goods train. I settled myself at the far end of the platform with my bare legs in the sun. I phoned my boyfriend and thought about dinner.
The platform was teeming. We were advised to take the next train to Ely and change there for Norwich but with a direct train coming in sixteen minutes I decided to wait.
Finally the train arrives, I gather my bags and walk down the platform to the first regular carriage. I make eye contact with a nice lady with a pushchair and a small boy with a balloon. We exchange “after yous” and she gets on the train. I am next.
I put my foot on the first step and I hear a mumble. “I wouldn’t mind a piece of that”. Here we go. Ready for battle. I don’t know about other people but I rehearse moments like this in my head. Why? Because I have fucked it up so many times before. I have heard the comments and put my head down and kept walking. I have “failed as a feminist” and I had to tell my friends and family after that I was upset and I said nothing. Or worse, I have lied and told stories about how I confronted my would-be catcallers with witty retorts. This time I feel brave, this time it will be different and I will change the world around me.
I am about to spin around and confront The Mumbler when I felt his hand grab my ass. In the three hours afterwards I was asked to describe the nature of that grab to two male officers that tried their absolute hardest to get me to say the right buzzwords for their report- “did he hurt you” “would you say it was a sexual action”. In retrospect I feel I have nailed the description. That man grabbed me in the same way you would grab meat to evaluate its quality. To asses its weight and show others its attributes.
I whip round. Suddenly I am drenched in sweat. The arguments previously coherent are now tinged with abject panic. I am surrounded by suits, a woman and her two children, it is a gloriously sunny day in the twenty first century and yet this has still happened.
“What the fuck are you doing?”. I watch as draws his hand quickly away from me and into the air like I am pointing a gun at him. “I didn’t mean to actually do it”. I have turned this over in my mind countless times- How exactly do you accidentally do something like that. “My friend pushed my hand”. “Bullshit”. I can feel the panic starting to shout over my anger now. “I don’t want this man on the train”. Surely on of these suits works for the train company. Even if they don’t someone will step in. There are people all around. He is coming towards me. I back off. He is staring me down pushing me back into the train. I feel trapped. “I wouldn’t want to touch you anyway you dirty Sket”. “Fucking sexist prick” I just about manage to shout after him as he settles to lean against a wall. I am gasping for air now. I know he is still staring at me and I fight my hardest to hold it together. The suits still shuffle and look at their shoes. I have always been rubbish at hiding when I am upset. The train has started to move. I can’t breath.
I am crumbling while he stares at me. I am angry and frightened and upset and lost. Eventually a suit becomes a person. “Are you ok?” I shake my head.
I am in the train cafe, standing between the sink and the shelves of snacks as a man serves passengers and tries to console me. My fingers are starting to go numb. I can’t breath normally or stop shaking no matter how hard I try. The guard is called: “I want to report him. Don’t let him get away, please don’t let him get away”. Through my panic I become sure The Mumbler will have seen what is happening and moved, tried to escape identification and slip quietly away. I look. He is still there staring at me.
I was met off the train at Ipswich by two police officers, as was he. I was interviewed. The second officer’s phone rang as I described the incident. It played the Looney Tunes theme. Several times. While they were arranging for my transport home I heard one of them describe me as “The victim of a sexual assault”. Strangely, I hadn’t considered that that was what had happened until that moment.