CW: Gender-based violence/sexual assault.
I don’t mind walking home alone. I don’t feel particularly unsafe. I don’t stress about walking back from clubs, or bars, or even work, myself. I don’t dislike walking in the dark, or at night. I’m not meaning to sound flippant, but I don’t mind the journey. I prefer it, sometimes. I’ve never been assaulted by someone I don’t know.
Rape alarms, and pepper spray? I roll my eyes, though I shouldn’t. I’ve not lived through their experiences, and they haven’t mine. Watch your drink and you’ll watch mine? All good until we’re three in, steaming, eyes wandering; not a clue. Let’s go dance? I’ll go; drink in hand, palm over the top like we’re told. I can’t dance, but that doesn’t stop me trying. He can’t graft, but it doesn’t stop him. I know when to turn away, not because it requires knowledge, but because I’ve been here before. First year, and endless vodka: I remember that booth in Kokomo. Weird, though: a-friend-of-a-friend, "nice guy", and I swear he was 23, from Edinburgh, with a girlfriend...; but then again, my Tiffany bracelet was stolen and I ended up, head over the toilet, alone.
Another night, another "friend" mistaking laughter for lust - or projecting it - or assuming a natural progression of events. Nature is brutal, isn't it? Momentarily separated from the group, I knew to refuse when he offered me a cigarette; outside, ourselves: that’s never good. I’d accepted a similar offer before, and the end result wasn’t verbal. Pushed into a hedge, gasping for breath. He had been 15; the same age as me. The memories play on repeat, even now. I can’t sleep sometimes, for upset, regret, and guilt.
I knew it would hit me, more mental than physical. The memories return. He pulled me towards him, even when I staggered back. It didn’t matter: he didn’t care. I wasn’t a person; he was, and he wanted more. Thankfully, when history looked to repeat itself, the physical nausea kicked in before it got too much - that time, anyway. I hate running to the toilets, but that night they became a recluse.
Another time, we went for drinks. A catch up between two colleagues. Different person, similar alcohol. I wasn’t drunk, but I was tired. Stay, he said, and I did. He promised sleep, and separate rooms. I believed him on both counts, foolishly. I woke up halfway through; scarred yet stationary. I let him do what he did, and for that, I bully myself endlessly.
I don’t mind walking home alone. I enjoy the peace, and the quiet. I see women post about never being able to enjoy a night-time stroll, and it’s horrific that's our reality. But a part of me can’t completely relate. Watch who you’re around, I think, it’s not only bad guys in alleyways. I roll my eyes at myself: me, an “expert” in sexual assault, when realistically my cases have barely scratched the surface of what some people experience. And when my friends message me about getting home, paranoid, I shouldn’t become frustrated. But I do. It's not just strangers in the night, I want to say. We have a problem on our streets, I know that. Society doesn’t appreciate it enough, focusing blame in the wrong places. But there's another problem closer than we think. I’ve never been assaulted by someone I don’t know.
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