Saturday, 16 June 2018

When I was about the same age as Eurydice Dixon

An aeon ago - when I was about the same age as Eurydice Dixon - I was assaulted in Sydney as I was walking home alone from my restaurant job late at night. 

I wasn't far from my house when a car pulled up alongside me. Two men jumped out, grabbed my arms and tried to pull me into the car. I screamed and struggled as hard as I could.  I have never been as frightened as I was at that moment. 

One of the men grabbed my breast, twisted and squeezed really hard. The other put his face right up to mine and spat out the word - 'cunt'.  He stank of booze.

Some people who lived near me heard my screams and came out of their house. The men let go of me, jumped back in the car and drove off.

The assault probably lasted no more than 20 seconds. 

In earthquakes, time stretches. A minute feels like an hour.  In an assault, in fear of my life, 20 seconds seemed like forever.

I don't know what they'd have done if they'd got me into the car - rape probably, murder possibly.  Or maybe they just got their sick thrills from cruising around looking for a lone woman to terrorise and brag about. 

What shocked me to my core was the aggression that radiated off those two men. A toxic mix of alcohol, adrenaline and testosterone in a culture that licensed male violence. 

What changes?

My neighbours, who were drag artists, asked me did I want to call the police.  I said no as I knew the police in 1970s Sydney wouldn't do anything and would probably blame me for being out late on my own at night. They agreed. That was their experience also.  

I cried most of the night. In the morning I found I had extensive bruising on my arms, breast and my shin where one had kicked me. 

I should have reported it but I had no confidence in the police and with good reason.  I felt guilty about not reporting it once the shock subsided and I thought about the possibility that they may have gone on to attack other women. But what could I have told the police? It was dark, I had no recollection of any detail of the men's appearance except they were young and white, were violent and had been drinking.  

Adrenaline propels most of us into a set of reactions that are not conducive to accurate recall of useful details like what people look like, number plates or colour and make of car. 

It was not the first time I had experienced male sexualised physical violence although it was the most frightening. Thankfully it was the last but it was not the last time I have encountered highly corrosive forms of sexism and misogyny. 

Women and girls should not have to always be on the alert for male predators. We should not have to stop and think, should I walk there / at this time of day / wearing these clothes in case there's a male predator lurking waiting to rape, beat or murder me? 

But - we are not going to rid the world of sexual predators and violent men overnight - or ever unless we fundamentally change society - so, alongside doing everything possible to stop male violence against women and children, women do have to be careful and vigilant -and we owe it to girls to equip them to be as safe as possible. 

Most importantly, women need to be able and prepared to do what I couldn’t do back in the day - report assaults to the police. The way the police handle complaints these days is far from perfect but it's light years away from the reaction a friend and I got when, aged 17, we reported a man for repeatedly waving his dick at us while we were waiting at an isolated bus stop. 

The two male police officers at first were dismissive. They said it was not a serious offence and implied we were over-reacting. Then they became manipulative. They told us if we laid a complaint a man's life could be ruined. When we argued with them, they became extremely hostile.

The complaint was laid.  The man was cautioned. And two girls learned how hard it was to be heard. 

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