I was attacked on the street in London when I was 21 years old. It was the first time I had ever been to London, and it was at the beginning of my adventure backpacking across the European continent. After 10 days in London, it was my last night, and I’d met up with some friends I knew from home to drink at their Brick Lane apartment.
I got drunk and the boys got high (I was still righteous about recreational drug use) and we decided to head out to a bar, as our end of Brick Lane (at Whitechapel Road) was all but a ghost town even though the clock hadn’t yet struck 12. So we went on the kind of inebriated mission that is so commonplace in my life and, I’m sure, in the lives of many twentysomethings.
We weren’t looking for trouble. We weren’t in a “dangerous” part of town (and we didn’t yet know that such a concept is irrelevant in London). We weren’t being loud, raucous or disrespectful. We were simply walking to Bethnal Green Road as friends do, laughing and smoking cigarettes and minding our own business. Once we’d reached the end of the road without finding an enticing bar, we decided we’d been having more than enough fun at the apartment, so we’d make a quick stop at the offie and head back to the apartment.
The walk back was just as innocuous as the walk there, except at three-quarters of the way there, a large group of men appeared on the opposite side of the road. Again, I didn’t think much of it—I was with 4 boys, all of whom were tall and broad. I didn’t think of myself as a target. Unfortunately, I learned the misnomer of context very abruptly–for the first time in my life I found myself surrounded by people in a well-lit, public place, and yet never more afraid for my safety.
As we approached the men it became clear they were all inebriated too. They were yelling and jostling into each other, and they seemed mostly to be congregated around one particularly drunk man who had his shirt off and was dancing provocatively. We were still on the opposite side of the road, and when we came parallel to the men, they noticed us and began yelling. Instinctively, we stopped, but only momentarily.
When I realized the shirtless man was running towards me I started backing away, but his bulbous, flapping belly masked his speed and strength well. Before I could get out of the way he shoved me violently down with two hands against my chest. As I fell, two things happened—the wind was knocked entirely out of me and the back of my head hit the concrete with a loud crack. For a second, everyone went silent, even the group of chanting men who had now surrounded us.
A moment later the slow motion reaction to my fall was snapped back into double speed and the shirtless man was on top of me, nuzzling his sweaty face into my neck and pounding his (still clothed, thankfully) pelvis into mine while the other men cheered him on. All I could think about was my family, and I ceased to be part of a moment that was now happening to me as opposed to with me.
I don’t know what happened next. I was told that one of my male friends had taken a running kick at my attacker’s ribs to get him off me, which made the crowd more aggressive. The next thing I recall is being pulled weightlessly up by the arms and someone screaming, “Run!” I know I had a boy gripping each of my hands. I know that they were both so much taller and faster than me that as we ran my feet felt as though they were barely touching the ground. I know we were being chased.
We made it back to the apartment safely, as the men chasing us had failed both to form a cohesive unit in action and seemed to lose interest when it became clear we were outrunning them. Once inside, I burst into tears. I knew my head should hurt but I couldn’t feel it. Two of the boys were still by my side, each still holding a hand, but I couldn’t feel that either. I couldn’t feel anything except wetness on my cheeks.