She was walking home

Updated: Apr 14

WARNING. This is a recollection of an assault. Please do not read if this is a trigger for you.


I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Sarah Everard since she went missing 11 days ago. It’s been like a heavy rain cloud hanging over my heart and I don’t even know her. Maybe it’s because we’re close in age, maybe it’s because this tragedy happened 20 minutes from my home, maybe it’s because this could have been me, one of my sisters or one of my friends, because ultimately, she was just walking home.

I read an article in the Guardian that stated 97% of women have been sexually harassed. Let’s just think about that number. NINTY SEVEN PERCENT. Yet still I have seen posts on social media stating that ‘women should know better’. This narrative needs to change. It must. Yes, of course I have been guilty of stumbling home drunk alone after a night out, thinking I’d prefer to spend my last tenner on a kebab than a cab, particularly in my Uni days. I mean, haven’t we all??

This tragic turn of events have, for the first time in years, brought a situation that happened to me to the forefront of my mind. It’s taken me 16 years to bury it deep into my memory, but now that it has arisen I wanted to share it. Mainly because I believe it is important to share, to make these very real situations feel more real. To let you know that you’re not the only one. And to remind us all that it is not ok and it is NOT your fault.

I was 23 and at Centre Parks for the weekend with friends for one of their birthdays. Centre Parks, the epitome of wholesome family fun right? Not for me, not anymore. The night life consisted of a bar with a random DJ who blasted out the likes of the Macarena and Wannabe. Cheesy entertainment for all ages. We had been drinking, we were having fun, we were on holiday. It’s funny how I felt the need to write ‘we had been drinking’. That actually doesn’t matter. What happened shouldn’t have happened - whether I was sober, tipsy or paralytic.

It must have been 9pm, we were on the dance floor and a family of five came in. The mum, dad, the daughter who was around our age, and her two older brothers. We instantly recognised them from the day before where we had some friendly banter on the lazy river. The girl was carrying a bunch of balloons from the onsite restaurant. Let me note a few things. As mentioned, she was in her early 20’s like us. They were the standard restaurant branded balloons, and we had been chatting away to her the day before. These points are important because of what happened next. My friend, *Julia, went up to the girl and popped one of her balloons. It wasn’t malicious - it was a joke. The girl then turned and backhanded *Julia around the face. My immediate reaction was to protect my friend. I mean, I’m the eldest of seven kids, my instinct for protection is high. I ran to stand in front of her.

The next thing I saw was blood.

I need to take a pause here. My head suddenly feels extremely full.

Ok

The next thing I saw was blood.

The next thing I felt was me taking a huge inhalation of breath as if I’d been stuck under water for too long.

The next thing I felt was agonising pain.

The next thing I saw was blood.

I had no idea what had happened to me. I could hear voices, I knew I knew them but they were panicking and loud. It took me a moment to realise that my friends were surrounding me and that I was on the floor.

The next thing I felt was a vibration. It was like we were in the midst of an earthquake. Then I realised it was my body shaking. It was the shock.

The girl’s dad, a 52 year old man built like a rugby player, had seen his daughter hit my friend. He had seen me step in front of her to protect her. He had tackled me to the floor, punched me in the face, stamped on my body, kicked me and stamped on my hands.

He broke my nose in three places

He dislocated my shoulder

He broke all my fingers

He bruised my ribs

He broke me

Next thing I know I’m in an ambulance. I remember two things. Desperately needing a wee and calling Theo. I have no idea what I said to him, we’d only been together a few months. But I remember that I didn’t tell him the whole truth. I felt embarrassed. I also remember getting to the hospital and the nurse giving my friend who had come with me a bowl of water and a flannel and telling her to ‘clean me up’. I remember thinking that wasn’t right. I remember telling her that a man had attacked me. I remember her then taking the bowl and careful cleaning up my wounds herself. I found that very odd. One minute she wasn’t bothered about me because she probably thought I’d been in a fight with another girl, the next she was helping me because a man had attacked me.

Honestly I feel quite exhausted after writing this down so I’m going to summarise the next part.

We were taken back to Centre Parks after a few hours. I was bandaged up and my shoulder was repositioned. There’s nothing they could do for a broken nose or broken fingers, I was young and healthy. Should they have kept me in overnight? Maybe. But it was late and we were exhausted, so it seemed like the best option.

I cried myself to sleep. That was the first time I’d cried. It was such a release but also painful as every tear hit a cut and every sob moved a bruise or a break.

The next morning the police came. I have two memories of this. The first is that they told me that the family were in the cabin next to us. I was suddenly terrified, I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t in jail. The second memory is that I then went to the police station with the officer. He seemed nice but I was scared. Terrified to be alone with a man I didn’t know. This fear stayed with me for a good few years. By this time I had called my Dad. I stayed on the phone to him the entire journey. The next few hours are a blur. So let’s skip them.

This man, whose name I have actually wiped from my memory. Like completely. It’s odd how we can do that. He was found guilty of GBH (grievous bodily harm). It took 18 months to go to court. They promised I wouldn’t have to see him. They promised. I walked into the courtroom and he was about two metres away from me. His family were there, they were shouting at me, calling me all the names under the sun. His daughter spat at me. They were removed from the court. Somehow I stayed calm. I knew I had to.

Turns out he said I had a knife up my sleeve and that I was trying to stab his daughter. Turns out it was mid summer and I was wearing a vest top.

To end a traumatic story. He was found guilty. He didn’t go to jail. The charge was dropped to the lesser ABH. He had to pay me £2000. He was allowed to go home. He laughed at me when the verdict was read.

I had to have a nose job to fix my nose. I was traumatised with the memory every time I looked at it in the mirror. And to this day I still have physio on my right shoulder.

I’m telling you all this because I think of myself as a strong, independent woman. I’m telling you this because I was in a family holiday resort surrounded by friends and still – STILL - a man attacked me. He could have killed me. It took three people to jump on him to get him off me. This man would have done this before. Perhaps to his wife, to his daughter, to your daughter. He is one of many who were not punished to the full extent of the law.

SHIT NEEDS TO CHANGE

Women need to stop having to look over their shoulder, stop having to cross the road, stop having to have 999 punched into the phone ready to dial, stop having to call a friend to tell them about the guy behind us, stop having to hold our keys in-between our knuckles, stop having to worry about walking home alone.

International Women’s Day closely followed Sarah’s date of disappearance. The irony is not lost on me. The UK gave women the right to vote in 1918. One would expect, 103 years later, we would have also been given the right to safety. Instead we are faced with the growing problem of physical and verbal attack (I’m looking directly at you Piers Morgan) and that – even as a strong, fiercely independent woman – makes me more scared than I’d like to admit.

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