When “safety in numbers” isn’t enough…

It’s taken me a couple of weeks to decide whether I wanted to share this. To be honest, I’m still on the fence and I don’t know if I’ll keep this post up long-term or not. I tweeted and then deleted the night it happened, which is something that I rarely do…  Twitter is my stream of consciousness and I usually don’t censor myself, but I decided to at that point. Almost a fortnight later, however, it’s something that I’m still struggling to make sense of, and writing tends to help, so here it is.

A couple of weeks ago, five of us girls decided to continue on in town after a house party. Noise control kicks in after midnight and no one wants to annoy the neighbours. We were five 30-something women with a night off from parenting, just looking to have a dance and some fun. Instead we got about twenty metres from our car and one of us was assaulted. As we passed another group in the street, one young man dropped the shoulder and barged into my friend. She turned around and said “Really? Seriously?” and a girl in the other group flew at her and punched her in the face.

In some ways, I feel lucky. We were lucky that they weren’t carrying any weapons. We were lucky that our group had got slightly separated on the street so I was able to get my phone out of my handbag to call for help without any of them noticing or launching at me. We were lucky that we were within eyeshot of the bar we were heading towards and that the bouncer started heading in our direction. We were extremely lucky that the cops happened to drive by in the thirty seconds it took me to get my phone out of my bag. With the damage that two girls managed to inflict on my friend in that time, god knows how much worse it would have been in the five minutes or so it would have taken for the police to arrive – how big it would have escalated, whether any of us would have got away unscathed.

I feel angry. I’m angry that my friend was attacked for standing up for herself, when she had every right to expect an apology. I’m angry that these kids were cruising for trouble and they thought that we were a bunch of “posh b**ches” (verbatim) who deserved it, rather than mothers of nine kids between us on a rare night out, rather than women who run families and run businesses and deserve to have a little bit of fun once in a while. I’m angry that because the people that attacked our group were under the age of 18, all that happened was that they got taken home to mum or dad or (more realistically) whoever was at the address they live at and that police will not press charges. I’m so angry that this incident perpetuates the negative stereotypes of race and South Auckland that I fight daily and it’s part of the reason, I think, that I was so loathe to share about it. I’m furious that now that the bandages have come off, my friend has been left with scars, a permanent reminder of how this night turned so sour.

I feel scared. And I hate that. I don’t know that I’m ever going to feel safe going out with just the girls again. I don’t feel safe walking by myself at night in a neighbourhood that I would never have thought twice about before. I feel scared that there will be a next time, that there will be more of them, or one of us will be walking on alone, or that the police won’t drive by… basically we won’t be as lucky as we were that night, if we can even look at the way that things played out as luck. I’m scared that we weren’t doing any of the things that are generally perceived as “wrong” (and don’t get me started on that) – we weren’t walking alone, we were in a well-lit area, two of us were sober. I feel scared that these kids learned nothing and that they’ll be out on the street doing it next weekend. Hurting someone else just for a laugh. I feel scared that they will remember our faces and we won’t even be safe in broad daylight.

It’s made me think about my life moving forward. I won’t ever apologise to CJ for wanting to know who his friends are and for wanting to know what his plans are, because I don’t ever want him even peripherally involved in something like this. It’s made me nervous that I’m going to have to teach him how to defend himself – while he’s not likely to be short, he does take after his dad’s slim build and I’m worried that will make him a target. While I know that this kind of thing can happen anywhere, it’s made me more positive that my plan to move is a good idea. I don’t want my son to grow up with a mum who is living in fear in a town we used to call home. I was too scared to walk to and from my car by myself on Tuesday, when I caught up with some other friends for dinner in the same town. I don’t want to live that way. I’ve never been that girl.

And I guess that’s what gets my goat. I understand my inherent privilege in growing up in an environment where people were shown respect and allowed to feel safe. Whenever there has been a situation where I haven’t felt respected or safe, I’ve been able to address it or remove myself. But two weeks ago? I felt helpless. We were faceless to these people. They didn’t see me sitting practically catatonic on the couch the following day, after a sleepless night, trying to jog myself into being a functional parent before my son was dropped back home. They didn’t see the messages between us trying to make sense of what had happened. They didn’t see the picture V’s son drew of how he will defend her from the “baddies” if they come again. They didn’t know us at all and still that didn’t make us safe. They saw us as easy targets and now I’m not sure how to walk around without picturing that imaginary bullseye on my back.

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4 thoughts on “When “safety in numbers” isn’t enough…

  1. I value my independence and while I don’t party out on my own, I often make my way to and from events on my own. This means I sometimes walk around at night, alone. I keep my wits about me, ready to run at the first sign of danger. The moves I learned self defence class (that were compulsory at my all girls high school) in my mind. I’m lucky I’ve never had to run. I don’t know why people attack strangers for no reason. But at least most people are decent and yes, there is safety in numbers. A small group of people shouldn’t be allowed to take ease or independence away from others. Yet they do. This sucks.

    • I’m in the same boat as you – I can’t say I ever go out to a bar alone, but as a single woman I am often attending events by myself. This has really shaken my confidence and while I hope to get back to my usual brave self, I think that it’s going to take some time to stop being so jumpy.

  2. That’s awful, I too have been on the receiving end of an unprovoked fight in town twice. The only physical altercations I have ever had in my life and I had done nothing to deserve it. Once a girl was drunk and was convinced I had been mean to sister (I had never seen either of them in my life) Luckily just like your case the police drove past as it was happening and managed to stop her. The second was by a man who grabbed my friend and tried to sexually assault her in broad daylight on a busy street. I yelled at him and to let go of her and slapped him across the face, he then proceeded to punch me over and over. Of the dozens of cars at the busy intersection not one person intervened to help us. We ran and called the police. I’d be lying if I said those feelings go away. I am forever aware of my surroundings especially when I am alone at night, I will never walk with headphones in or staring down at my phone. You have done a great thing by sharing your story and I hope both you and your friends can heal from this horrible experience ❤

    • I’m so sorry that those things happened to you. I feel a lot less invincible than I did before, that’s for sure.

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