A little more than a week ago, I stepped onto a tram after a football match. It was a lovely day, and I had enjoyed myself so far. Of course, after a match in a stadium that holds over 50 thousand people, public transport to and from the stadium will be busy. I knew that, and didn’t think much of it.
Public transport was so busy that everywhere people pushed into each other to make sure the doors could close. At most, I thought it was hot on the tram. In the end, I only had to be in there for a few minutes. I was standing close to lots of people, wearing a skirt and a sweater. Just hoping that the minutes would go by fast so I could get some fresh air.
Then I felt someone’s hand go under my skirt, groping me inappropriately. Not knowing what to do, I froze for a second and shifted my weight, trying to turn myself away from this person. This person I had never talked to before, that I didn’t know, that was touching my most intimate parts in a tram stuffed with people.
Then, he did it again. More aggressive this time. I’m someone who usually knows what to say and do. I’m someone who is not easily scared of people. Most people know me as quite a tough girl with a foul mouth, not scared to put up a fight and stick up for my friends and family. But at that moment, I froze. It’s like I lose my ability to speak and the panic took over my entire brain.
Then, I managed to push his hand away, having to use quite a bit of physical force to do so. On my right side, someone else on the tram noticed what was happening and immediately put himself between me and the assaulter. I’m really thankful for this person physically putting himself between us, and in that way protecting me.
Feeling like I couldn’t breathe, I got off the tram early. At that point, I felt so scared and not in control. I felt violated, dirty and small. I was reminded that for some people, I’m not considered a whole person with emotions, desires and boundaries, but merely an object for them to touch whenever they please.
I’m writing about this because I know this has happened to lots of other people, both men and women. Frankly, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened to me. But it was the first time that I’ve felt so trapped, that I didn’t know what to do. The situation made me panic, and in hindsight, this is not how I wish to handle future similar situations.
Afterwards, I stood in the rain on purpose, wanting to clean his touch off of me, and when I crawled into bed hours later, it’s like I could still his hands assaulting me. It would take a few days to feel normal and comfortable again.
I’m calling it a sexual assault on purpose. The term ‘groping’ is euphemistic in my opinion and downplays the severity of the offence. Afterwards, I tried to downplay what had happened for myself too: there are people who deal with much worse than this, at least I wasn’t raped. But just because this sexual assault wasn’t of the most severe kind, does not mean I’m not allowed to feel what I feel about what happened.
If something like this happens to you, I want you to know that it’s okay to bawl your eyes out, to feel every single emotion that you feel. To not put it away and downplay what happened, because other people might tell you it’s not a big deal. You decide if it’s a big deal. I think it’s a big deal.
I have gotten an incredible amount of support from the people around me. I’ve been showered with love, and I’m feeling a lot better about what happened that day. When something like this happens, it’s hard not to blame yourself: I shouldn’t have worn that skirt, I shouldn’t have gotten in that tram, I shouldn’t have gone out that day. I should have said something.
But I want you to know that it’s never your fault. That no one is allowed to do this to you without your consent. That you are worthy and your boundaries matter. You matter.