Recently my roommate and I were talking about optimism. How we believe we are that top 1% of people who will never experience cancer, divorce, financial crisis, or any other wildly unfortunate circumstance. 30% of people will be affected by cancer and 40% of couples will get divorced. This struck a chord with me. I always felt a small sliver of guilt for knowing, or seeming to know, that at some point in my life something “bad” would happen to me. Call it being realistic or pessimistic, doesn’t matter—this was a fact. We are creatures of circumstance. I’m not admitting I will try to get divorced or not be aware of my health, more that I have taken to a less rose-tinted view of my life as it plays out with everyone else’s. Another intimidating stat: Half of Canadian women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence [ed. note: This stat is from a 1993 survey which was never repeated, but we’re willing to bet this number is the same, if not higher, today.] I remember someone saying that if you don’t know a woman who has been assaulted or sexually assaulted, it’s only because she hasn’t told you yet.
But as a woman reading this post, do you think you will be one of those 1 in 2? No one wants to be, no one is hoping to be a statistic—but the odds are real and frank.
In my story I am lucky—I am not a survivor of rape and I couldn’t confidently say it was an attempted rape either. I can confidently say I was attacked/assaulted quite brutally and am still standing with (luckily) just a few scars. It’s hard to use the word “lucky” in this situation, but I am. My attack was minor in comparison to the many women who have faced assault, sexual assault, harassment and rape in their lives.
If you know me well enough you know I’ve acquired a taste for graffiti. It’s wonderful subculture and it fascinates me. And what better way to learn than to learn by doing? Painting is a tremendously fun and challenging hobby and I’m constantly impressed by the writers/artists I know that feel at home in the streets. There’s a few things you learn going out with graffiti writers. Turns out rule number one is subjective for some people, but going out alone is almost always a bad idea. Especially for women. I hate to say that, but gender is a factor. There are plenty of talented and courageous female graffiti artists in Toronto and around the world, but they know the game a lot more intimately than I do and I can only assume they know better than I.
I had done it before and therefore I could do it again. Not a very smart assumption, but an assumption none the less. I went out into my alley, same as I had before, and took to my neighbours’ garage doors. This time was different however. I saw a man, maybe in his late 20’s, ride past me on his bike. He was wearing casual, shorts and a tee and looked like he was either coming home from the bar or maybe a friend’s place. He looked like your average Toronto bike-riding dude, and thus I thought nothing of it. We even made eye contact and I actually almost smiled in a neighbourly fashion. I took a short walk down the alley, still hearing people leaving the Taste of Little Italy festival just one street over, feeling comfortable, feeling confident.
Then he returned, what seemed like only seconds later, with a ski mask on and a very different intention than I had assumed, not to jump me and steal my things (he didn’t take anything from me, paint, phone, wallet—nadda). The rest is history.
There’s a few different angles to this story; mainly the fact that I walked into a dangerous situation willingly, and thus felt the repercussions of that decision. Looking at this situation factually, I was breaking the law, alone at night, unarmed. He seemed to be a vigilante of sorts and claimed it was his garage (not proven) and that I was lucky he let me live (proven). I placed myself in a vulnerable situation. I knew the potential outcomes of the evening, but I’m in that top 1% where yes, something bad might happen to me, but probably not.
Gender of course is a factor: If I had been a man would he still have attacked me? Spoken to me the way he did? Pulled my hair the way he did? If I had been with one other person, would he have come back? If I had pepper spray, a knife, anything other than my voice, would he have been threatened by me? If I hadn’t fought back, if I wasn’t able to get his mask off and scratch and kick my way out of his grip, would I have been raped? If I didn’t call the police, would it have made any difference? I was attacked on June 13th, and still every single night these questions consume me.
It consumes me that he rode around on his bike calling for me after I fled home, that he asked me to come out and talk to him, that he was incredibly aware of his actions and felt no guilt about that. It consumes me that this happened on a Friday night just off of College St., in what is considered to be one of Toronto’s safest neighbourhoods. It consumes me that no one else called the police that night, that my intense screaming and yelling didn’t wake anyone, or didn’t compel them to help. It consumes me that I was in such shock, I told my roommate to go back to sleep, that I was fine, that I was just going to call it a night as my forehead was gushing with blood and I could barely walk (she helped me get cleaned up and I said I wanted to be alone. Then I called my best friend and he told me I had to call my parents and the police or he would). The look on the medical resident’s face when I told her where it happened, the look on my parents’ faces when they met me in the ambulance, the voice of my best friend over the phone keeping me calm and conscious, the police who stared blankly at me even after taking photos of my injuries and told me I am a victim but I did “break the law” and frankly I “should know better.” The report that got filed but never published, my attacker who knew where I lived and the effort it took me to leave the house after that night, all consume me.
The first person I told besides my closest friends and family was a woman named Deb Chard. My sister and I took her two-weekend intensive training on women’s self-defence. I’ve heard people make the claim that without constant training, self-defence is useless. Let me tell you first hand that this is not true. No, I was not able to hurt him very badly, but having been in that class helped me think, breathe, understand what was happening to me and not freeze up. Part of Deb’s classes are success stories and she now shares mine with her class. If you’ve never taken a self-defence class, I would recommend it. You can do things with your body you’re probably not aware of. You have more strength than you know.
After eight hours in the ER seeing two nurses and two doctors, I was cleared as having no internal bleeding and no broken bones. I was conscious and tried my best to remain awake. My head injuries were serious, but I protected myself enough to avoid a major concussion.
Now I have two scars that I see every day that remind me of him: one of the imprint of his ring in my forehead, the other on my left knee from being pushed to the ground. I kept the hospital bracelet, my report of my injuries. They are trophies. This is a hard thing to remind myself of when I look in the mirror every day, but they are. I won.
For weeks I was scared, then angry. I wanted him dead. I wanted him to feel what I felt. But all I can hope now is that he is satisfied, and that no one else has to encounter him the way I did. And for those who offered to track him down… I know your intentions are for the best, but the best revenge is success, right?
So here I am now, 1 in 2, and I am telling you so you know—it’s not just a stat. It’s real. And I can guarantee I am not the only person you know who has experienced assault of this calibre. Please be wary, please be informed, please be aware of this reality. We are not invincible, but we have the ability to fight back, heal and learn. It was so easy for him, effortless maybe, and regardless of whether that’s my fault or his, it happened. I am incredibly lucky not only to have lived through this, but also for the generous and impressive support from my family and friends. Who are we without each other?
For more information on Deb Chard’s Wen-Do Self-Defence class, click here.