Content warning: the focus of this article will be on the process of reporting the attack, the investigation and outcome as opposed to detailing what occurred. To avoid upsetting or triggering later on in the article, I want to warn that although I am not going into any detail, the incident revolves around sexual assault on public transport.
“… We relaunched our Report It To Stop it campaign, dedicated to encouraging victims of sexual offences to report them to the police, no matter how “minor” the offence may seem. If anyone experiences any kind of unwanted sexual behaviour, please call 0800405040 or text 61016.” – British Transport Police
Over six months ago I was travelling home from London Euston texting my friends. I told them about a male passenger acting strange and how I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable. I thought nothing of it; my childhood as a Londoner had exposed me to the crème de la crème of public transport passengers. I snapped a photo of him as a precautionary measure and took my seat. However, this occasion was different. This time, I was sexually assaulted on my journey home.
He got off immediately after the incident; it had been premeditated so that he’d exit almost instantaneously. Nobody saw what happened. Despite my usual extroverted and confident personality, I was too scared, nauseous and shocked to even consider telling another passenger. All of my usual, rational approaches disintegrated as I ran to the toilets to vomit. Crouched over the toilet I sent a message into the group chat.
“he touched me”
Sensing an impending panic attack, I tried explaining what happened to the best of my ability. I couldn’t ring the police as I was still on-board a moving train with fragmented glimmers of phone signal and the indescribably frustration and shame for not calling for help as it happened was paralysing. Instead, my friend rang 999, went through to the general police and was then forwarded onto the British Transport Police (BTP). She rang on my behalf and explained the situation and passed on my details for them to ring me once I was home.
Later that same night, the BTP rang. It was an officer seeking to clarify certain details that my friend didn’t know when initially reporting the crime. Before he began asking questions, my welfare was made the priority. I was impressed by how sensitively the incident was treated; I was constantly implored to not go into detail if it would cause upset due to how recently the attack had occurred. I clarified details such as what time and place my attacker had escaped on, the exact train I had been on-board and other details related to the attack. I provided contact details and noted the officer’s email in order to send him my photographic evidence of the attacker’s identity.
Following this, I was issued a specific case officer specialising in sexual offences that became my go-to contact throughout the following few months. She rang me in the days following the report to explain what was going to happen following my report as well as to check if I was emotionally coping. Below is an edited extract of her first email to demonstrate how helpful and thorough the BTP were in ensuring that I was aware of the legal process behind the act of reporting a crime.
“… Attached are leaflets regarding giving a statement to police and going to court, which I hope will be helpful.
Further to these leaflets, if you feel that you could better describe what happened to you via a video interview (rather than a written statement) this is another option that you are entitled to. As discussed, if you are willing to provide a formal account and potentially go to court, then we can arrange where and when to obtain your account.
As I mentioned, it may be a colleague who is more local to you who meets with you to obtain this. This process will probably take around an hour and a half to complete… “
I opted to provide a written statement. This entailed a local officer trained in witness reports sitting down with me to write a statement which would require “guardian”‘s signature due to me being a minor. This written report was the most emotionally draining step of the process, mostly due to the depth of recounting the incident that I’d spent weeks repressing – healthy coping mechanisms are my forte! Initially I was worried on scheduling the officer to visit me at home as my parents are always out with my siblings at their clubs, however the BTP were flexible in their operations and offered to visit me during school hours instead and allowed a member of pastoral staff to act as my “guardian”. The written report spanned over 10 pages of notes which were typed up. The following week I met the officer again to proof-read what he’d written up to confirm all the details and give my signature to confirm that everything in the document was true. My “guardian” signed it and the process of reporting the crime was finalised.
3 months passed. I’d almost forgotten about the investigation until my assigned officer rang me up to update me on the investigation. Details were vague due to legal procedures, however I was told that the attacker had been spotted on several CCTV images but not yet identified. I thanked her for continuing the investigation and I was soothed to hear that if any new information arose I’d be contacted immediately. Once again, she went over the process of going to court and assured me that there were safeguarding procedures to ensure I didn’t have to see my attacker in person if his identity was confirmed and he was arrested.
Before I’d realised, the 6 month mark arrived and I received the email I’d dreaded from the day I reported the crime.
” … disappointingly, having conducted a number of enquiries, including disseminating CCTV images and the photos that you took of the suspect, it has not been possible to identify the man who assaulted you… no further lines of enquiry to be made… the investigation will now be closed…”
Despite the outcome of my report, all the officers agreed with me that although my attack was (thankfully) minor, it was important for me to report it in case the attacker in question was a repeated offender. Alternatively, it could also prevent this from re-occurring to other vulnerable people on public transport by the same perpetrator. This brings me to precisely why I decided to write about my experience. Although the man in question remains unidentifiable despite the evidence available, my report remains on file. This means that if another person ever comes forward to report being attacked by the same person, there is a stronger chance of finding them.
My experience didn’t have a stereotypical happy ending, but I know that stepping forward to report it means that I could be helping out others in the future. Before reporting the attack, I was wary of the heavy stigma surrounding reporting crimes, especially those of a sexual nature and particularly from the perspective of a minor. Would I be believed, blamed, dismissed? The BTP ensured that I felt comfortable throughout and most importantly reminded me that my welfare was their priority.
For those of you who may be considering reporting a sexual attack / crime, I would implore you to do so regardless of the outcome. I will always be disappointed at the fact that I currently can’t hold the man who attacked me legally accountable, however I remain hopeful that one day it might help another passenger out. I can’t regret reporting a crime, however I know that I’d have regretted remaining silent.
– Words by Camila Florencia