I knew that I was in trouble the moment I stepped onto the train carriage and was greeted with an intoxicated “Hello pretty lady” from a man on the other side of the carriage. It was late; nearly 9pm in Adelaide and as a young woman travelling alone I sat cautiously on the other side of the carriage without falter. I had moved about a year earlier from the country town Mildura to Adelaide city to study and to pursue a career. This particular night was not long after I had just landed a new job and was travelling home from work.
“Did you not hear me? I said HELLO pretty lady,” the intoxicated man reiterated, a bit more forceful than last time. I did not flinch, did not say anything despite my heart rate picking up pace but nevertheless I stayed collected. After all, I was sitting right near the security guard – presumably the safest seat in the place – and I wasn’t going to give the man any reaction whatsoever so he should get bored and leave me alone. The train left the station and we were underway.
“Excuse me, I said hello! It’s rude not to say anything back to me!” His words were loud and slurred, he sounded incredibly under the influence.
“Oi what the f*** is your f***ing problem? Are you just some stuck up bitch?” My heart was beating quite fast now so I looked upon the security guard for some kind of protection. He saw the fear in my eyes and said “Hey watch your mouth.”
The man reacted quickly and yelled “Mind your own f***ing business!”
The security guard physically recoiled and he slumped into the corner of the carriage. I suddenly didn’t see a strong, protective man I could put my trust in. I saw a weak, pathetic slug of a man who would shut down at any sign on conflict. I started to panic. And much to my disgust, the security guard got off at the next stop. That’s when the man got much worse.
The man got off his seat and started walking up and down the aisle on the train, yelling lots of inaudible phrases, I could make out lots of swear words at the passengers and racist comments. The rest of the train carriage was silent, immobilised in fear of startling the man. It was clear by this point this man was under the influence of a very heavy drug. Then the man walked up to me.
I was staring at the floor but I could see in the corner of my eye that he was middle aged, of Aboriginal appearance, stumbling and impulsive. He got right up in my face and said “You’re a f***ing sl** aren’t you? I’m sure you get around all the time don’t you, you f***ing white piece of trash.”
By now I was shaking and petrified; this man was so unpredictable and targeting me. Why was he targeting me?
Then I saw it, as the man started to walk another lap of the carriage and leave me alone for a moment I peeked up and realised that all the other passengers on the train – or at least all that I could see at a quick fearful glance – were men. Piss-weak, undignified men who all chose to all stare at their feet in fear rather than standing up for me, a young woman travelling alone.
Ahh, the classic Bystander Effect that I learnt so much about in Year 10 Psychology and by watching numerous episodes of Dr Phil. The Bystander Effect is a theory that the more bystanders there are, the less likely people will stand up for the victim, due to a diffusion of responsibility. Reading it from a textbook is one thing, but I never quite understood the isolating and traumatising reality of it until I was the victim. The anger and resentment I held towards these bystanders was overwhelming; how could all these men sit back and feign fascination with their shoelaces without an ounce of guilt? Clearly two of these passengers, if not just one, were more than physically capable of standing up to this man, but none of them made any attempt. How could Adelaide be one of the friendliest cities in the world but a young woman cannot travel home at night safely and can’t rely on the support from others?
The man came back to me, yelling things in my face that are too disgusting and offensive to write in detail, but he was screaming at me what he thinks I do to men and why don’t I do those things for him? He yelled awful sexual acts he wanted to do to me. He was screaming out at the other passengers that I was a “f***ing sl**”. Then he grabbed and thrust himself towards my mouth, demanding that I perform oral sex then condescendingly laughed.
By this point I was hunched over in the corner of the seat and my whole body was aggressively shaking in fear. Looking back on it now it’s amazing how my whole body retracted from the moment; I was past petrified and felt an almost calming passive acceptance that something terrible was going to happen to me.
I debated with myself – do I risk bolting out the door at the next train stop? I could run away from this man to safety then wait for the next train home. But I thought it was more likely that this man would follow me and something worse could happen. Stop after stop the doors opened to pitch black surroundings, a vast distance from any witnesses or roads. If he followed me out there I was asking for more trouble.
If I stayed on this train at least I have witnesses if something happens and security cameras. And my train stop was quite a popular one which was well lit-up and where many people generally get off. So as I heard my stop being announced and the train slowing down, I braced myself, I was ready. The man turned his head as he was distracted by something and that’s when I bolted out the door as fast as I could.
I think it goes without saying that the man on this train is a repulsive chauvinistic monster, he was an entitled, degrading misogynist which makes me feel disgusted imagining what this man is capable of when no witnesses are around. Shame on the security guard who was clearly incompetent at his job and slinked off the train the moment he was confronted with conflict. And shame on all the men who were bystanders and did not attempt to impede the situation. These men are not honourable. These men have failed their role in society..
I stood on the platform and watched as the train took off with the man inside and I burst into tears, overwhelmed with relief that the danger was over and that I overcame it. It was only then that one of the men who witnessed everything and got off at my stop said “Are you okay?”
Am I okay? Too little, too late.
“Go f**k yourself,” I mumbled between sobs, then cried my eyes out the whole walk home.