My heart pounds as I enter the coffee shop and scan the room for a familiar face. I instantly recognize his lanky frame as he sits in the back corner, his eyes set firmly on today's copy of the Evening Standard. Ignoring the sickness in my stomach, I walk towards him. He looks up and gives me his best smile.
"Would you like some of my blueberry muffin?" he asks, brushing crumbs from his polyester suit. I decline, and sit down. After an awkward pause, he says, "Could you explain to me why we're here?" Taking a deep breath, I start from the beginning.
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We were both 22, new to London and had multiple friends in common. He was painfully shy—the type to blend into the background when in groups—but I heard that he had made passing remarks about fancying me. Flattered, I decide to strike up a conversation during our next group outing to one of Camden's grotty bars as we celebrate the weekend. To my surprise, he's unusually boisterous. It turns out that he's been drinking in the summer sun for most of the afternoon.
We chat throughout the evening as he plies me with drinks. By the end of the night, he offers to take the train home with me, as his stop is on the same line. We manage to squeeze onto the very last train, leaving the lights of north London behind us.
As I get off the train, I turn around to see him standing on the platform with the train taking off. I am a little unnerved, but mostly just annoyed. "Now you've missed the last train! Why did you get off?" I ask him.
"It's fine," he answers nonchalantly. "I'll stay at yours." In that moment, I realize that I'm coming back to an empty flat.
"Fine," I reply. "But you're not sleeping in my bed. You can stay in my housemate's room."
He remains silent throughout the assault; he ignores my repeated pleas for him to get off me.
He suddenly snaps, shouting, "Why?" I tell him that I'm not interested in taking things any further, annoyed that I have to justify his question with an answer. His eyes have gone cold and angry. I tell myself to not give in to his tantrum.
Once home, he decides to step up his game. He blocks the doorway, pulls me onto my bed and attempts to undress me. I manage to get up every time, staying polite as ever, too scared and embarrassed to make a fuss. When I go to get some water in a desperate attempt to sober us up, he follows me and pushes me onto the living room sofa.
This time, I am pinned down by the full weight of his body. He pulls up my dress, and forces his hand down my underwear while roughly kissing my neck. He remains silent throughout the assault; he ignores my repeated pleas for him to get off me. Blind panic sets in. The whole ordeal only lasts around a minute. It feels ten times as long.
He suddenly stops. Footsteps make their way up the stairs, and one of my housemates appears in the doorway. "What is going on?" he says and eyes up my guest. Too embarrassed to explain the situation, I pawn him off—and the guy who so confidently wanted to have his way with me has returned to his usual timid self.
But as I close my door, he takes one last look at me and says, "I never fancied you anyway."
I head straight into my housemate's bedroom, and tell him how our guest won't take no for an answer. That I've been struggling to fight him off. He says he doesn't want to throw him out—he's a mutual friend. Tipsy and tired, he leaves me to get some sleep.
I get into my bed facing the door, anxiously waiting for it to open so I can scream. It never happens. At 5 AM, the man walks past my room to fetch his belongings.
I hear every single step, until they take themselves down the stairs and out of my flat. Only then I notice that I'm trembling.
The weeks after the assault are strangely alienating. I hardly sleep, and bin the dress that I wore on the night—I feel nauseous just by looking at it.
I also keep talking myself in and out of going to the police. If I don't report the crime, there is a risk that he might do it again. But then I'm fully aware that the odds are stacked against me—there has been a steady trend of falling conviction rates when it comes to sexual assault.
It takes me four drafts to get the wording right—ironically, I don't want to seem overly aggressive.
My main reason for not going to the police is the reaction from those closest to me. Someone from my family tells me, "This is what happens when you drink around boys." Others tell me that it will be his word against mine, so what's the point in prosecuting?
I worry that I won't fit society's perception of a "true victim"—a sober young woman, attacked by a stranger in an alleyway. The prosecution team in my head keeps questioning my motives. "How much did you have to drink?" they shout. "But you let him come back with you, didn't you?"
As the months roll by, I get increasingly restless and decide that I need to make peace with the situation. If he's not getting convicted, he should at least learn how dangerous his drunken behavior is. I track him down on Facebook and send him a private message.
It takes me four drafts to get the wording right—ironically, I don't want to seem overly aggressive and scare him off. It reads:
So you probably weren't expecting a message from me, but I felt like I should get in touch. I'd personally really like to talk to you about what happened over summer, seeing as you seem quite unaware of how upset I was about it. I also really want to move on from it, as the whole thing has put enough strain on my life as it is. This might sound quite random, but I'd like to go for a coffee or something if you're around. But it's up to you—just let me know.
Half an hour later, my phone buzzes and adrenaline kicks in. He claims that he isn't sure what he did, but that his behavior "has clearly caused a problem that needs to be discussed face to face." We agree to go for coffee the same week.
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As I relay my story about that night, his body language slowly changes. He can no longer look me in the eye, focusing on the plate of crumbs in front of him instead. He doesn't interrupt, until I tell him what happened on the living room sofa: "You got on top of me. I was telling you to stop but you forced your hands down my underwear anyway. Don't you know how awful that is?"
"No!" he shouts, tearing up. "That doesn't sound like me at all." I ask him whether he thinks I'm lying. He says that he does believe me, but that he's a good person at heart.
Seeing him on the verge of tears feels oddly empowering. I press on, and ask him whether he always treats women this way; whether he knows that what he did is a criminal offence. I tell him that if I hear about any other incidents, I will testify against him. He apologizes desperately, telling me that he will reevaluate his drinking behavior.
Before we leave, he says, "It felt good to clear the air. Perhaps we could even become friends?". I tell him that will never happen. I haven't seen him since.
Not everyone supported me after the ordeal, and so I wanted to try and fix the situation on my own. I wanted to ultimately become my own savior; I wanted to shake him to his core, like he did to me. Sitting across from him in that coffee shop, it felt like the tables had finally turned.
Every once in a while, I mistakenly see him on public transport, and my stomach twists into a tight knot. But I'll never let him scare me again.