During Melbourne’s busy peak hour it is not uncommon to find oneself, nose to armpit, pressed up against a couple of random strangers. Squeezed together like cattle at the sale yard, we stand there, acknowledging our uncomfortable situation by choosing to ignore it. There is one time though that I wish I hadn’t chosen to ignore my unfortunate predicament.
I was in my final year at high school, my schoolmates all caught the‘eight’ home to their more affluent side of town, but I traipsed alone, to the ‘other’ side. The fifty-seven barrelled its way from the centre of town, delivering me home to my working class suburb. My daily commute was a battle between school kids and office workers; the usual confrontation occurred over minor misdemeanours such as not offering a seat.
On this particular day the tram was packed. Commuters pushed and shoved each other, determined to catch this one, rather than wait another few minutes. I was squeezed up against my fellow passengers like a bargain hunter at the Boxing Day sale. I felt his breath first; a charged breeze against the back of my neck. I could taste his impeding violation, bitter and vile on the tip of my tongue, as I felt him against my back, thrusting along in rhythm with the tram as it swayed along its track.
At least a hundred people could have come to my aid that day, but I was too afraid to ask. Or yell. He left (only after he came) and I never confronted him or saw his face, yet his crime has been permanently imprinted on my mind.
Today, I read about a twelve-year-old boy is who is too traumatised to travel on public transport after being groped on a Melbourne tram. The article said that the boy ‘told the man to stop and then the man continued to try and suggest he do this lewd act on him and when the boy’s raised his voice a bit, the man’s got off at the next tram stop.’ I read on in horror, ‘…meanwhile, police are still searching for a man who indecently assaulted a fourteen-year-old girl on a tram on May 4. When the girl screamed, the man jumped off the tram.’
These incidents may not be related but the common factor (besides the assault) is that children chose to act against their perpetrator. They not only spoke up at the time, they also reported the abuse. With CCTV footage available, and already circulated, in the boy’s case it may not be too long until the man is brought to justice.
I cannot change the events that happened to me on the fifty-seven tram all those years ago, but I have hope for the future by the courage shown by these children.