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Friday 23 March 2018

Pervert's arrest has brought some closure after my ordeal

But having paid a price for being fearless, I'll never again put myself in harm's way, writes Jennifer Bray

TWO years ago, I would have brazenly described myself as fearless. Sure, I had heard horror stories about the things that happen to women in Dublin city centre. But it didn't really matter because I never thought that it would happen to me, and that's how it goes -- you can never really fully grasp something until you've been through it yourself.

So when wiser voices told me things like, "Don't walk around O'Connell Street after nine o'clock," I'd shrug it off as paranoia, and when the same people said, "Don't sit upstairs on Dublin Bus in the evening if you're alone," I'd forget it because I was arrogant and I thought I knew better.

And as a victim of the arrogance of youth I paid the price in both scenarios, though I can't talk about the first right now, I can at last breathe a sigh of relief and talk about the second piece of advice that I never thought I'd regret ignoring.

One day after work in late 2009, I hopped on the 19A bus out to Finglas, where I used to live. It was the evening, but still bright and warm. I sat upstairs at the front of the half-empty bus on my own, putting in my earphones and mulling over whatever issues had me so occupied at the time.

Less than a minute later, he sat beside me.

I remember being mildly confused as to why he didn't sit in the dozens of other empty seats. I felt him press against me a little and I shifted towards the window. I didn't look at him.

And then I started to feel hemmed in, trapped, claustrophobic. I took out my earphones because I felt a sickening sense of foreboding. Logic started to scream questions like, "Why is he covering his whole body with that grey coat, and that empty schoolbag?" Or worse, "What the hell is he doing under there," because it started to become obvious that he was up to something sinister.

I was wearing a knee-length brown skirt, but with a coat on my lap and my handbag on top of that it didn't register at first that he was starting to run his hand along my leg, trying to edge up my skirt. His spare hand, that is, because he was in fact masturbating under the coat.

I felt sick to the pit of my stomach, and I wondered in a daze why I was still sitting in complete stillness while he carried on and began to become more than a little bit vocal, groaning to himself. I know now I was in shock. I looked him full in the face, maybe hoping that he'd look at me and say, "Oh, sorry!" in my naivety. I don't remember if he looked back at me.

No such luck though, because he carried on, shifting around in a more exaggerated way and pressing me into the window. But a really awful situation could have become worse if it had not been for a man, who was around my age, and who copped on to what was happening. He appeared out of nowhere, in my memory at least, and demanded to know "what the hell" my attacker was doing.

Before I could say anything, the man leapt up from the seat and ran off the bus so fast that I wondered if it had even happened.

But it did, and not because I am a martyr or because of any misjudged surge of self-pity, I did not let this go. I insisted on making a statement to gardai, I wrote about it at least three times in the paper, and arising from that I personally met his other victims. I kept him in my mind, and I kept myself downstairs on Dublin Bus when I had to travel on it.

Mid-last week, he was caught at it again, sticking his hand all the way up another woman's skirt. And at last, after all this time and many more attacks, he was arrested.

He will face a whole series of charges in the coming days. And as for myself, I feel a bit safer now but I will never be the same as I was two years ago. I certainly will never feel as stupidly fearless again.

Sunday Independent

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