The power that acts of bravery wield
When I was eighteen years old, I had the misfortunate of being abducted at knifepoint and sexually assaulted in a park near my home. It was broad daylight. There were people in the park. People I knew.
I used my wits and was able to get away. I even managed to get the attacker’s name and phone number from him by pretending to be interested in him. Incredible I know, but my attacker was also a teen, and obviously stupid.
After the assault, I was afraid to report it to the police. I was shamed. I felt humiliated. I especially did not want my family to find out. I did not want to disappoint them, worry them, or make them feel terrible. Besides, I thought, I was fine.
But I was not fine.
My world got a lot smaller that day. The neighbourhood I had grown up in, the streets I had freely roamed as a girl, were suddenly unsafe. Every person I now passed on the street was a reason to cause fear and anxiety to bubble up in my chest and course through my veins. There were more and more reasons to stay at home. There were more and more reasons to become withdrawn and disempowered. My panic attacks hit an all-time high.
I confided in two people about my assault: my best friend and my boyfriend. My best friend was concerned. My boyfriend was incensed. All of us felt powerless. But that was all to change.
A few months after the assault, my boyfriend, his brother, and I were walking down the lower section of the main street of my hometown, a long 40-block thoroughfare that stretched from mountain to sea. It was a beautiful day and we were in high spirits, heading to our favorite hangout spot, a public market. Suddenly, crossing in front of us to head into a local arcade was none other than my attacker.
I turned as white as a sheet and stopped walking. Clutching at my boyfriend’s arm, I whispered, “Oh my God, that’s him. That’s the guy who raped me.” My boyfriend’s brother, who was walking a few steps ahead of us, circled back to question me, “Are you sure? Are you 100% sure?”
“Yes. That’s him,” I said. There was no mistaking him. The face that had hovered above mine while his hands pressed a knife my throat. A trauma like that has a way of burning itself into one’s brain.
Before I knew what was happening, the brothers had thrown their coats at me and were heading inside the arcade. I stood on the street and the whole world seemed to slow down. Inwardly I was shaking, not knowing what would happen.
Would they beat the guy to a pulp? Put the fear of God into him? Or would they get beat up in return?
About a minute later, they reappeared on the street, hauling my attacker out by his shirt. Following close behind was the owner of the arcade and several of the attacker’s friends. Before me, the scene erupted in a flurry of male voices and posturing. The owner of the arcade was shouting for my boyfriend to let go of the guy, stating that he was a nice boy and never caused any trouble. My boyfriend yelled that he was making a citizen’s arrest and asked the arcade owner to call the police. Incredulously, the owner refused. The attacker’s friends were circling him, confused, not sure whether to jump to his defense or let the scene play out. I recall some words designed to defuse the situation, to try to get my boyfriend to let go of the guy. He didn’t, of course.
Unbelievably, my boyfriend’s brother had to ask me for a quarter to call the police from a payphone across the street. I produced one, and away he ran, cutting in front of a bus to call the police to the situation. Then he ran back to help his brother with might and muscle.
Meanwhile, I stood there, watching the situation. Taking in the shocked look on the guy’s face: the fear at having two men grab him unawares, the shame at being caught in front of people who seemingly respected him. I watched, as to an extent, Karma came to visit him. My heart was in my throat seeing him again.
The panic seized me, but yet a different feeling arose. One I had never felt before.
It was a feeling of validation, of being worthy of being protected. Never had anyone performed an act of bravery on my behalf, and it was quite overwhelming. These brothers had risked an ass-kicking for me. In a way, it was also humbling.
When someone performs an act of bravery on your behalf, it has a habit of positively affecting you for the rest of your life. Thirty-three years have passed since this incident and I still think about it from time to time. A lot has happened in my life in the intervening years to invalidate me emotionally, including a decade long toxic relationship. Sometimes it is necessary to look into my bag of tricks and pull out experiences that confirm my worth. This experience is in my arsenal. When I meditate on it, I am humbled anew that those two wonderful men stood up for my honour that day.
When faced with a chance to act, to right a wrong, they did not tremble in fear, but did what had to be done so that I could feel safe, so that many women could feel safe. Women they could never know.
I will be forever grateful for that. I will forever be awed. Forever humbled.
So, the police arrived in short order, the guy was taken into custody and we all headed to the police station to give statements. The attacker confessed to the crime and so I did not have to testify in court. Thank God!
The months and years passed, my boyfriend and I parted ways, and life went on in the way that life does. In early 2002, I was reunited with my old boyfriend, and we’ve often spoken of this event. He knows how I feel about it, and I will share this story with him in the off chance that I haven’t articulated to him enough just how important this simple act of coming to my defense those many years ago has meant in my life. I’m pretty confident that long-ago act is something he feels proud of. If he doesn’t, he should. He and his brother were true heroes that day. And heroes are so hard to come by.