A few weeks ago I wrote a Budget Traveling Post on Traveling Europe by Coach and of course I always practice what I preach. Last week Saturday I took Ouibus from Rennes to Paris for the weekend to meet up with a friend from the Bahamas. This wasn’t my first rodeo as I’ve been traveling with Ouibus since last year.
Once I got settled on the bus I took out my notebook to plan our weekend in Paris, the drive from Rennes is 4 and half hours so I had lots of time to plan everything and have a nap. Immediately after we left the station and were on our way, I felt the person behind me gripping the back of my chair. I turned around and his hands were white knuckled on the chair and he was leaning forward. Naturally, I thought he must be sensitive and experiencing motion sickness so I didn’t say anything right away. Perhaps though in hindsight I should have been ‘that bitch’ that asked him to remove his hand but again I was being empathetic not knowing I would suffer for it later.
The Dark Side
About half an hour into the ride I felt his fingers moving as if caressing the chair and so again I turned around and adjusted myself in the seat so he could get the picture. He removed his hands immediately and I settled back into my seat drafting my plan of action for Paris. My friend Michelle called me she was at CDG and needed my help navigating the airport to get to the trains. While talking I began feeling the caress again but not against the chair this time, it was quite deliberate and against my arm. At this point I’m speaking in English of course, and I’m not sure if that was the catalyst to embolden this man to touch me but that is when it began. Incredulous, I said to my friend “I think the guy behind me is trying to feel me up but I’m not sure because he was gripping the chair earlier as if he was sick.” After communicating her outrage and moved forward in my seat again and looked behind me noticing that he was still bent over his head against the back of the chair and I watched him move his hand. I realized he couldn’t speak English because if he could then he would have heard my accusation (passive aggressive I know), but once I sat back and hung up the phone he got even more brazen.
Shock is not an adequate word. I was paralyzed with incredulity and fear at the sheer audacity of the human being behind me.
Solo Travel is one of the most enriching experiences you can have in your life. I’ve been traveling solo since I was 17 and did it extensively at 21 when took a European Adventure across 13 countries and over 20 cities back in 2006. As a woman traveling solo there are always dangers to consider. There must be constant vigilance at all times but the level of security protocol in your mind of course always depends country to country. I’ve been living in France now for almost 2 years, and using Ouibus as a means of travel between my city and Paris because of its affordability. I have never encountered what I am about to share with you. Shock is not an adequate word. I was paralyzed with incredulity and fear at the sheer audacity of the human being behind me.
My concentration was broken by the touch of a hand just under my breast. He wasn’t being coy about it any longer; my assailant had decided to go in for the kill.
The bus came to a pause at a small town about an hour into our journey to pick up more passengers. We were again on our way to Paris and having already completed a skeleton of an itinerary I decided to read a little bit. My concentration was broken by the touch of a hand just under my breast. He wasn’t being coy about it any longer; my assailant had decided to go in for the kill. I cannot describe to you how and what I felt in that moment. I took my phone out because I couldn’t see what he was doing I could only feel it and honestly again I was paralyzed by shock and fear interwoven like a vice around my neck. I took a video with my phone and hit his hand away and which time he grabbed my hand and a tug of war began until I got free of his grip and hit him again a few times for good measure breaking a nail in the process. He finally withdrew.
Immediately I sent the video to my friends from back home; we have a whatsapp chat group. Naturally they exploded in righteous indignation and even ask why I was sitting there just letting it happen. Which I had to explain I wasn’t but if somehow I was pushed to violence and I got in trouble I needed the proof. What I couldn’t explain was how I needed to take the video to prove to myself that it was actually happening. Honestly, even recounting this story to you now seems beyond belief that a grown man on a crowded Coach would be so audacious and sexually assault a woman in France in broad daylight.
However, this is not the first time I was sexually assaulted in public by an Arab man in France and it wasn’t the first time that the people around me saw what was happening and did nothing to help me.
I heard his phone ring and he answered and the language he spoke was not French but Arabic and immediately I understood how and why he was doing what he was doing not bothered by any possible consequence. I’m a staunch feminist. People that know me, know that I have no problems passionately defending myself and what I believe in but I can tell you in this moment that I was afraid to act. I try not to judge others by creed, nationality or race, especially being a black woman I know first-hand what it’s like to be judged at face value. However, this is not the first time I was sexually assaulted in public by an Arab man in France and it wasn’t the first time that the people around me saw what was happening and did nothing to help me.
I was too afraid to make a scene again I felt like no one would believe or help me and in moments of stress and high emotion it is almost impossible for me to explain myself in French.
I had a moment of reprieve while he answered his call and I looked at my neighbor sitting next to me but he was asleep, I looked behind me to the man sitting next to him and he looked directly at me as if he knew but said nothing. A non-verbal exchange passed between us, me pleading with my eyes his own eyes meeting mine with indifference, and so I turned around. Why should I expect these men to come to my aid in some way? I tried to relax but at this point I’m shaken to my core and the PTSD is setting in. Childhood memories surfacing, I felt so powerless and the tears started at the same time he began touching me again. This time he went lower and pushing his hand away or hitting him was not a deterrent it was almost as if he liked the opposition. I reached forward again to escape his hands and took a post-it out of my Passion Planner and wrote on it in French “STOP TOUCHING ME!” I was too afraid to make a scene again I felt like no one would believe or help me and in moments of stress and high emotion it is almost impossible for me to explain myself in French.
I sat back and his hand was immediately there and I shoved the paper in it and hit it as hard as I could against the panel of the bus (we were both sitting at the window seat). I heard the rustle of the paper as he opened it and read it. Holding my breath and hoping that finally he would stop I began reading from my kindle again. The paper was passed back, as if this scenario couldn’t get any more bizarre. He wrote back in French “I’m sorry please, have fun with me please.”
Again I looked behind me to his neighbor pleading with him and again his eyes met mine just before he looked away. I wanted to scream at all the injustice in the world but I didn’t. I remained silent so uncharacteristic of who I am.
I saw red, and in that moment I felt truly homicidal and all sorts of scenes began playing out in my head of me turning around and attacking him and beating him until they pulled me off of him. Violence all I felt was violence until the rational-logical part of my brain said to me you are not only a woman but a black foreign woman stop. The rage quieted, replaced by a feeling of hopelessness and the tears began again and so did his hand this time on my shoulder. His fingers were clammy and felt disgusting and again I fought him. Trust me when I tell you that all this did was make him more aggressive. Again I looked behind me to his neighbor pleading with him and again his eyes met mine just before he looked away. I wanted to scream at all the injustice in the world but I didn’t. I remained silent so uncharacteristic of who I am.
I walked around the store unable to go outside because the sky had opened up and was crying with me.
Finally we pulled into the rest stop and the driver announced we had a 30 minute break. I couldn’t get off that bus fast enough. After using the bathroom and gathering myself I approached the driver. Mentally formulating what I was going to say in French. I started by asking him if there were any free seats to which he replied he wasn’t sure seeing as though it was pretty full. I asked if I could switch seats if there was a free one and he said sure. I couldn’t bring myself to mention the assault on my person. I was ashamed and a child again keeping secrets from my parents about what was happening to me at the hands of family friends. I walked around the store unable to go outside because the sky had opened up and was crying with me.
I didn’t even see him until he was in front of me saying “Bonjour” and the only words out of my mouth with a hand in his face was a very loud “NO!” and I knew I was particularly loud because people turned to look.
What happened next just added insult to injury. He approached me in the store as if he was a decent human being deserving of conversation. I didn’t even see him until he was in front of me saying “Bonjour” and the only words out of my mouth with a hand in his face was a very loud “NO!” and I knew I was particularly loud because people turned to look. My escape was instantaneous, deciding the rain was better than being in the same vicinity as him I went outside and headed back to the bus to find a seat.
I ended up sitting in a seat belonging to an elderly couple so begrudgingly I went back to my seat and asked my neighbor to change places with me so that I would be in the aisle. I told him why and he said yes I saw. He saw but did nothing to help me. That is when I knew if I had caused I scene I would have been the culprit and no one would have come to my defense.
The final hour I finally had peace. I didn’t dare glance behind me afraid of what I might do or say. Another friend called and I started telling him what happened and I began to cry again. Even now writing this and reliving what happen I am an emotional wreck.
Tips for being Safe
Giving tips or advice to deal with these sort of situations I think is pretty useless. It is so easy to say “you should do this” or “don’t do this” but when you are in that moment and you feel powerless and scared no matter how much fire you have in your everyday life that feeling of paralysis snuffs it out real quick.
My only tip is to fight back. Don’t drown in the fear. To be honest there were moments were I did. There was about five minutes that I sat while tears just slide down my face and he was just touching me even after I was hitting him, even after I told him to stop, even after I kept pushing his hands away and he continued and I just gave him until his hands were at the side of my waist trying to go into my pants and again I was catapulted into action to fight back.
Ladies there is so much work to do in terms of us having rights. That day I was reminded of all of the struggles we face. When traveling alone as a woman remember to take in your surroundings. Notice who is near you on buses, trains and airplanes. If you feel uncomfortable ask to switch seats or be seated next to a woman.
I took the bus back to Rennes last Monday. I was assigned a seat next to a man again but the bus was not full so I moved to sit alone and no one was behind me.
Stay safe while chasing Wanderlust.