I was groped on the street by a stranger – but I took my power back

He did what any coward would – he pretended it wasn’t him. But it was him and he knows it. And now, thanks to almost 1,000 retweets of his image, so do a whole lot of other people

Ria Lina
Tuesday 17 May 2016 10:41 BST
A busy shopping street in London: 'A man was walking in the opposite direction towards me; directly towards me'
A busy shopping street in London: 'A man was walking in the opposite direction towards me; directly towards me'

I’ve got power. Did you know that? If you look closely, you can see it in my Twitter picture and my Facebook status. I have power, and I use it all the time. But this week I almost lost it – because I was groped on the street.

It happened as I was walking and talking on the phone. I was using a headset, and my hands were by my sides.

It’s a wide pavement where I walked, along London’s High Holborn, and the streets were not crowded at 10.30am. But a man was walking in the opposite direction towards me; directly towards me. There was no need for him to walk anywhere near as close as he did.

As he approached, he took his hand out of his pocket. That set off a signal in my mind: I immediately put my hand to my jacket pocket over my phone, because I assumed he might be about to attempt to pickpocket me. How wrong I was.

Now he was so close I had no time to change direction. As I swerved to avoid him he reached out with his hand, grabbed what he could, and brushed his full body alongside mine – and then kept on walking, as if nothing had happened.

I watched as he casually put his hand back in his pocket, not changing speed and only marginally straightening his path as he left me – his quarry – in the distance. It happened in a matter of seconds, and then I came to. I was still on the telephone.

“Hello? Ria? Are you still there?” my friend asked.

“Yes, I’m still here. But… a man just groped me.”

I said it out loud, and nonchalantly. My first thought was simply ‘that just happened’. Like it was normal, like it happens every day. Because it does – but, of course, it shouldn’t.

My second thought was ‘at least he didn’t get anything’. I meant my material possessions, that he hadn’t stolen anything from my pocket. But he did get something: he got my dignity, my power, my right to be me. And when I realised that, I got angry.

If there is one thing I hated as a bullied nerd in high school, it was that feeling of regret after the event. “If only I had said that”, I would rage. “I wish I thought of that at the time…” I would make personal vows: “Next time that happens…”

This was my next time. This was my chance to do something, and do it now.

So I turned around and followed the man back up the street. Racing through my mind were all the times I watched videos on the internet and thought “wasn’t it fortuitous someone thought to film this”. Here was a coming together of all those little thoughts into one moment of action: I took out my phone, camera at the ready, and the man stopped and turned to look before he crossed the street; I took his picture.

No more anonymity for you, buster. You might have got your sexual kicks when you grabbed me for a second or two, but I have your face. In my phone. And, now, on Twitter – forever.

With that, I turned around and kept walking. He didn’t follow me, though I was prepared to run, scream and raise hell if he tried anything. He did what any coward would: pretended it wasn’t him. But it was him. He knows it and I know it. And now, thanks to almost 1,000 retweets (and climbing), so do a whole lot of other people.

Police have taken a statement and are circulating the picture as they don’t believe it was a first offence.

So yes, I have power. I almost lost it when a bully tried to take what didn’t belong to him. But I got it back. And I’m stronger than ever now.

Ria Lina is a stand-up comedian, cabaret performer and writer for BBC Radio 4

This story was amended on Tuesday 17th May

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