Is Hong Kong as safe as we act like it is? As safe as it seems to be? As safe as the newspapers say?
My Thursday night began like any other weeknight out would: meet up with friends, have a few cocktails, walk home in time to get plenty of sleep before a day’s work tomorrow. I take the same path home every time I’m coming from Central; I almost always walk it alone and last night was no different… until I was assaulted.
A man was walking the opposite direction as me, which in a city of 7,000,000 is nothing to be worried about. I noticed him, but he didn’t look suspicious, so I didn’t pay him much attention. Even as we crossed paths, I didn’t expect anything. But in an instant, I felt the guy grab my chest – I didn’t even see him do it, but I screamed and he ran. It was over in two seconds. I turned around to see where he’d gone, but only out of instinct, because for the next two minutes my feet were literally frozen to the ground. My mouth did its fair share of screaming expletives at his fading figure, but I could not move. I checked my purse and nothing had been stolen, except a piece of my dignity. (Someone did stop and ask if I was okay and if anything had been taken. A part of mankind-ness returned.)
There was nothing more I could do. I couldn’t chase him now – that chance had gone – so I walked home, texting my girlfriends the ‘WTF just happened?!’ Whatsapp message. Just like friends do, they made sure I was okay, that I’d made it home safely, and told me to call the police. I scoffed a bit because what could they do? Return my pride? Who would they catch with my spotty description? Then a friend told me that she’d heard about a similar story with someone she knew. And my boyfriend reminded me that it could happen to someone else, so no harm could come from telling the authorities about it. I have an early morning, I tried to convince myself, I don’t have time for this. So after bidding my farewells via text, I turned out the lights, shaken but not afraid.
The second my head hit the pillow, the guilt set in. What if another unsuspecting girl could keep her dignity because I told the police? So, I made the call and after a two-hour ordeal telling multiple police officers my story, I finally lay back in bed again and bawled. I was ashamed (put in any number of adjectives here) that it had happened to me, but relieved that I’d done something about it. While walking in the early morning sunlight on my way to work the next day, I jumped and shrieked when I heard someone running behind me. It was only a woman trying to catch her bus, but it still freaked me out.
I’m not telling this story to garner sympathy or to get my name on another article, but I’m writing this as a warning to us girls. We all put our parents’ minds at ease by telling them that Hong Kong is one of the safest cities in the world and that it’s fine to be alone almost anywhere. I still truly believe that statement, having come from a city where crime is rampant, but the real reason I wanted to tell my story is as a cautionary tale. Throughout my four hours of intermittent sleep that night, a list of tips formed in my head:
1. Don’t walk home alone
Find a friend walking the same direction as you and if that isn’t possible, then hop in a taxi. I often refuse to take one because of the one-way streets that completely take me out of the way and rack up more money the further I go, but what’s more important – a few bucks or your personal safety?
2. Put down the phone!
Though my phone was safely stored in my handbag last night, I am often guilty of drunk dialling my boyfriend overseas. We’re the smart phone generation and it seems that technology is permanently attached to our hands… but put it down for the 10-minute walk home. If you really have something to say, you can say in when you’ve made it safely inside your locked doors.
3. Be aware of your surroundings
I’ve taken the same route home hundreds of times and never had a problem, so noticing every detail about who’s walking past me and where I am slips my mind. But once that phone is put away and your eyes are pealed, you can pay attention and if something does occur, you’ll be able to fully explain the details.
4. If something does happen to you, tell the authorities
Yes, I endured two hours of telling my story over and over again, but maybe, just maybe, the [insert your favourite cuss word here] will get caught and can never do it again. And, I’m happy to report that the guy who did it to me WAS caught a day later, assaulting another girl in the exact same location. If I hadn’t told, I wouldn’t have the satisfaction of knowing he’d been caught and I also wouldn’t have given more conviction to proving his guilt.
I’m not frightened that it will happen again because I can’t live my life in fear, but I certainly am still pissed… that he violated me, that he took a piece of my dignity, that I froze when my adrenaline should have kicked in, and that he took a part of my feeling safe in Hong Kong. My being pissed off will soon be replaced with relief that something worse didn’t happen and that I’m safe, healthy, and hopefully learned a few lessons along the way.