I was riveted to read that Ione Wells, an Oxford student, aged 20, was savagely attacked on a London street. She then wrote about the experience for her university paper and has now hit the national news. She has kick-started her career as a journalist, and discovered that a woman reporter can often do well by cannibalising her own life, as long as she is a good writer, which Ione seems to be.
Her story was interesting to me because in 1982, just after I came to London, I was attacked whilst walking home in South London. It was a violent attack, the perpetrator tried to strangle me before attempting rape. Like Ione, I was rescued by a local person.
I was attacked by an Afro-Caribbean youth at a time when mugging and assaults on women were rife in south London. As a new arrival I was astonished and dismayed by the violence on the streets around Brixton and Stockwell at that time. The main difference is that when I wrote my piece, which appeared in the Guardian, my first feature in a national paper, I said my attacker was black, and speculated on the reasons that young men in that community were so violent. Ione, perhaps reflecting the culture which surrounds the young, only alludes but does not say what nationality her attacker was.
Using the word ‘Community,’ she mentions, ‘my community,’ which suggests he came from a different one, she employs a code. Of course I could be wrong, but she also mentions the 7/7 bombings and the story has been covered in the Asian press on line. Neither the BBC, as you would expect, nor the national papers, not even the Daily Mail alludes to the attacker’s ethnicity.
She is probably wise to have written such an allusive, oblique piece. When mine was published I was reported to something called, ‘The Race Today Collective.’ A Brixton based Marxist group dedicated militant anti-racism, or as the Americans called it, Black Power.
They had a magazine, Race Today, edited by Darcus Howe, referred to last year by MP Diane Abbott as, ‘A living embodiment of the struggle against police racism.’
I was battered and bruised with a sore neck from the thumbs pressing on my wind-pipe, but I was also suddenly in deep waters. But I have to say I was so pleased to see myself in print that I didn’t much care who they were, or that they didn’t like me. But I did suffer a lot among my friends and neighbours. I lived in a rented hovel with some young nurses in the flat above. One of them told me that although they were constantly stopped on the street by young black men, none of them had been physically attacked, so it suggested to them that I was guilty of ‘racist body language.’
In my fragile state of mind, this news depressed me very much. A friend of mine from university seemed to despise me for being in that invidious position, a victim of people she saw for political reasons, entirely as victims.
‘Of course if you let them see you are scared, they will attack you,’ she told me patronisingly. I was astonished that their behaviour was quite acceptable, and my fault. Even as a radical feminist, the fact that the attackers were black made them exempt from criticism. I also remember that she had a car, bought for her by her father, and was therefore able to avoid the long dangerous walk home from the tube station.
The results of all this made me feel bitter and alienated from the young people who had been my friends. I became more cautious in going out, more unhappy living in that area, my first experience of life in London had been a disaster. And from being extremely left wing, applauding the people behind the Brixton riots, I became at best a watchful liberal.
Ione Wells will have been changed too. No girl gets up from the pavement after a violent assault as the same young person who set out that evening. We both got up to find ourselves recognised as journalists, but our thoughts and feelings about our society were changed. She doesn’t live in London, so she doesn’t have to deal with that environment. Hopefully she has supportive parents and warm and sympathetic friends. Perhaps they no longer have that hard Left ideology which insisted that only white people could be racist. She says she ‘will not be defeated,’ so she is taking a positive approach. But it is sad that she has learned as I did, that life in England today is frequently about conflict, that walking home alone in London is a very dangerous thing to do, and much worse than that, attacks on young women are often political, not so much to do with rampant lust but a product of ethnic conflict.
Of course our experiences might be quite different. The 17 year old lad who did it might well be called something deeply familiar English name, his parents Londoners for generations. I could have got the current codes all wrong. In which case forget everything on this page. We will see when he goes to court on May 6th.