In 2007, I packed up my belongings and drove seven hours to my new home in South Yorkshire, England. I knew no one, but that was the point of university, wasn’t it? I could be whoever I wanted; I had broken free.
Perhaps my biggest mistake was not doing much research on the town before I moved there. If I had, I may have had second thoughts on my choice of location.
I lived with 12 guys in two houses that had been knocked into one, close to the town. They were all studying music and spent a lot of time drinking and listening to loud metal bands in our shared living room. They were messy and smelled but they became family quickly.
They also partied, hard, and there a few times I found myself propped up by them, guiding me back to our home at the top of the steep hill.
However, on the night I was attacked, I was stone-cold sober.
I’d spent the day in London, trying to secure an internship at a startup magazine for the following year, and my train had been delayed for hours. I was cold and tired, and all I wanted to get back to my room, close my blinds and get under the covers.
To get from the train station to my house, I could either walk the 30 minutes through the town centre or take a taxi. I’d already spent my remaining money for that week on an overpriced sandwich at London’s Euston station, so paying someone to drive me home wasn’t an option.
I opted for the 30 minute walk, which would take me through the main square and up through a safe housing estate. It was Friday night, and the town would be filled with jovial students saying goodbye to their friends for the Christmas break, so the usual dark and empty streets didn’t worry me.
Changing my heels for trainers, I slung my backpack over my shoulder, put on my hat, gloves and scarf, and left the warmth of the new station into the wintery night. It was 11 pm and beginning to snow again. The snow that fell was never pure white, it had a grey tinge to it, and I always found that strange.
I continued to wondering about the colour of this northern snow as I reached the main square in the centre of town, it was 11.17 pm. I remember the time vividly because as I looked up at the clock tower I was overcome by intense pain in my head.
My housemates saw the attack take place from a local pub. They were sat by the window and saw me battling against the snow. Two of them were on their way out to pull me inside when I was hit.
I remember little about the minute of abuse I took but thinking back now, it felt like a lifetime.
In the heavy blanket of falling snow and my cold weather attire, I had been mistaken for someone else. A group of young women had seen me from across the square and decided to teach whoever they thought I was a lesson. I had never met these women before and was actively trying to avoid the groups of drunk people as I walked home.
They attacked me with their stiletto heels and bottles of alcopops they were holding. It turns out a stiletto is a worthy weapon when wielded the correct way. They hit me in the head with the bottle first, which knocked me to the ground and then began hitting me in the face with their heels. After this, they decided to kick and punch me while I was on the ground until a nearby group of men pulled them off me.
I was told in the hospital that I was lucky. The cuts from the sharp heels were very close to my eyes and I would need stitches and stay there overnight for observation. I was able to leave the next evening, and my housemates came to collect me from the hospital.
I think deep down they felt bad. I was their unintentional mascot, who taught them to boil pasta and colour categorise their laundry. I helped them grow up in those first three months of university and they hadn’t helped me when I needed them.
The women were arrested shortly after they were pulled off me. It turned out they were local underage girls, who had been out drinking and were looking for a fight. They had been in the pub my housemates were in and had been asked to leave when they smashed an entire tray of glasses.
When I arrived at court two weeks later, I was there to give the story I remembered, and my housemates and the group of men came to testify for me. Photos of my face were shown to the judge and the report from the police was read. It was a surreal experience, as I had been in the same court only days earlier, reporting on cases for the local newspaper I was working at part-time while I studied. To be on the other side of the bench was strange.
The three women who attacked me were all 16, so they were only given Youth Community Orders. That was their punishment for attacking an innocent bystander, who could have lost their sight.
After the hearing, I went home for a few weeks. I was angry at the injustice of the decision and I was still healing. I needed my mother’s tenderness, to tell me everything would be ok.
After three weeks of being at home, I realised I needed to return to university. If I stayed at home any longer, I would never have gone back. I moved into the student accommodation shortly after returning to university. The additional locked doors and onsite security officers were a a safety blanket for me. I made new friends quickly, and they knew why I often didn’t go out to party with them. They accepted me in my marginally broken state.
I graduated three years later and moved back down the country to be nearer London. I’ve never been back to my university town in the ten years since I left.
To look at me, you would never think I had dozens of stitches weaved through my face. The physical damage I endured from the attack faded quickly but the psychological harm inflicted on me is still an issue.
I’m less outgoing than I used to be, and I often wonder if I still had that sociable nature, if I would have gone further in my career. Would I be more of a go-getter if I hadn’t been attacked and humiliated? Would my university experience have been heightened by going out with my friends more, rather than staying in the safety of my dorm room? I believe it would have been.
I keep an eye on the women who attacked me. One went to prison for drug charges three years after I graduated. The other two are married and have children and appear to lead very normal lives.
I often deliberate if they think about me and what I did with my life. They certainly shaped my future, I wonder if I did theirs.