Today I found out (via a facebook status update) that a friend of mine had been mugged in London. Apparently, they roughed him up a bit, broke his glasses and took off with his bike and money. He is thankfully ok, just a little shaken up. As I chatted with him a little, I couldn’t help but remember the time, many years ago, when I was mugged and the effect it had on me for many years following.

I was a college student in Cincinnati, and I was on my way to a bar in the downtown area around 11pm on a Sunday night. The bar I was going to was a gay bar called The Metro. The whole trip down was a bit furtive, as I was not yet out at the time. I parked my car in the area and was walking toward the street where the bar was located when I noticed a group of about six or seven young men (all in their late teens) walking towards me on the same side of the street. For whatever reason, I had a sense of impending danger. I briefly considered crossing the street to avoid them, but I was too close by this point and didn’t want to arouse any suspicion. I walked past them, and just as I was about to breathe a sigh of relief, WHAM! I got hit on the side of my head with a metal rod. I stumbled up and started to run, when I got hit again, this time in the shins, and knocked to the ground. I stumbled up and managed to run away after a few more hits, and was bleeding and disoriented. I made my way towards the bar, where I noticed a police officer out front. I stumbled over to him and told him I had just been mugged, and he asked me where. I pointed back the way I had come and he looked at me (with blood running down the side of my face) and looked at the bar that I was heading to and said “Well, it is too late to do anything now.” (It didn’t occur to me at the time, but his inaction was probably the result of homophobia.)

I fortunately got some help at the bar and was taken to a nearby hospital, where they cleaned me up and determined that my eardrum had been perforated. They asked me if I had filed a police report and I told them no. They insisted this was necessary and called the police. And damn if it wasn’t the same exact cop who showed up, the one who refused to help me on the street. He said he thought I was kidding him before about being attacked. Right, the blood streaming down my face was totally made up too, I thought.

The mugging itself really wasn’t that big a deal. After all, I was relatively unharmed, they had taken my wallet but it only had 20 bucks and my driver’s license in it. I had a few scratches and cuts, but physically it really could have been much worse.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but the worst part of the mugging was the freedom it was to rob me of over the next few years. For several months after the mugging, I avoided going out at night alone. Whereas before I was blissfully unaware of danger and walked where I wanted, after the mugging I stayed inside. If I had to go anywhere, I would call friends to see if they would go with me. And daytime or nighttime, for a very long time I couldn’t stand the sound of footsteps behind me at all. If I sensed there was anyone behind me, I would stop and wait for them to pass. I was paralyzed with fear of being attacked.

Over the years, these fears went away. First, the going out alone became easier and easier. Then, little by little, I stopped caring if people were walking behind me. But it really took a long time, and a lot of effort. I would say the effects of that attack lasted about ten years. And while I feel really free in the present and not constrained, every so often, late at night, on a semi-deserted street I get a chill and remember what happened, and pick up my pace.

My friend’s attack is quite new, having just happened a few hours ago. I dearly hope he is somehow able to avoid the post attack trauma I went through, or that he knows to seek help if he should have these feelings. We fortunately live in a different time and place then when I was attacked, with greater counseling and treatment resources available.