“The Bus Smells of Shit Since You Came In”
Warning: I’ve never provided a warning for this blog before, but today’s post contains explicit language and a description of an experience that some people might find distressing.
The bus pulled up. I saw a buggy in the wheelchair space so I braced myself for a battle, but none came. The driver lowered the ramp, and as my carer Bovie pushed me on board, I could see there was plenty of room for me and the sleeping child in the pushchair. But my relief was short-lived.
As I manoeuvred my wheelchair into the designated spot I became aware of a woman at the back of the bus shouting at me. What followed was ten minutes of extreme verbal abuse directed at me simply because I’m disabled.
Every time I moved or ticced the woman screamed “Evil spirit”, angrily gesturing at me. Other passengers looked disapprovingly at her but nobody said a word. The stream of abuse was relentless.
After a minute I said, “I’m not evil”. Her yelling intensified and she said “You are evil, because you’re disabled.”
Bovie told me to ignore her. As soon as she used my name, the woman used it too so there could be no doubt about who her insults were directed at.
It was clear that engaging with the abuse was not going to change the situation, so instead I made a note of the time on my phone, and wrote down some of the vitriolic language being directed at me and Bovie:
“You’re evil and your carer is evil for helping you.”
“Your pussy smells.”
“The bus smells of shit since you came in.”
“Get your carer to wash your pussy because it smells because of all the discharge.”
“You’ve got shit on your bum because you’re disabled so you can’t wipe yourself.”
“Bang harder on your chest so you have a heart attack and you can be put in a coffin in the ground.”
“Wheelchair woman, you are an evil spirit because you are disabled.”
“Your carer fucks you because no man will pleasure you.”
“Your carer penetrates you.”
All this was punctuated by the frequent repetition of my name, followed by “… is evil” and “… is an evil spirit”. I did my best to ignore this barrage, talking to Bovie or making notes on my phone.
There were six or seven other people on the lower deck of the bus. I smiled at a couple of them but they both seemed uncomfortable, and didn’t respond.
As the woman got off the bus she shouted: “Wash your white cunt.” Then she hurled the bottle she’d been holding straight at me. It hit my leg and ricocheted onto the floor.
Bovie checked that I was OK, and I made a note of the stop that the woman got out at. I called 101, the police’s non-emergency number, to report what had happened. I did this because the level of aggression had been so high, and because I was worried the woman might target other disabled people, particularly those travelling alone.
I shouldn’t need to justify ringing the police. But throughout the incident and afterwards I had felt a strange internal pressure to minimise what was happening, not make a fuss, and to explain it away.
This feeling was reinforced by the lack of reaction from my fellow passengers. For ten minutes everyone on the lower deck had listened to this intense public defamation of my body, my life, and my value. And then it stopped.
The total silence that followed left me feeling as exposed and isolated as I’d felt while it was happening.
It’s not that I wanted anyone to step in and defend me – I just desperately needed someone else on the bus to acknowledge what had just taken place.
I’ve thought carefully whether I should write about this or not, and about how much detail to share, and I’ve concluded that putting distressing experiences like this on record, in their ugly entirety, is important. It’s important because if the hatred behind incidents like this remains invisible it won’t get challenged.
Sadly my experience of hate-related abuse is far from unique. In 2015/16 there were 62,518 offences recorded by the police, a 19% increase on the previous year, which in turn had been an 18% increase on the year before that.
3,629 of these crimes were related to disability, but that’s very unlikely to be the full story. The Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates that there are approximately 62,000 disability-motivated hate crimes per year but that the vast majority (94%) go unreported.
If my experience today is something you’re familiar with, or if something like it happens in future, remember that you’re not alone, that it’s not acceptable, and that you’re not to blame. You can get support from Stop Hate or Victim Support, and information on how to report hate crime is available here, and in easy read, here.
I understand that this post may be shocking. While it’s not my responsibility to make it palatable, I do think it’s our shared responsibility as a society to prevent people from being targeted for who they are or appear to be. No one should have to absorb hatred and aggression because of prejudiced assumptions made about them.
So sorry that this happened to you. It must have been very shocking and upsetting not least because of the lack of support from anyone else on the bus which was shameful. The trauma of being abused like that is shocking to deal with but the lack of support really does compound it. I hope you recover from this, hopefully by writing about it publicly it will encourage more of us to think how much our own lack of action in a situation like this is just as bad as the abuse that’s being doled out.
I hope the incident is being followed up and I apologise for the other passengers on the bus for not supporting you. I hope I wouldn’t have behaved like them. Your reaction is perfectly understandable – I can relate to that, but it can be difficult for people who have not been abused to understand how a ‘victim’ reacts. And isn’t it annoying how one person who obviously has major issues of their own can so negatively affect us. Try to remember the hundreds of people who love you lots xxx
I’m sorry this vile verbiage and physical assault was directed at you – or anyone.
I’d like to think that if I had been on the bus I would have done something to support you……….but, because you obviously experience this behaviour more than I do (because my disability is usually relatively invisible) I would like to ask, what support would have been most useful to you?
Hi Jess, this unprovoked and hideous attack was disgusting.As was the complete lack of support from the other passengers.You have been in my thoughts since I read this yesterday.I could not have stayed silent as you were abused like this.She should have been put off the bus.Clear disability hate crime.Hope it was caught on camera.I have SPMS, and need someone with me if I am ever on a bus.My 14 year old has recently been diagnosed with Tourettes (with coprolalia).What was that saying again? "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing" Edmund Burke.
It’s so sad to hear of how you were treated, sounds to me very much like this person had a much more severe disability than they realised. Just carry on doing what you do, thankfully it’s very small minority that are as disturbed as this particular person. And if I ever see anyone acting like that in public, or anywhere else for that matter, I will be sure to stand up and be counted. Chin up!
How horrible. Sharing this experience is very brave. And very important.
Your body, your life, your value. All powerful and precious.
You will receive the total utter absolutely opposite response tomorrow when A New Direction and Studio Wayne McGregor welcome you back to the Tate Exchange. We can’t wait to have you on board.
See you then!