Here, Judy Langridge, 44, tells the story in her own words.
A￼fter dropping my boys off at day care, I checked my to-do list. Milk, bread, massage, it read.
I worked in disability care and lifting clients had left me with back pain. But a Chinese massage usually eased the ache. So I drove to my usual place in a shopping centre, where I met a masseur I hadn’t seen before. ‘Forty-minute neck, shoulder and back, please,’ I said to him. He showed me into a curtained room, then I lay down on the table, fully clothed. ‘Are you relaxed?’ he asked, in a low voice. There was something about his tone that made me uncomfortable. He sounds a bit sleazy, I thought. ‘Yep,’ I replied firmly, wondering if I’d imagined it.
Starting the massage, he suddenly got on the table and straddled my back. I’d had female therapists do the same, but this was a huge guy bearing his weight down on me.This isn’t right, I thought. But what should I do? I didn’t want to wrongly accuse him of something. Feeling trapped, I stayed quiet. Then, as he touched my shoulders, I noticed a change in his breathing. It got heavier and quicker, like panting, but I couldn’t see what he was doing.All the time, he pushed down on me. Then, I felt his weight shift ominously. He’s going to rub his groin on me! I realised, in horror.Knowing I had to stop whatever this was, I found my voice. ‘Get off me!’ I snapped.‘Oh, what is it?’ he said, feigning innocence. ‘Get off me,’ I repeated loudly. He climbed off, but carried on massaging my back. Frozen in fear, I pictured myself jumping up and running to the police station across the road. But I couldn’t do it. What if I was making a fuss over nothing? Had I really met a pervert between the school run and the supermarket? Dumbstruck, I lay there until the massage was finished. Then, I even handed over my $40. ‘You should try dancing for your back,’ he said, coolly.
Back home, I told my husband Martin, 47, what had happened. He was completely thrown. We usually spoke about what the kids had been up to, or work, and now I was saying I’d been assaulted. Talking things through, I decided not to report it. Part of me felt ashamed and wondered if I’d let it happen. And as he hadn’t touched my bare skin, I wondered if it seemed serious enough. Then, eight months later, in January last year, a familiar face flashed up on the TV screen. Police had arrested massage therapist Xiawen Shen, known as Jack, for groping a client. Oh God, that’s him, I realised. Officers were urging other victims to come forward, so I knew what I had to do.‘This woman needs my support,’ I told Martin. Going to the station, I made a statement. To my relief, the police listened carefully and decided to press charges.
In time, I learned 13 other women had made allegations too. Disgustingly, one woman had been touched between her legs while her small son was in the room.
Others had their genitals and breasts groped, or had Shen rub up against them intimately. As well as feeling upset and shaken by my own experience, I felt white-hot with anger.After initially pleading not guilty, married Shen, 45, finally admitted 14 counts of indecent assault.Last July, Martin and I headed to Albury Local Court to see him sentenced. Before, I popped to a coffee shop. Walking in, I was stunned to see Shen sitting at a table with someone, laughing. I threw him a foul look and the colour drained from his face. In that moment, I realised the shame was all his, not mine. And as I ordered my coffee, I felt empowered. ‘By the way,’ I told the barista, ‘that guy over there is a sex offender.’ It was good to make him feel small after what he’d put his victims through. The judge jailed Shen for five years and ordered him to serve a minimum of three. I was relieved he’d faced justice. But the incident had lit a fire inside me. That’s why I set up Step Out Against Violence, to fight sexual assault and domestic abuse. I’d been having counselling to help me through the trauma and the counselling service got on board too.
Together, we organised a march through the town centre for men and women to take a stand. I was thrilled when hundreds of people took part and women messaged me through our Facebook page to show their support. Thank you for speaking for those of us who can’t, one wrote. I understand why victims don’t speak up, but I’d encourage anyone who has been assaulted to come forward. Please remember, no-one should suffer in silence.
Judy has waived her right to anonymity.
Read more in this week's issue of that's life!