To The FemmeMobile! Away!











{October 4, 2012}   Sexual assault: Warning for triggers

With apologies to my friends who don’t like long things, and the friends who have been assaulted and can’t read things even remotely about it. I’m not putting this behind a cut. It’s too easy to bypass; at the very least, the number of episodes should be noted.

I have never been badly assaulted. I’ve never been hurt. That said, if you can’t read anything remotely alarming, I suggest you scroll past. Thank you.

**

I read this essay and as I read it, I thought, “The sad thing is, this isn’t uncommon. But I bet most people reading it will think it is.” The first comment I saw confirmed that.

I also thought, “If a lot of people started making lists like this, I bet we could raise social awareness. I bet more people would report it. I bet more guys would step in.” (I feel sad that I believe that’s what we need to happen.)

So. These are my stories.

When I was fifteen, I was taking the trash out behind the pet store I worked at. As I walked back to the store, a small man got out of his white, window-less van and started walking toward me. He was, stereotypically, offering me candy. He had some in his hand. Would I like some? I said no. He had other flavors in the van. No. They were free. No. I’d be doing him a favor; he had too much. No. By the time I reached the pet store door, he was ten feet away. I got inside and told my supervisor. She laughed: how stereotypical. I asked if we should report it. She said it was probably nothing.

I didn’t report it.

When I was seventeen, a group of college friends and I swapped addresses to stay in touch. This included a 40-year-old man. He started sending me letters detailing what he wanted to do with me, sexually. The letters made me feel like a piece of meat, worthless, horrible, disgusting, at fault, a tease, ashamed. They were vulgar. At best, he talked about “watching your tail swish when you walk away.” When they kept coming I showed them to my parents, in tears. My father talked to a police officer, who told him there was no point in reporting it: by the time anything happened I’d be legal, and fighting it would be almost impossible. It was only words. My dad helped me draft a letter to the man harassing me, and we sent it. My dad intercepted any following letters and kept them, in case we ever needed evidence. (I found several more in a drawer years later that I never knew had come.)

I didn’t report it.

When I was nineteen a supervisor walked around alternately yelling at or telling his underlings they were dressed like/looked like sluts. Several times a week a girl would be found crying because of his actions. I was never accosted, but every time he came near I’d verge on tears and bristle all at the same time. When he walked around behind my station, I would hold my breath hoping he didn’t call me a slut or say I was wearing inappropriate clothing or yell at me. I started having panic attacks about going to work. I quit that job.

I didn’t report it.

I went to Thanksgiving dinner with a family not my own, and was seated catty-corner to an uncle. He spent the meal looking at my breasts and leaning into my personal space. By the time we left I was on edge and felt dirty. When I hesitantly said something, knowing I’d see him again, I was told not to worry: he was a good guy. I was probably imagining things.

I didn’t report it.

When I was in my early twenties word came down from my bosses: one of the business’s members had been caught making unwanted sexual advances toward one of the employees. We should, at all times, send him to one of the (two) male staffers, and not be alone with him. Though the employee who’d been harassed reported it to our bosses, no one reported it further. The member continued to come, and continued to try and get girls alone.

I didn’t report it.

I once received an email from someone who’d seen my photo on a dating site. The email detailed explicit sexual things he wanted to do with me — and my long hair. It was hilarious, because if it wasn’t hilarious then it was creepy and made me feel sick, used, and disgusting.

I didn’t report it.

In my mid-twenties a client hit on me, and when I rebuffed his advances as gently as possible, he fired me.

I didn’t report it.

When I had just moved to my first apartment, a friend came to visit and help me move. He told me we should have sex “just because.” I said no. He argued with me. I argued back. I didn’t want to have sex with him: I shouldn’t have had to argue with him about it. When the argument started I stopped drinking beer. I locked my pit bull in my room that night, and hoped that if he came in she’d help protect me. When he returned to his home (several states away), he started texting me, calling me, saying horrible, abusive things. When I told him if he said abusive things again I was going to hang up, he said them again. I hung up. He accused me of being abusive and controlling the conversation. I continued to try and be polite. I continued to try and tell him carefully, gently, politely that I wasn’t interested in dating or having sex with him. He yelled at me for not being attracted to him. He called me names. He harassed me with phone calls, emails, and text messages multiple times a day. He lived in another state, and I was still afraid for my safety. I finally told him to have a good life, I hoped things went better for him, and not to contact me again. I deleted everything he sent thereafter, ignored his calls, and eventually he stopped trying. I lost a friend of 13 years when he became verbally and emotionally abusive because I wouldn’t have sex with him.

I didn’t report it.

When I was twenty-seven I got a flat. I pulled over into the parking lot of a corner market I frequented and began changing it. A man in a white “Christian-something” van with no windows pulled up and asked if I needed help. I said I didn’t. He stopped his car, blocking mine, and got out. He insisted. I insisted no. He stood and hovered over me, leaning against my car, petting my dogs. He asked if they could get out through the windows. He asked if I lived nearby. He asked if I had a boyfriend, a husband, a roommate. When he finally left, the grocer — who spoke very little English — came out and asked if I was okay. I said I was. Maybe the guy really was a Christian trying to help. Maybe he was using the name to make people comfortable, and help wasn’t on his mind.

I didn’t report it.

When I was twenty-eight a man asked for my number so we could “hang out.” I gave it to him. When he got pushy about going on a date, I tried to explain that I wasn’t interested in anything more than being friends. He said he thought I wasn’t like those “other bitchy sluts.” He thought I was different than “other women.” He told me that he had to be pushy and force women into dating him because otherwise no one would ever go out with him. I avoided the place where I’d met him, afraid he’d use the force he’d spoken of.

I didn’t report it.

I was walking down the street one night when a group of young men started to approach. They said, “Hey, baby,” and “Want to have some fun?” They cat-called and made lip-smacking noises when I walked past. I felt safe because I had a dog on either side; 175 pounds of muscle and teeth, and both dogs were on high alert.

I didn’t report it.

In point of fact, this happens at least once a month; usually during the day, in public, where I at least feel safe. I never report it. I just keep walking.

When I was twenty-nine I met a neighbor I wasn’t attracted to. We hung out as friends when we were both around. He told me late one night that I was falling for him. I told him I wasn’t. He argued with me about it. I said I knew my own mind, and I wasn’t interested in him. He said I was, I just hadn’t realized it yet. We argued for ten minutes, maybe more. After that he started accusing me of avoiding him (I wasn’t, yet) — he would come by my house and when I wasn’t home, he’d accuse me later of hiding from him. He got into my personal space. I stopped hanging out with him.

I didn’t report it.

When my client became a widower, he started hitting on me. Maybe. Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn’t. I disconnected ties, because after all of the above I couldn’t be sure. I would rather be safe.

It’s a scary thing that “being safe” means I can’t even talk to someone who might just need a helping hand, and has no other interest in me at all.

It’s a scary thought that in most of the cases I’ve listed above, even if I’d reported them, nothing could have (or would have) been done.

It’s a scary thought that of all the people I know, I feel I get harassed very little. I feel, overall, safer than most of my female friends.

We need to start teaching, “Don’t rape. Don’t be a creeper,” rather than, “don’t be a victim.” If you see someone in these straits, help them. If your friend is creeping, whether or not they mean to, tell them. Use peer pressure. Report things. I don’t want to assume all men are rapists. Men, I assume you don’t want to be seen as a possible rapist. Let’s fix it.

J

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