Trigger Warning: sexual assault;unwanted touching
A 59-year-old man with a long history of sexism gets on a bus and jokes about grabbing women without consent and then dismisses it as “locker room talk,” apologizing not because he understands, but only “if you’re offended.” This man cares so little about women that he sent his 14-year-old daughter to a modeling agency run by his buddy, an unrepentant molester of teenage models.
I wish there was a punchline to this, but it’s not a joke. That said, I’m not here to talk politics. I’m here to talk about assault.
My friend recently posted on Facebook about an experience she had at age eleven where a boy called her and threatened to rape her because she wouldn’t “go out” with him. What is sad is how common this is. Most of the women I’ve ever known have been threatened with sexual violence or assaulted at least once in their lives. I myself am (possibly) the product of a sexual assault. But that’s not my story to tell.
When I was ten, two racist kids moved in down the street. They were perhaps twelve and thirteen years old. Troubled kids. I’ve talked openly about them hitting me in the face with ice balls, yanking on my hair and calling me a nigger. But my worst memory I tend to brush off, lumping it in as just another act of racism. But in light of what’s being discussed in the media, I want to separate it for a moment, because it was also a sexual assault.
The school moved our bus stop. It used to be right across from my house but they moved it to the end of a long dirt road, in front of the fire station. It was a ten minute walk home and I had to walk with these boys. I don’t remember what set it off, but as soon as we got off the bus they started in on me and I looked straight ahead and didn’t speak and kept walking. Irritated that I wasn’t responding, they grabbed me and threw me on the ground. I was screaming for them to get off me. One sat on my chest while his brother sat on my legs and shouted “Kiss her nigger lips!” He licked my lips and then spit in my face. I was crying. They were satisfied that they’d terrified me and I had to walk home beside them, shaking the whole time.
I’ve never talk about it in terms of assault because it’s overwhelming to think of it like that. My hands are shaking as I write this. I was sexually assaulted and then I had to walk home beside my attackers. And get on the bus with them the next day. And the day after that.
I wasn’t penetrated. I wasn’t stripped naked, but I felt like I was. Being grabbed against my will left me feeling weak and vulnerable. Knowing that if someone wanted to touch me, nothing would stop them.
This was not my first or last brush with sexual aggression, it is simply the most raw one. At six, there was a boy who had a habit of looking up girls’ skirts, He pressured me for days to go behind the school with him, but he freaked me out so I kept saying no. When I was seven, there was the grown man at my church who rubbed my shoulders as I stood frozen and told me I was pretty and wanted me to go to the basement with him. Later, at twelve, there was the adult lifeguard at church camp who played the harmonica and wrote songs about how beautiful he found me. Everyone, including the other adults thought it was funny (and referred to him as my boyfriend). Then he tried to put his hand down my pants and when I pushed him away, he became enraged and with each passing day, was so hostile to me that I quit swimming for the rest of camp and hid when I saw him.
I could go on. I frequently got off the bus one stop further than I needed, so I could run inside a grocery store and wait-out insistent men who wanted to follow me home. The guy I went on a date with who went into my bedroom and opened up my closet and my underwear drawer. I have spent a lot of energy in my life, learning to work around harassment and violation.
So when it’s treated as a joke that a “prankster” grabbed a celebrity by the ankles and knocked her over, and then again, grabbed her and put his face on her bottom, or a 71 year-old-man running for the highest office in my country treats grabbing women against their will as “locker-room talk,” I want to scream.
This isn’t me being overly-sensitive or accusing all men of being rapists. This isn’t about being politically correct. This is me knowing what it feels like to be grabbed, and touched, and coerced. This is me knowing what it’s like to be afraid of saying no. Every time it happened, I became more numb to it. I began to accept it even as it made me feel tiny and afraid. It made me fear men.
So, to quote my friend, “Locker room talk? Fuck you.”