Disclaimer: I’ve been debating writing about this ordeal because it requires me to be more vulnerable than I’m comfortable with. (It took me days to write this.) However, every time I sit down to type about another topic, this is the one that wants to be written about first. The reality is, no matter how uncomfortable it is for me, this “situation” demands it’s voice and I’m obliged to give it.
Let me start by saying that I consider myself a feminist. I believe I have the right to wear what I want and I am the highest authority of my personal space. Yes, I believe if a woman is walking down the street completely naked, she deserves to be physically and verbally respected. So recently, when my space was violated and my authority removed, I questioned every right I had as a woman.
Last weekend, I was at a high school graduation in a large crowd of people. Everybody was pushing and bumping into each other and I had already had an altercation with an elderly man who said some pretty nasty things in response to the tight crowd. Despite the lack of options, I was consciously observing the space around me and careful to use pleasantries if I got uncomfortably close to anyone. At one point, the entire crowd was at a stand still. None of us could go anywhere. Every few minutes, the police would stop traffic and let a large group cross the street creating extra room for the rest of us left waiting.
My largest concern in the crowd however, were my feet. I had surgery a few month back and didn’t want anyone stepping on my toes. So I juggled between looking down where I was walking and respecting the space of those around me. It was exhausting but necessary.
Here is where I’m tempted to tell you what I was wearing, how my hair was done, and the amount of makeup I had or hadn’t applied. It’s an attempt to prove that I didn’t deserve what happened. It’s a want for you to know that I wasn’t asking for attention or trying to be sexual. But I realize that by giving you that information, it would only feed into a sexist and double-standard filled society that blames the victim for being available to be victimized. Again, it doesn’t matter what I was wearing or how sexual I made have appeared. What happens next shouldn’t have.
After about 5 mins, another whistle blew and the police began letting people cross the street. As the crowd started to move, I checked my space to make sure I wouldn’t bump into anyone or step on anything. Within an instant, I felt a hand reach between my clothing, grab my lower butt and grip…. hard. I screamed out in pain. I reached back to grab the spot that hurt and immediately turned to face the source of my pain. A man, about 40, stood behind me with his hands in the air as if to reveal they were empty and not to blame. I shouted “What the hell?” and he responded with something inaudible before he hurried away into the crowd.
My eyes were watering from the pain. I quickly pushed past people and escaped the crowd. I felt both embarrassed and ashamed. Over an hour later, as I put back on my smile for my family, I was still physically hurting. This person had grabbed me so hard, I was forced to rub my butt in public to ease the pain. I considered telling the police, some form of redemption I suppose, but I knew there was nothing they could do. I enjoyed the rest of my night with my family and tried to forget it.
By Saturday morning, I realized that though the physical pain was gone, I was still upset. I had been violated. My personal space and my right to simply exist peacefully had been put into question. I blamed myself honestly. I thought about what I was wearing and my choice to leave my family to wonder off alone. I wondered if I had been switching my hips too hard or had I accidentally pushed back into him giving him ammunition to touch me. Mentally, I was a wreck. I felt less like a 30 year old woman who had survived previous assaults and more like the 10 year old girl who was still suffering through them. As the day went on, the mental implications of what had happened haunted me and I found myself closing into a ball of discomfort and fear.
Sunday, I went to church like usual but the incident had developed massively in my mind. It was now becoming the thing of trauma and confusion. The lies that entered my mind about my worth as a human and my future as a woman were fogging my focus. I found myself asking God, not why this thing had happened but why I was responding with such utter despair. Had I not grown past a place of depression and anxiety? I didn’t even realize I was crying during service but the pain grew burdensome and I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I remember thinking, is it possible to have a man, outside of family, just simply respect you enough to care for you gently and without sexual prowess.
Instantly, as if my thoughts were sent to God via text, one of my brothers-in-Christ walked over and asked, “Can I hold your hand?” I was so startled I had to ask him to repeat himself. He asked again and I replied yes. As soon as he did, I felt God’s love and presence rush over me like a wave. It was like the weight was being lifted and I could rest in his grace. I let him hold my hand as I cried and breathed and sat under God’s wing (Malachi 4:2.)
The man who asked for my hand, is just a friend and one I’ve know for years. Our interactions have always been innocent and respectful, so much so that I call him Grandpa playfully. He has always shown genuine concern and treated me with kindness and respect. That gesture, was all the reminder I needed that 1. God saw my situation and acknowledged my pain. Even though God is vast and big he’s also personal and intimate. 2. That God is concerned about the things that concern us. There are some bigger fish to fry in my life right now but He desires, like a father, to meet all my needs including emotional.
I’ve still felt a little closed off this week. I’ve never noticed how aggressive some of the men (and women) I interact with insert their sexuality into my space. It can be overwhelming. I’ll have to be more firm about my boundaries. Respect shouldn’t have to be demanded but thus America has always flipped coins for matters of morality.
I realized that this situation was created to keep me victimized. There’s a difference between being a victim, which I was and being victimized, which I am not (that’s a story for another day though). Though I can’t always control my space and what happens to me, I can choose to not let those situations shape my view of the world and the people in it. There are some jerks who don’t know how to keep their hands to themselves and there are people kind enough to always ask. Consider yourself.