CW: This post contains details of a sexual assault and some rather unpleasant reactions to my reporting of it. If that will cause you distress, please don’t read any further. Always take care of yourselves and each other.
Back in May, I was at a professional event in my vanilla life, and there were drinks at the bar afterwards. I was standing, chatting to a friend when I felt someone grab my bum hard as a man walked past me. He didn’t look at me, didn’t speak to me but just let go and walked off. I later confronted the man, who admitted grabbing me. He was completely unrepentant, protesting “but you looked really hot”, and when I started having a go at him about women’s bodies not being there for his personal gratification, he became angry and stormed off.
I heard from other women at the event – girls much younger and more vulnerable than I – that he had done the same to them but they didn’t want to come forward and make official complaints because they were afraid of the impact it would have on their employment with the event organisers.
At the time it happened, I was shocked, outraged and furious. I have been through so many worse experiences at the hands of self-entited abusive men, that it seemed to me to be a trivial experience in the context of my own life, yet obviously a significant one in terms of how [some] men think that they can treat women.
I reported the man to the police – and I also posted about it (without identifying him) on social media, to highlight that there is still a real problem with harassment and inequality in the industry I work in. I was comforted that the response to my posting was largely similarly-outraged supporters confirming that groping was an unacceptable thing to do, and offering their sympathy. However, there was the inevitable posse of [mostly] men who told me I was over-reacting, said I should have just punched the man and forgotten about it, accused me of attention-seeking or simply dismissed my story as being a fiction.
Even my mum thought it was a trivial thing, told me I should have hit the guy and left it at that.
Should I have just hit the guy and left it at that? Here’s why I didn’t.
I don’t think that committing an assault in response to an assault is the right thing to do. We have laws and law enforcement exactly to prevent the sort of vigilante responses that can so easily become disproportionate or misdirected. I chose to put my faith in the process of civilised society rather than make myself a criminal by taking matters into my own hands.
Also; he was clearly stronger than me – what if he had hit me back? This is the dilemma that “just smack him one” fails to address. If a woman is assaulted and fights back, she will likely still be violated and maybe badly injured. It also puts the onus onto the victim to take action to prevent or deter sexual assault, which lets the assailant off the hook.
Turning it into a sit-com moment for others to chortle at (“haha, she just clocked that bloke for grabbing her, he’s got his just deserts”) downplays the serious issue that apparently [some] men feel that their gratification is more valid than a woman’s right not to be interfered with.
Was I attention-seeking by telling my story on social media? In a way, yes – but the attention I was seeking was not for myself as some kind of truth-and-justice crusader but for the wider issue of how women are treated, particularly within a specific professional community. Also, writing about stuff is how I process it. If no-one had seen or commented on the post, it would still have been worth writing, for the insights it gave me.
Was reporting him to the police disproportionate?
Here’s where I struggle – even though I have been reassured by many (including the nice constable who took my statement) that this is not a trivial thing, that groping is sexual assault, that I have a right to expect that this behaviour is dealt with officially….advice I would give to anyone else in my position.
A large part of me believes in standing up for what is right, and following the right procedures for when something goes wrong. I still feel that as the only victim of this guy that night with the confidence and professional standing to take action without fear for my job, it was my responsibility to do so. The other girls were clearly too intimidated and vulnerable to do so themselves. What if I said and did nothing further, and he assaulted someone in a worse way next time? I would feel partly-responsible for not having done my best to prevent this (even though I know of course that he is solely accountable for his own actions).
But a little voice nags at me….am I making a storm in a teacup? Am I bolstering my own self-image at the expense of a clueless guy who just hadn’t been raised right? Am I hijacking a moment of drunken misjudgement in order to be strident about my feminist principles? Am I just being spiteful and wanting revenge for being made to feel so devalued and humiliated? This little voice won’t shut the fuck up, no matter how much reassurance I get from my friends and acquaintances. I doubt my motivations – but, if the outcome is the right one, does it even matter why I am doing it?
So I reported him. I went and gave a statement in a bare little police interview room, re-lived the experience, answered questions and waited.
He was arrested and charged with sexual assault. No doubt this was shocking and traumatic for his wife and children, will negatively impact his professional life and will damage his reputation. All for a little drunken groping?
Because alcohol is not an excuse for deliberately violating someone else’s boundaries. Because women’s bodies are not men’s property. Because he clearly didn’t see anything wrong with his actions, and was hostile to me for calling him out. Because it’s the principle of the thing, not the degree of damage caused by the specific incident.
Because the way he went about the groping, his responses since and the history of his other activities which have come to my attention indicate that this is not just some clumsy flirtation, but the actions of a practiced and intentional predator. Someone who views women as disposable, interchangeable meat for his appetite, who knows what to do and say to cover his tracks, who has been able to get away with it up until now because he’s picked on the vulnerable and naive. I am neither of those things. I don’t feel like a crusading heroine. At first, I felt like a fraud – I was paid a compliment and responded with an attack, what a bitch I am. I suffered nothing more than indignity, yet here I am making a big issue of it at the taxpayer’s expense. I told the guy off, what more punishment do I want for him? I still have so much toxic social conditioning to shake off.
And yet…. I now get attacks of the shakes when I talk about this, and every time I get news of the development of the court proceedings. It seems bizarre to me that I, who spent seven years in a relationship with a sadistic abuser, I, who have been raped and hurt and fought back to reclaim myself from all of that, could be traumatised by what was apparently intended as a gesture of appreciation for my physical charms. But this is why I am taking a stand – because when you add up all of the abuse, exploitation, humiliation, and entitlement that [some] men subject women to; the result is trauma, loss of trust, fear and helplessness. I may not have been physically injured by the squeezing of my buttocks, but it had a damaging effect nonetheless. I’m going to continue in spite of that, because I believe in what I am doing and I’m doing it for all of us who have been harassed, assaulted, exploited and treated badly by selfish, self-entitled men.
The hearing has yet to happen, so I don’t know if he will plead guilty or if it will go to jury trial. I am hoping for the former, but preparing for the latter. Because pursuing this is the right thing to do