CW: sexual assault
Note: This article conforms to the gender binary for the purpose of discussing gendered assault and violence. I very much recognise people of all and no genders.
It was a great night. Really.
We danced to the Grease soundtrack, scoffed a packet of salt and vinegar chips that we found on the street, met some guy from The Bachelorette and chatted to Obama’s ex-helicopter pilot. We were fun and free and happy.
I was sexually assaulted on Saturday night.
From the moment I felt the hand reach up my skirt from behind me, felt the fingers grab the skin of my butt cheeks, my body was not my own. My body was now public property. I turn around.
‘What the hell are you doing?! Leave, or I’ll get security!’
He comes closer to my face before backing away, swaying and unable to focus his eyes on anything. I keep dancing with my friends – trying to force myself to have a good time. I can’t let this man define my night. I can’t give him that.
I turn around, and he’s standing a metre away with his two male friends, staring at me.
I walk over.
‘That isn’t good enough. You need to leave now. You just sexually assaulted me.’
‘It’s been a long time, okay.’
And there it is. I am furious.
‘That’s not an excuse! You are a sad, lonely man.’
(Sidenote: there may have been significantly more swearing involved.)
He mumbles something, but I’ve lost any will to speak to him and I leave, pulling a friend who’s mid-conversation with Obama’s helicopter pilot with me. I get out of the place that now embodies distress and smallness.
The part of my body that he touched didn’t feel like mine anymore. It felt like his. I felt disgusting and gross and dirty. I was just a thing for men to touch when they felt like it. I was nothing.
Then I saw him walk out of the pub, and decided that I wasn’t nothing.
I walked over to the security guard, shaking, and told him that the man over there had sexually assaulted me. And he believed me. He grabbed the man, sat him down and came back over to me.
‘There’s a police car over there. You can charge him if you want.’
Suddenly, I was in control.
His two friends came over to talk to me while my two male friends were there as support. I told them what their friend did, I told them that they were bystanders to an offence, and I told them that it was not okay. And they agreed with me.
They apologised for his behaviour, saying that he was drunk. I said that wasn’t an excuse. They pointed out he had only been in the country for a week. I said that wasn’t an excuse. And they agreed with me.
Their reaction was a strange surprise. According to previous experience, the friends of the perpetrator often take his side, but these two didn’t. The friends try to dismiss what happened, but these two believed me. The victim gets blamed, but here, no one blamed me.
What’s even more surprising is that, within this group of men, I had the loudest voice. This was huge. They all listened, they didn’t try to persuade me whether to charge him or not, and they didn’t interrupt.
I was in control. I was empowered.
I was also exhausted.
I decided not to charge him as I didn’t have the emotional or physical energy to be taken to the police station, write a report, then go home the next day to finish writing an essay. Instead, I kept talking to the friends. I told them that I am so sick of having to fight every day just to be me, my whole self, a woman. I told them how my ownership over my body is challenged whenever I walk out of the house. I told them to explain to their friend exactly what he did, and why that night was not okay. And, for some reason, I trusted they would.
This was the best outcome I could’ve hoped for. The security guard was amazing, his mates were incredibly understanding, and my friends were extremely supportive.
But this should not be a surprise, nor should it be out of the ordinary. The security guard was just doing his job, and the others were just being decent human beings. These things should not be uncommon. This outcome doesn’t change the feeling of being violated, used and stripped of all control and respect. It doesn’t change how small I felt and still feel. It doesn’t change how I’ve felt uncomfortable in my body since then, a body that no longer feels like my own.
But, this is part of what it is to be a woman! I should expect this kind of thing to happen at a dirty old pub. It’s just part of life. It’s normal.
I write this because it shouldn’t be normal. It should not go hand in hand with identifying as a woman that we are violated, and it should not be something we are taught to be wary of.
We must stop telling our girls to beware of men, but rather start teaching our boys that this is unacceptable behaviour and that there are consequences. We need to educate young people about the patriarchy, and about how it continues to be damaging to people of all genders, not just women.
So I woke up the next day, feeling disgusting and strange, and I finished that assignment. Even though all day I just wanted to lie down and hug myself, cry and try and love this body that was no longer my own, I did what I needed to do.
I don’t want sympathy and I don’t want to be defined as a victim. I want action and change.
Fight for your body. Fight for your rights as humans, not as genders. This takes time and energy and is so painful. But, as Hillary said in her concession speech, it is so worth it.
I’m not going to lie down and cry, I’m going to keep fighting, and writing and dancing.