Every now and then something still prompts me to write and then I come crawling out of my cave.
The last few weeks, a can of worms the size of global proportions has been opened. After Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual harassment was exposed by reporter Ronan Farrow, many people have come forward with their stories of sexual abuse and violence. Actress Alyssa Milano started the viral #MeToo movement, encouraging victims from around the world to speak out.
And so the posts started flooding my timeline. So many people who I’ve known for years were using the hashtag. I had no idea that this had happened to them.
I felt horrified, but not surprised.
I started thinking. And remembering.
And I remembered three different stories.
In the first story I was in grade 2. I took swimming lessons. One day, a little boy my age swam towards me and pushed me against the wall. He then reached under the water, grabbed my crotch, and squeezed. While he was doing this, he made direct eye contact with me. I froze completely, not knowing how to react. Our swimming teacher was watching us and told him to “stop scaring” me. I don’t know if she saw what happened. I know that she knew something was off. Every now and then I think about that day and something about it bothers me. When I was in high school, news got out of a little girl who was being molested by little boys. The school tried to squash the story, but it got out nonetheless. The children were more or less the age I was that day in the swimming pool.
I keep wondering.
What if I was a girl? People tell me that I wasn’t violated because “a curious little boy” touched… well, another boy.
But what if a curious little boy had touched… a girl?
Speaking of high school, this brings me to my second story. I went to a Christian school and for a while, the high school classes were in the church building. The secretary, who is a mother of two, had the reputation of not being exactly faithful to her husband. One morning, I got there early, before any of the teachers had shown up. I was standing outside the building when the secretary pulled up in her little car. She got out, saying that she didn’t have a key to the building. While she was talking, she walked behind me and groped me from behind.
Once again, I froze. It was surreal. Did that really happen? Did I imagine it? She didn’t make any suggestive comments; in fact, she was talking about something completely mundane.
But this is the thing about adult predators. They are far more subtle than children. She wanted to see what my reaction was. If I had said something she probably would have said that it happened by accident. Later, when I told my classmates, two other boys told me that she had done the same to them. They shrugged it off. This woman was seen laughable, but not as dangerous and disrespectful.
If a man had touched me, the entire town would have been up in arms; even more so if I were a girl. But this was a woman groping teenage boys. Most people probably wouldn’t have believed us.
My third story if the one that haunts me the most, and the worst part is that I wasn’t even touched this time. My mom and I were in a grocery store. It was my final year of high school and I was dressed in full uniform. I became aware of a man, not exactly following us, but… lurking. He was wearing khaki clothing that was too large for his bony frame. He was also wearing a cap and dark glasses, but I knew that he was watching me. He would make eye contact with me and start touching himself. The first few times I thought that perhaps he was lost in thought and not aware of what he was doing. But then I started deliberately staring at him. He knew very well what he was doing.
I became panicked. I didn’t tell my mom, because I knew that she would probably walk up to him and confront him. But A: He would deny it and make me look crazy, and B: He seemed truly dangerous.
I kept quiet and watched him the whole time to make sure he couldn’t get too close. When we walked out of the store he had disappeared.
I can still remember that the skin on his elbows was so dry that it had turned a sickly green.
So no, I’m not surprised.
I don’t consider myself a victim of sexual assault in the sense that these encounters didn’t really “scar” me (Perhaps because I had a different sort of assault that I still struggle to come to terms with), but at the very least I can say that I was disrespected. Objectified. Violated.
I know many people who have suffered sexual assault. I have a friend who was gang raped. I know a girl who worked as a barmaid and woke up in the storeroom with her jeans on backwards, not remembering anything. I know countless men and women who were molested as children. In fact, I need to think really hard to come up with a few names that I don’t think were assaulted in some shape or form.
IT’S NOT NEW.
As Jane Fonda recently pointed out in an interview, this situation is only getting attention now because it happened to famous people.
People are often blind to how rotten the world is until they are somehow affected personally. Since the beginning of time, humanity has been divided between the hunter and the hunted. And unlike they would have you believe, the hunter usually wins and gets away with it.
“Holocausts do not amaze me. Rapes and child slavery do not amaze me. And Franklin, I know you feel otherwise, but Kevin does not amaze me. I am amazed when I drop a glove in the street and a teenager runs two blocks to return it. I am amazed when a checkout girl flashes me a wide smile with my change, though my own face had been a mask of expedience. Lost wallets posted to their owners, strangers who furnish meticulous directions, neighbours who water each other’s houseplants – these things amaze me.”
― Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin