Trigger Warning: This post may be triggering to those who have experienced assault.
I wrote this a few weeks ago, but delayed in posting it because it seemed so personal. I’m out of practice sharing things on such a public platform, especially something like this, with so much shame attached to it. But that’s exactly why I feel I need to post it. Sharing my experience can only help to cut through the shame and contribute to a larger dialogue about assault.
Last night I went to a friend’s house for a girls night. It was great – we watched a movie, worked our way through three plus bottles of wine, and overall had a nice chill evening after a long week. After a while the other girls left and it was just me and my friend drinking and getting all philosophical, as one does while getting slowly drunk off of cheap wine. I left her apartment around 1:30, but she only lives about a twenty minute walk away from my place, so I wasn’t concerned about the time. There were still some people out and I spent most of my walk marvelling that you can see some stars in the night sky above Astoria. I didn’t feel any sense of urgency until I turned onto my street and I heard someone crunching leaves behind me. They were probably several feet behind me, not right on top of me, and I tried to tell myself I was overreacting and there was nothing to worry about. I sped up regardless, though, because society tells us that a young woman walking alone at night has to draw these kinds of conclusions in order to stay safe. I breathed a sigh of relief when I pushed open my front door and fished out my keys to unlock the inner door, thinking that even if someone had been following me, there was no way they’d have the nerve to follow me inside. My heart sunk when I heard the outer door open behind me. I glanced at the man and gave a small smile. I opened the door and he followed without hesitation, I think he even thanked me. I thought, “Okay, I don’t know all my neighbors yet, maybe he lives here. Or maybe he’s visiting someone in the building.” I was still clinging to the hope that what I thought was happening wasn’t actually happening.
We walked down the hall and when I reached the stairs he asked from behind me, “Miss, which floor do you live on?” I answered the second floor, praying he was about to ask me about one of my neighbors – the person he was there to see – but my fears were confirmed when he asked, “Miss, do you have a husband?” I said no and quickly turned to continue up the stairs. I think I called out “Have a good night” over my shoulder as I left because I was still trying to be cordial, which he returned courteously enough, but before I could get far enough out of reach, I felt his hand extend and brush against my butt. He said something like, “Miss, I have a really big dick,” but by this point I was hurtling up the stairs without hesitation. I opened my door and locked it behind me, still in shock that that had actually happened. I expected to hear him climbing the stairs or feel the door rattle as he tried to open it, but neither happened. I watched for him through the peephole until I heard the front door open and shut downstairs. He had left my building. Only then did the panic come. I started crying and hyperventilating as I hung up my keys and my jacket, going through the motions of the normalcy of coming home. I ran to my room, which overlooks the street, and checked to see if he had lingered outside, but there was no sign of him.
It all happened so fast. There was no time for me to be scared until after I was safely behind my locked apartment door. I spent the entire ordeal in a haze of denial that it was even happening. Everyone told me when I moved to Astoria that it was a really safe neighborhood, certainly safer than Harlem, where I lived for the previous two years. But nothing like this ever happened to me in Harlem, and if it had, I lived in a much bigger building so I could’ve easily gotten off the elevator at the wrong floor and taken the stairs back down to shake him off. My building now only has six units, two on each floor. So this guy not only knows where I live, he knows that I live in one of two apartments on the second floor. I left my apartment once today to go to the grocery store and I found that I was jumpy and uncomfortable walking around my neighborhood. The probability of him coming back is unlikely, but the threat is still there, even if it’s only in my head.
I had been drinking last night, but I was not so drunk that I was stumbling around. I walked straight and with purpose; I was alert and aware, especially when I heard the leaves crunching behind me. If God forbid I had been falling down drunk, I would hope that the first instinct of a fellow human being would be to help me, not to take advantage of me. But that’s not the world we live in. It’s bullshit, what people say – that what a woman is wearing has anything to do with her being harassed or assaulted – I was all bundled up in a coat, scarf, and mittens, in a baggy sweater, jeans, and sneakers, my hair unwashed and in a bun and he still thought I was worth following. Even if I had been in a short skirt and stilettos, that would not have been an invitation nor an excuse for him to follow me into the place I live. It is unfathomable to me that this man thought he had the right to follow me, enter my home, and verbally harass me, simply because he is a man and I am a woman.
The worst part is that as soon as it was over I felt guilty, like it had been partially my fault. I mean, I did let him in the door. I was too afraid of being rude to admit that this guy was following me and put my safety first. My instinct was to scold myself, “You should have known better,” “You shouldn’t have let him in,” “You should’ve threatened to call the cops.” But I was drunk and tired and I didn’t want to believe I’d suddenly become this vulnerable, simply by turning onto my street and walking to my front door. This is exactly what’s wrong with our society; we’ve become so used to victim-blaming as a way of explaining away rape culture, that I internalized it, my fear and disgust for this guy and what he did was quickly joined by my guilt and embarrassment of how I’d handled the situation. You know what? How I handled it is irrelevant. I shouldn’t have been forced to navigate that situation in the first place. No one should feel that they have the right to exert that kind of power over another human being. What did that guy even think was going to happen? That I was just going to be like, “Oh you have a big dick? Well then certainly, come right in!” The scary part is that if he wanted to, he could’ve forced his way into my apartment. And I have to live with that knowledge – what could’ve happened – and that I would’ve only been able to do so much to stop it. No human should feel that they have the right to do this to someone else. It seems absurd that we have to teach this, but we do. We need to stop blaming the victims of assault and start educating young men (and women) about consent. I thank God that this guy was more bark than bite, but I know that for all the situations that turn out like mine, there are countless others that go the opposite way. We have to fix this. This is not okay.
I saw this again today and it is such a simple yet affective way to illustrate consent:
I also love this standup routine about the absurdity of rape culture, although it could potentially be triggering for someone who’s experienced sexual assault.