Appalachian Ohio, Athens GA, Atlanta, Berkeley, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Columbia MO, Des Moines, Fredericksburgh VA, Jacksonville NC, Los Angeles, New York City, NYU, Philadelphia, Palo Alto, Portland ME, Richmond VA, Rutgers University, San Francisco
September 25, 2011, night time:
I’m standing outside the bar, having a chat with friends, enjoying one last kick at the can of summer. After watching a couple of sweet documentaries about Judas Priest, I’m in fine spirits, enjoying the nice evening and good company.
A man approaches and walks in-between my friend and I. Before he passes through, I feel his hand reach inside my jacket and vest and squeeze my left breast, in a clumsy, perfunctory way, as if the sound effect “honk-honk” ought to accompany the deed, like in a slapstick sketch. Only it’s not funny or cute, because it’s my very real body and sense of safety that’s just been violated. He keeps walking, nonchalant, as if he hadn’t just molested a complete stranger in the street. I’m shellshocked, but I start yelling, “What the fuck? That guy just grabbed my boob!” My two friends leap into action and catch the groper. We all yell at him, imploring him to apologize. “You can’t just grab a woman like that! Say you’re sorry!” He doesn’t say a word. He watches the ground and refuses to look any of us in the face. I grab the collar of his shirt. “Look at me!” I demand. But he won’t. It becomes clear that no apology is forthcoming. He just kind of flops around, half-heartedly struggling to get out of my friends’ grasp, vaguely reminiscent of a played-out fish in a net – glassy-eyed and pathetic – yet he wears a slight grin on his face all the while.
We have to change tactics. I pull my cell phone out of my bag to take his photo. I inform him that his face is going straight to the internet, and his molester status is about to become public knowledge. “Smile for the camera, asshole,” I tell him as I snap a photo of him. He’s cowering from the camera, yet remains unfazed by the collective wrath of three people. Suddenly with the appearance of the camera, he becomes lucid enough to attempt to avert this unpleasant and very public consequence of his groping. I feel his kick, and realize that my phone’s gone flying from my hands into the night, but it’s too dark to see where it lands. I yell some more, my friends yell some more. He just slinks and squirms, weakly trying to escape this unforeseen, vehement reaction to his quick boob grope. I see that it’s become futile to yell, but I can’t resist unleashing a bit more venom: “Shame on you, you piece of shit!” Part of me wants to punch him in the face. Or to kick him in the junk and then punch him in the face. But at bottom, I recoil from violence. So my friends release the groper, and he saunters down the middle of the street, seemingly unperturbed.
I search in the dark street and retrieve my phone off of the pavement. The photos of the groper are blurry, but they’re there. The face of an unapologetic sexual predator. Evidence. I’m glad for that, but shaken. My friend asks if I want to call the police. This idea hasn’t even crossed my mind. In fact, I’m considerably more scared of the police than I am of the groper. But I’m highly dissatisfied with letting him walk away unscathed, especially when my friend tells me that right before the groper got to me, he witnessed him grabbing another woman just half a block away, but had thought it was just a joke between friends. With this in mind, I agree that we need to call the cops because this guy appears to be out on a regular Sunday night groping mission. My friend handles the emergency call like a pro, and the police show up within minutes.
Although dealing with the cops is something I try my upmost to avoid, I know I’ve got to take one for the team this time, in order to thwart the groper. So they roll up and we describe the groper’s outfit and approximate location, and they’re on their radios right away. Apparently some plain-clothes officers have already apprehended him on a sidestreet! I’m subjected to the belittling experience which is giving your information to the authorities and providing an informal declaration, but they’re actually pretty okay to talk to, much to my surprise. They ask me if I want to press charges – sexual assault charges. It sounds so heavy that I’m hesitant. “Can’t we just scare him a bit, so he doesn’t do it again?” Still reluctant to get involved in a legal dispute, I’m waffling about what exactly to do. I’m thinking: “This guy’s clearly crazy. Do I really want him to be in the ‘justice’ system? How is that going to help him or me or anyone else?” It’s a legitimate concern. The cop explains that if I don’t press charges, they can’t do anything to the groper and the plain-clothes officers will let him go; if I do, I will have to testify in court that he sexually assaulted me. Brutal. What a nightmare.
I step back from the cruiser window and take a deep breath. I think of all the times in my life I’ve had to deal with this shit, and of the innumerable times that my friends have had to, and how fucked up of a world it is where men feel entitled to use sexual violence against women at any time they want, without any fear of recourse. It makes me absolutely livid. My anger shifts from fiery-hot and out of control to something hard and cold and focused. I exhale: “All right. I’ve got the time. I’ll press charges. Fuck that guy!” It feels pretty good to drop an f-bomb on the cops, I must say! I even laugh about it for a second. I give my friend a high-five. I feel the fear and anger waning, just a touch. Laughter is powerful, no doubt about it. So is unadulterated rage, mind you.
I don’t know what happens after I wish the cops a good night. I assume that the groper leaves with the other officers and gets taken to a hospital for some kind of psych evaluation. I drink a quick ginger ale in the bar with my friends and attempt to laugh off some more of the residual anger. Though my nerves could probably benefit from a whiskey shot, I know that my stomach won’t accept alcohol in the state I’m in. I say my goodbyes, then peddle home on my bike, arriving safe but upset. As I crawl into bed, the truth is, all I want is a big hug. It makes me think about how paradoxical it is that it’s a touch that’s upset me so, but a touch that I crave to pacify me. Humans are weird fucking creatures, to be sure.
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