On Protecting Those Who Would Protect Us

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In college, I was assaulted.

A man kicked me so hard that hours later a perfect outline of his boot, including the individual treads on the bottom of the sole, appeared as a blazing bruise on my backside. This complete stranger, who was in my life for about 90 seconds, identified me as such a serious threat that he exerted a damaging force.

While my boyfriend was mere feet away.

Let me back up.

My undergrad university had big block parties, as many do, where hundreds of drunk college students stumbled from one house to another, taking the party into the streets so that entire neighborhoods became the party. This was one such party, and it was wrapping up for one of our guy friends who was too drunk to get home on his own. I walked behind this friend, supported and shouldered up by his girlfriend and my boyfriend.

This slightly unsteady trio weaved through the crowd towards my boyfriend’s car, dodging overflowing red cups of beer and obliviously amorous couples. They were expert navigators, not missing a step, until they passed this small group of guys, and for no reason, one of the guys pushed my boyfriend, causing the trio to stumble.

My friends recovered quickly and soldiered on, probably thinking it was merely the ebb and flow of the crowd, but I said, “Hey! Cut that out,” to the guy and kept walking. Moments later, I felt a jolt and I flew forward, a searing pain in my backside. I almost didn’t recognize what had happened. He had kicked me.

Incredulous, I confronted him. I can only assume his two friends sensed a threat, as they decided to physically restrain my remaining guy friend who had seen what happened. Was it so that their friend could get a clear…shot…at me?

I could see crazy in this man’s eyes, and while I can’t remember what we said exactly, we exchanged words. I probably said something like, “Why did you kick a girl?” being truly bewildered. I could see he didn’t feel any remorse, and he looked ready to do it again, or worse. I knew it was best to get out of there. I felt terrified, and I didn’t want to endanger myself any longer. I turned, grabbed my friend, and left.

As we sprinted to catch up with our friends who had made it to the car, I whispered to my friend, “Don’t say a word. Don’t tell [my boyfriend].” He didn’t look happy about it but said nothing as we sent them on their way.

Back reunited with the rest of our partying group, I finally broke down into tears as my friend recounted what had happened. I was in pain, frustrated, and scared. I shook from the adrenalin. My guy friends immediately went on a futile witch-hunt with the few details I could remember about his appearance, and I got a ride home.

When I arrived, my boyfriend could see that something was wrong, and after I told him the story, he was livid that he hadn’t been able to do anything. After he saw the bootprint (which was an ugly reminder for days), he grew even angrier.

Yet I know I did the right thing in not telling him. The last thing on earth I wanted was to endanger someone I cared about because of something stupid/unsafe/threatening someone else said to me. I had no doubts this person would have harmed my boyfriend trying to defend me much worse than I had been harmed.

This is a choice I make to this day. I evaluate, I ponder, how much to involve someone I’m dating, a friend, or a family member regarding the things that women have to deal with every day.

This summer, reading some of the #YesAllWomen articles, reflections, and discussions reawakened a rage inside me I have carried for all those times I said nothing. For all the times women had said nothing.

As I said on Twitter, these are only some of the 1% of exceptional abuses I told people about, but not the other 99% – the man making kissing noises to me as I walk to the store on a Thursday, the guy who asks about my marital status at a crowded business dinner, the man who stands too close to you with particular parts of his body on the crowded subway.

About how you start to gauge the severity of the harassment based on previous cases, and there are many. How you have split seconds to evaluate the potential risk to yourself and your loved ones by saying anything; by taking into account the perceived sanity of the other party, the importance of this route, this location, this moment, your anticipated enjoyment of the afternoon, whether you have to work with or associate with that person on a regular basis for professional or personal reasons, or the reality of any brief relief / pleasure / security you might get by actually involving others in your situation.

This is not even getting started with any of the sexism and misogyny I’ve encountered (which are also very numerous) – just the sexual and physical violence I’ve dealt with as a woman.

All of this to say, there is probably a lot more happening out there than you know about. Speaking for myself, when I do tell someone about one of these times, they most important thing for me is that they’re listening. Being supportive doesn’t always mean reacting, confronting, or saying something, but so that the person affected knows someone is aware what’s happening. Sometimes they just need to vent, to cry, or maybe just a hug.

If you want to read more about the #YesAllWomen movement, these articles are a good place to get started: The Power of #YesAllWomen on The New Yorker, on CNN, on TIME. Image by Death to the Stock Photo.

Categories: Productivity, Self & Finance

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10 replies »

  1. Hi Sara, thanks for this and I’m very sorry that happened to you. Having 3 daughters, it is only now really hitting home the task we have ahead of us raising three young girls in this world. Recently my oldest daughter who is 14 years old had her breast fondled by a guy on the metro. I was not near her as we had been separated by the huge and packed crowd on the metro. She removed his hand and elbowed him, but didn’t think that was adequate. She was angry at herself for not having yelled and shamed him as well. Because she is a feminist and is very much interested in women’s issues, she felt she did not do enough. My husband and I had a long talk about this with her including her sisters because even though they are younger, we thought they needed to be part of the discussion. It’s very sad for me to think that this will continue to be an ongoing discussion as while this was the first time, unfortunately, more than likely it will not be the last time she experiences harassment.

    • I don’t envy you…and there’s something to be said about innocence lost at such an early age – knowing that people aren’t all good and might actually harm you is a terrible lesson to learn. I’m not sure what you told her but it’s definitely clear to me that children should be loud, should be asking for help, and should be protected! It’s only as I’ve gotten older than I am more aware of my own mortality and danger differently. I think if I had a daughter, however, I wouldn’t think twice about endangering myself to protect her. Hug.

      • I was in a rage when she told me about it which was later when we were on the train heading home. I didn’t let her see my rage though. However, if I had been near her when it happened, that probably would not have been a good thing as I would have tried to annihilate the guy and probably would have gotten hurt in the process which wouldn’t have been a good thing for her to see. It’s fucked up and I’m sorry she had to experience it. I am glad that despite whatever good or bad happens that she feels comfortable talking to both me and her father about things and that she knows she has a safe and unconditional haven with us.

  2. Reblogged this on dropsfromhome and commented:
    I remember once I saw a woman being beaten up in public by someone who was supposedly her husband. The woman was dragged by her hair as other people watched and said she might have done something to deserve it. I remember someone telling me to stay away lest I become the next target. Being only 5.1 tall I stayed away but wondered if this was the fate of women? If this was my fate? When did it become right to keep quite? to stay away? to deserve physical abuse? to be less a human being? to deserve no one’s help? Someone tell me when? #YesAllWomen

  3. Hi Sara, I released that sometimes when you speak you open doors for those who had no idea that the doors where there in the first place. Sorry about what happened to you but at least it never kept you down so keep going. Very perspective changing.

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