In Which It’s Late at Night and C. Gets Serious

“Why are sex and violence always linked?  I’m afraid they’ll blur together in people’s minds – sexandviolence – until we can’t tell them apart.  I expect to hear a newscaster say, “The mob became unruly and the police were forced to resort to sex.”
~Dick Cavett

Sexual-assault-is-everyones-problem-442x416Today a man came into the office and told me that he and his wife got into an disagreement about rape in our university town, because she wanted him to escort her even extremely short distances when it was dark, and he saw no need because we live in a “good” place where bad things “don’t happen.”  Couldn’t I back him up since he was clearly right?  I told him in no uncertain terms that he was wrong, that rape and other forms of sexual crime happen in our town just as much as anywhere else.  He tried to argue with me!  I refrained from what I wanted to say, which was, “Of the two of us, only one works in a police department and deals with this regularly.  It isn’t you.”  Instead I gave him facts, statistics, personal anecdotes (cheered on, as it happens by a – male – student waiting behind him with silent grins and thumbs up, which were very much appreciated), most of which he tried to counter.  But what finally seemed to make an impact was when I told him the estimated statistics for sexual crime versus the (much lower) actual reported ones – and told him bluntly that seen through a pair of female eyes, those numbers meant the world was a hostile and frightening place where the chances of us becoming a victim of sexual crime (from mild harassment – still criminal – up through rape) were higher than than our chances of not.  His tone changed after that.

Here’s the truth.

The statistics on sexual crime are appalling, and the majority of  that crime is directed at females.*  From our perspective (when we admit it ourselves or anyone else), the world is a sexually threatening place for us and the possibility of it intruding is very real.

As a kid several of my favorite playmates were boys, and the trend continued into university.  With the exception of The Girls, I’ve mostly hung around with guys – many of them dear friends to this day.  But I remember the specific day that boys took on a more threatening aspect for me.  My first year of high school I was accepted to a magnet school for writing that required being bussed to the next county to attend the class every day.  I was the only girl chosen for that class that year and that meant I spent a couple hours on a bus everyday with at least three boys from my school and a few boys from another school.  There were older girls but they often drove themselves to the program rather than taking the bus.

These boys were the normal sort of teenage males, a bit loutish and inclined to show off for one another, but not malicious I didn’t think.  There were tons of discussions between them that made me uncomfortable (being a nice, boring, bookish sort who mostly read on the bus ride), but nothing negative was directed towards me until I started standing up for myself against mild picking on.  When I voiced opinions counter to the boys, when I told them I didn’t like the conversation topics, when I spoke up.  I don’t remember what the conversation was about but one day (when I was the lone girl on the bus) I said something contrary to the general opinion.  The next thing I knew one of the boys loomed over me and told me to, “shut your mouth and spread your legs.”  I don’t even remember how I reacted (except for the fact that I marched into the classroom when the bus pulled in and told the teacher straight away), but I remember the realization that I was much smaller than even the shortest boy there, that there was nowhere for me to run to, and that the bus driver was awfully far away.  I remember realizing that in that moment that these boys, if they wanted to, if they chose to, could hurt me.  I remember realizing that I was suddenly scared of these boys who I sat in classes with every day.

They didn’t hurt me, he pulled away laughing and they got back to their which-sexual-superpower-would-you-prefer meditations.  To some of the boys’ credit they looked deeply uncomfortable about what had just happened, but none of them had stood up against their friend and none of them apologized until a teacher and another school authority made them.

My fear turned to fury at the fact that they had chosen to try and shut me up via sexual intimidation, which is what motivated me to tell my teacher, but I’d by lying if I said I’ve forgotten how scared I was in that moment before anger propelled me into action.  That experience stayed with me, and if I’m honest it has colored every relationship I’ve ever had with any male.  And to reiterate, most of my friends have been male, so clearly permanent damage wasn’t done.  But that was the moment I realized for the first time that beings who I previously saw as playmates were growing up bigger, stronger, and more able to enforce their will that I was.  On me and on my body if they chose.  Believe me, that is a realization that sticks.

I’m not the same girl now.  I’ve grown up.  Since that day I’ve been catcalled, I’ve been grabbed at by strangers, I’ve had dates get unwantedly frisky, but I’ve handled myself just fine with more confidence than I had at 14 and much more sass.  Cultivated, if I’m honest, for the purpose of being able to stand up for myself against people who would always be bigger and stronger than me.  Frankly, these days and after working where I have for four years gleaning the perspective I have, I’m just glad nothing worse happened on that bus – and I know exactly how statistically lucky I am that nothing much worse has happened since.  Although, to be morbidly honest, I’m barely a third of the way through my life – there is plenty of time for sexual crime to happen to me still.

And I think that there are so many men out there – good and decent men who are, I fervently believe, the vast majority of their gender – who don’t realize that most women live with that thought, whether conscious or not, everyday.  They walk into parking lots with keys held out ready to stab, cancel exercise plans when their partner does so they don’t walk alone at night, refuse calls to avoid people who intend them fear or hurt.  And we don’t do any of this for amusement, we do it because we honestly live with the threat of grievous harm – for no other reason than we are female and we either know from personal or trusted anecdotal experience that there are people out there who think their desire trumps our willingness.  That they have a right to do us harm.  Sexual violence against women is pandemic; yes, even in First World countries in “good” places filled with “good” people.

This man at my counter thought expecting an assault walking to the mailbox and back in the dark was silly.  His wife knows that, while on this particular Monday it’s not exactly likely, it’s more than possible.

Sexual Assault Hotline

*Sexual crime against men and boys happens and it’s just as horrific, but I’m speaking as a female here, so bear with me.

19 thoughts on “In Which It’s Late at Night and C. Gets Serious”

    1. Thank you. And you’re right. I don’t think most men realize that the same world can look very different through female eyes. There’s just as much good, but there’s a lot more for us to fear than I think even amazing, decent guys can comprehend. This guy (who I could have gone on about much more) seemed to go away with a bit more understanding about the realities faced by women – I hope it sticks.

  1. I worked on the rape crisis team in your same little town, and believe me, sexual assault happens even there. I wish I could have been there to hear everything you said to that guy. 🙂

    One of the most interesting things I heard during training for the rape crisis team was that they once ran some study where they pulled in a whole bunch of convicted rapists, showed them a room full of women, and asked which woman they would target. Every convict independently chose the same woman – the woman who looked least confident of herself, who looked like she wouldn’t put up any kind of fight, or wouldn’t have the courage to say anything to anyone about it (not to say that the victim is to blame. She for sure is not). So, while I still carry my keys out in the dark, I take comfort in knowing that I would for sure put up a fight, and for sure tell anyone who would listen to me what happened. Hopefully that comes across in my demeanor. 🙂

    1. I’m amazed I kept my temper honestly. I don’t take well to being mansplained to, and my back goes up instinctively when men condescend to tell me what the female experience is like, particularly when it comes to sexual crime and violence. Like I said, I know men and boys are targeted as well, and I *do not* discount the trauma that happens to them, but the data confirms that sexual crime is overwhelmingly female. We live with a sort of expectation of casual violence that most men don’t, I truly believe.

  2. Ugh! People in this town! And you know what makes me even angrier? People (men & women alike) who say things like, “Well, she shouldn’t have been walking alone at night” or “she shouldn’t have gone to that place at that time” like it’s HER fault that she was sexually assaulted and not the fault of the crazy, evil man who did it to her.

    1. Preach! The way we put blame for horrific acts of violence on the victim really angers me. Maybe 2 years ago a girl was raped running the trail by the river. And afterwards her assailant beat her face in with a cinderblock. And one of the first comments on the news story was how she brought it on herself by wearing running shorts and going alone. I was angry enough to chew nails!

      If I get really cynical, that is one of the crucial differences between male victim or child victim rape vs. female rape. I’ve never heard a healthy, sane person claim the men or children were “asking for it.”

  3. Jeez, guy, tell that to the girl who was repeatedly raped, brained with a cinder block, and left for dead in broad daylight a couple years back. In this safe little town.

    That level of ignorance is outrageous.

    1. Seriously! Rape and sexual crime are treated as an “other” crime. Something that happens to other people in other places. It happens HERE to people we know, if not us. It happens in supposedly nice and safe places. It happens in broad daylight. It’s not a behavior left to less savory parts of the world, “less civilized” than we are, it happens in, around, and amongst us.

  4. I remember in high school hearing that 1 in 3 women will be sexually abused in her lifetime. I think the number is even higher now. I remember being shocked and realizing that that meant myself or one of my sisters was bound to be abused. And it did happen. By someone we all should have been able to trust. And I’ve seen the havoc it has caused. Honestly, sometimes I’m a little glad that I have sons (though I know they’re still vulnerable) because I would be crazy with worry over a daughter for this very reason.

    1. Unfortunately the statistics for men, harder for a number of reasons to gather, aren’t that encouraging either. A safe assumption (from my personal research) seems to be between one in seven and one in five people – not men, not women, human beings total – will be sexual crime victims in their lifetime here in the US. That is a horrifying number.

      Sexual crime is a predominately female-victim crime – but it is not solely. And the cultural issues around gender and sexuality and dominance are so horribly big and broad I can’t hope to talk about them successfully. I’ve focused on the female face of it here, but sexual crime is a people problem. It affects us a species.

  5. Couple the statistics with the fact that sexual assault is almost more likely to be perpetrated by someone the woman knows, and the fear rises even higher. Being the survivor of an assault as a teen, by a close family friend, I know… you don’t always see the warning signs. Or if you do, you oftentimes discount them… because you “know” this person, & they just couldn’t do “that”. It’s not just the “outside world” that’s scary. It’s everywhere, could happen at any time. And you don’t always see it coming.

    1. You’re absolutely right, that was a point I didn’t even get into. This is what I mean about sexual crime being pandemic. The media often portrays, and people want to think, that rape or assaults are committed by random deranged people lurking in dark alleys – and goodness knows those occur – but they are far outnumbered by friends and acquaintances, neighbors or community members. Which is more fear-inducing in my opinion. A relationship with a person is no guaranty that you won’t be victimized by them, another thing that many men don’t realize is a reality that so many women have to cope with.

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