Guest post by ObstacleChick
With the recent flood of high-profile sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, Roy Moore, and a variety of others, there is a tremendous amount of conversation regarding sexual abuse. While it is despicable that these people abused others, it is good that so many victims have felt empowered to speak up, creating more awareness of the prevalence of sexual abuse. A little over a year ago, the conversation came to the forefront in the running community when 3 women in 3 separate states were attacked and killed while they were out running. This excellent in-depth article from “Runner’s World” sums up what women would like for men to know – please read it. There is some good information about harassment in general that will benefit male and female readers alike
Prior to the “Runner World” article, I had not realized that unless I am inside my home or in another place I consider safe, I am always on alert. I am always cognizant of who is around me, whether they look threatening, and locations of my possible escape routes. There’s always the realization that I could become a target of someone with nefarious intent. People have told me that I walk very confidently, with a don’t-mess-with-me attitude. My mother used to joke that she felt sorry for anyone who tried to kidnap me because I would fight like a tiger despite my small stature.
My grandfather was a World War II combat veteran, and he taught me to always be alert in public and how to fight if I ever was attacked. One tip he gave was to carry your keys in your fist with the sharp keys sticking out between your fingers so you could punch someone in the face with the keys. He said to aim for the eyes to inflict most effective damage. If I was walking without keys, he instructed me to pretend to like the guy and touch his face to take him off guard, then to jam my thumbs into his eyeballs, grab his head near the ears, bring my knee up and jam his face into my knee as hard as I could, and then run like hell to a public place. He said to do whatever I needed to do to fight, and to yell “fire, fire” to get people’s attention. He said people might not be interested in an attack, but they would be interested in a fire.
While I have been very fortunate to have never suffered a physical attack, I have been cat-called on many occasions. Once when I was out running on a Sunday morning, someone in a windowless delivery van slowed down to follow me on a less-populated road around a reservoir. I promptly turned around and ran in the opposite direction back toward the homes, church, and police station on the road. I got the license plate number and reported it to the police station. People should not assume that women are only “checked out” when they are wearing something skimpy – this was in the winter, and I was wearing long pants, a jacket, a hat and gloves, and I was still followed — followed for being female while running. In fact, every time I have been cat-called while running, I was mostly covered. The time I was least-covered when I was cat-called was when I was wearing a long t-shirt and long shorts, and I was visibly pregnant. When a cyclist called out “nice ass” as he passed, it was winter and I was covered head to toe. Regardless of what we are wearing, women should not have to hear unsolicited comments like “nice ass” or “hey, hot stuff,” or “hot mama,” and we certainly shouldn’t be followed.
I have reminded my teenage son countless times that cat-calling is unacceptable behavior. The vast majority of women do not like it, and what do guys really think the outcome is going to be? Do they actually believe that if they tell me I have a nice posterior that I will say, “hey, baby, pull over that car and let’s go get it on”? Maybe some women will, but the vast, vast majority will not. And every time someone cat-calls me, it makes me angry. Some people have told me, “oh, that’s a compliment,” or “at your age, you should be glad that someone still thinks you’re hot” (I’m 48). NO! I do not consider it a compliment, I consider it unwanted attention that could be a precursor to something worse. It’s a situation in which I have to evaluate whether I need to flee, fight, or call the police.
Last year when the running attacks occurred, I had discussions with men about always being on alert. Even the most empathetic among them cannot understand what it is like to be on alert like this. Some men thought I was being overly dramatic. Others accused me of having a victim mentality. And yet others thought I was being paranoid. The only people I found who genuinely understood were other women or men who had been sexually assaulted.
Men can definitely be sexually assaulted, and I know of several who have been, but usually the abuse occurred when they were children or teens. Sexual assault is generally an act of control – someone who is stronger or in some way more powerful is exerting sexual control over another person. The recipient may be physically weaker, or they may be in a position of subordination (as in employer toward an employee), or the recipient may be below the age of consent. There may be a combination of these factors. In any case, the recipient is in a disadvantaged position. For example, the accusers of Roy Moore were either below the age of consent or they were young teens propositioned by a prominent attorney – someone with influence in the community. Each girl was at a disadvantage.
How can we as responsible adults make a difference? While I do not pretend to know all the answers to that question, I have identified some things that I can do personally. I can teach my children what sexual abuse means. I can teach them that they can and should say NO in any situation in which they are uncomfortable. I can teach them ways they can protect themselves, both in terms of fighting an attacker and in surveying a situation in which attack could occur. I can teach them to encourage their friends to speak up whenever they encounter sexual abuse. I can teach them to be supportive of others who report sexual abuse and not to automatically blame the victim. Even asking “what was she wearing?” or “was she out alone?” are subtle implications that the victim shares in the blame for someone choosing to assault another human being. Is it wise for women to be on alert, to walk with someone else rather than alone, to perhaps carry pepper spray? Indeed, these ways can help in the immediacy. In the long term we as members of society need to be discussing what sexual abuse means and creating a culture in which victims can come forward and not be immediately doubted and dismissed or considered culpable. We need to stop making excuses for abusers. We need to stop glamorizing and dismissing sexual assault in movies. For example, in “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” Han Solo forcefully kisses Princess Leia while she is trying to fix equipment even though she has told him multiple times and in no uncertain terms that she isn’t interested. Fast forward to “Return of the Jedi” when they are a couple. This teaches boys that no doesn’t mean no, she doesn’t really mean it, she wants you to kiss her and she will fall in love with you even though she seems mad at you right now.
No, that behavior is not OK. It is assault.
I hope one day our society will teach our children to use their voices to protect themselves. I hope that they will not feel afraid or like they are being mean by vehemently saying “NO” to someone who wants touch them or convince them to do an act with which they are uncomfortable. I hope that we as a society won’t automatically seek ways to blame the victim or to excuse the acts of a perpetrator. Until then, I will remain on alert.