Hey. Nice Men Grope, Too: What I Did & Didn’t Know, and What You Can Do

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, chad_k

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, chad_k

I consider myself an assertive and direct person.

So you can imagine how shocking it is to discover something like this about yourself — in the moment, and postmortem.

I’m writing about this now because I know many women and men — all considered peers, mentors and/or mentees — that also consider themselves assertive and direct.

Conclusion: If I didn’t know what to do in these situations, then maybe they might not either; Therefore assuming that they DO know what to do only set us all up for Opportunity Meets Unpreparedness. I am not willing to take that risk and I hope that by sharing this blog post with someone you care about, you will help us all be more prepared.

It is not easy to write, and I don’t imagine it is easy to read. And that’s ok.

When we talk about doing things outside of our comfort zone, it is typically referenced in a more positive or advantageous circumstance — road trips, skydiving, camping outside, running a marathon. But here and now is something uncomfortable. And if growth comes from stepping outside of your comfort zone, as stock memes say, then here is a lot of uncomfortable and I hope we grow as a result.

In the span of 48 hours, here are two real incidences that took place:

Incident #1: Sunday night:

I met friends for drinks and hangout time, in North Beach. At one of the places we went to, one of the girls in our group asked someone near us to take a picture of all. When we went to retrieve the camera, this man — 6 feet tall, early 30’s, blonde hair, glasses, average techie body build (hey, post work microbrews) and average techie dude wear (sweater vest and collared shirt) — and we started chatting, easily. I’m an easy to person to talk to, because I typically like to meet people and hear what you’re up to, and people like talking about themselves. It’s a win win.

Over the course of the next 30 minutes, he had pulled up a chair next to our table and we continued to talk about nothing in particular — how much we liked San Francisco, what we were up to during the Christmas vacation, he mentioned he had a girlfriend somewhere in the conversation, and how he had to catch the BART train back to Oakland soon.

While this is going on, my friends are having their own conversations with other folks they either ran into or came there with. In that 30 minutes, this person — Jay is exactly his name — offered to grab me a drink while he was up getting a beer. “You’re a lot of fun,” he told me. He brought me back a drink and we continued to talk, sitting next to each other. I noticed he had moved in closer and his body language was facing me, even though I was stillturned to the side still. By this time, one friend had left to go back home and my last two friends left were facing us and talking. As I listened to them, only halfway engaged because I was feeling tipsy, I felt him start to stroke the top of my hand, which was in my lap resting under the table. I shifted my hand away but was immediately concerned about it looking weird to my friends across the table. My head was saying, “I just met this guy and he’s trying some bullshit, my friends might think I’m being inappropriate in public.” Then he tried to hold my hand under the table and I politely pulled it away. He then took his hand and placed it on the outside of my thigh, and began to pet it. My head was still in “don’t make this a big deal, just casually diffuse the situation” mode but moving more toward panicked.

[If you’ve read this far and are wondering what I was wearing, or how much I had to drink, or how my body language was, I’m going to advise you to take a break from this post, to watch this 2-minute YouTube sketch on victim blaming before continuing on. My writing — this piece — is about awareness and taking action, and it’s not as valuable to you if your head is focusing on putting responsibility or assigning blame as your method of assessing the situation and seriousness of the outcome.]

I moved my leg slightly, but not so much as to look awkward above the table, since my friends were talking to me. Then he became more firm in his touch and began to move his hand up the inside of my thigh and started to try to put his hand and fingers between my legs, into my crotch. I pushed his hand away three times in a row, rapidly, and then froze, and looked at my friends, which is when they said, “Let’s go to a new place. Let’s move around.”

As we were gathering our stuff and getting up, Jay said “Let’s exchange numbers, I’m in SF for work often.” Feeling confused and stunned — gave him my phone.

He was smiling and casual, and he was looking at me like I was magical. He had no idea — or was pretending to have no idea — that what he did was wrong.

He typed his number and called himself on it, to have my number. I and many others have done this before when meeting someone we want to connect with again. I left the bar with my friends, got a slice of pizza, I went home. Jay texted me that night asking if I would be around the next day. Then the next morning, he asked me if I wanted to get drinks after work. I made up an excuse that I had to workout and work.

Later the next evening, I sought out counsel from a good friend who used to work at a rape crisis counseling center, because I couldn’t shake the feeling that:

  1. I had let this happen by not speaking up
  2. I was too careless with my surroundings, and that’s why this happened
  3. He seemed like a nice person, so why do I feel like this is very wrong?
  4. I was mad at myself for not standing up for myself in the moment and telling him to stop. How do I process that anger?

But I did have his phone number still. After learning some valuable tools and processing steps from my friend, I texted Jay this (broken up into two parts, because it wouldn’t all fit on one screen):

image1

image2 I have not heard from him since. My choice to reply back to him and use this as a teaching moment is not up for discussion. This is an account of me doing what I felt was right for me and I stand behind my choice.

Incident #2: Tuesday Night

7 other friends and I were at a popular burrito place in Downtown San Jose. It was packed with people. We sat at one of the larger tables, talked and ate. In the middle of dinner, an older man, a drifter of sorts, in worn clothing walked right up behind the two friends — a man and a woman — that were witting on my left, and put his arms around their shoulders, and started indiscernible mumbling what sounded like asking for money. I asked my friend (Man) if he knew this person — Man said no. My Woman friend looked uncomfortable and she was frozen. She couldn’t clearly see who was behind her, but we could.

No one in our Group said anything and everybody stared, stunned and uncomfortable. It’s the same type of uncomfortable you can imagine when someone approaches you on the street, asking for money — only now this Drifter was physically in two of my friends’ personal space and they were uncomfortable. Thinking of my talk with my friend the counselor just two days prior, and said loudly, “Please leave.” No one at the table said anything else. I said “Please leave” again. Then I stood up. “You need to leave, now.” The Drifter started to raise his volume a little louder, and I got up to find the security guard that I remember is always standing at the front (he wasn’t there, this time, for some unknown reason). When turned around, the Drifter had started to walk away.

And then it was over. And then the Man friend made a joke, there was nervous laughter and recovery, and that was the end of it.

I wondered why my Woman friend didn’t freak out more that a stranger was behind her, draping his body onto them. And after assessing the energy at the table, and the level of uncomfortable silence, it occurred to me that maybe She didn’t say or do anything, because the Group wasn’t saying or doing anything. She’s young. How do you even begin to know what to do when the people you work with and care and respect aren’t taking action on your behalf? She was possibly mirroring the group and sacrificing her safety and comfort level in the process.

Am I surprised? No — it’s not a situation anyone plans for, so knowing how to react in the moment is tough. Am I disappointed in them? No — it’s not a situation anyone plans for, so knowing how to react in that moment is tough.

****

Most of my bullet points pertain to Sunday night’s incident, but both sets of takeaways are listed together, below.

What I Knew in That Moment

  • I was uncomfortable being touched like that in public
  • I was uncomfortable being touched like that by a person I had just met
  • I was uncomfortable with his persistence and blind eye to my physical communication rejecting his advances
  • I did not want to be perceived as some handsy couple in a bar, not to strangers and not to friends
  • I wanted him to stop
  • I didn’t know how to ask him to stop without being loud and drawing attention to this person who up until then was being Nice
  • I assumed that because he said he made it clear he has a girlfriend, that he was not going to hit on me and is not interested in me
  • I let him buy me a drink, and sat while he purchased it and brought it back
  • I was more concerned about his feelings and his appearance, and how my friends perceived me than I was concerned with my own wellbeing and comfort level

What I Didn’t Know in That Moment

  • That I’m not trained to deal with a situation like this, because no one is. This is not taught to us when we’re young or even ever. So of course I and my Woman friend froze. (this was impressed upon me after talking to the counselor)
  • That I had let my guard and awareness down with the assumption that he had a girlfriend
  • That by letting him buy me a drink and not watching him at the bar or going with him to the bar, or just purchasing it myself, he has every opportunity to drug my drink. If you don’t think this is common, it is.
  • That my friends’ and strangers’ perception of me is not important, not now and really not ever
  • What his intentions were

What I Now Know I Can Do in That Moment

  • I have a right to be assertive, direct, and loud when someone invades my private space or oversteps my personal boundaries
  • I can make it a big fucking deal, because my safety and health is in jeopardy
  • I can absolve myself from the responsibility that I’m obligated to be polite, kind, nice or socially appropriate. Those are adjectives with emotions behind them. We are not talking about emotions here. We are talking about clear right and wrong, black and white, rights being violated. Put down Polite, Kind, Nice or Appropriate.

What I Learned

  • Even if you are careless with your surroundings, no one deserves to have their personal space violated. No one is to blame except the predator for their actions.
  • If you are uncomfortable, do whatever you feels is right and protects your boundaries, regardless of what people in your group do or don’t do
  • Most people are not trained to know how to deal with this situation in the moment
  • People are prone to mirror what they see in these stressful situations . Do not let their lack of coping skills jeopardize your comfort level or safety
  • It’s ok to make a Big Deal of it even if the people around you aren’t.
  • While the Drifter did not get violent or have a weapon, in hindsight, if he had, then this re-telling would be a cautionary tale. However, because he didn’t get aggressive or cause more damage, we seem to rationalize that it was ok that the Group didn’t take action. This is not ok.
  • The predator is not always the creepy stranger staring at you — it can be someone you know well and have a history with, have had a friendship or a romantic past or present with, or are familiar with just because they smiled at you over the course of 30 minutes.

We Speak

Leading up to these events, including one other that is not detailed here, there are two other people, surfaced in recent news, that prompted me to write this piece. So I’m speaking up for the We, including:

  • Alessandra Barlas. The murder of our dear friend, a victim of domestic violence, is not ok and it will never be ok.
  • Beth Stelling, a comedian who recently spoke out against an abusive relationship she endured by someone who was well known and acknowledged in the comedy community. In a world where the lines between friendship and boundaries can be unintentionally blurred so fast, she spoke out. “It’s not simple,” but she did it anyway. Because this happens, it’s been happening, and other people’s lives and wellbeing are in jeopardy after you and you can have a positive impact to make sure that never happens again.

I intentionally de-identified friends and their gender as much as possible, because I want to call to your attention that it is not a man nor woman’s responsibility to act on a man/woman’s behalf if they are being violated. If you are a human and another human is being violated, speak up and do something.

Valuable Resources For You
I am not a professional in the field of counseling, nor do I claim to be. These people are. Use as needed.

  • While the call-to-action that needs to happen is for all persons to not sexually assault, the reality is that it’s not reality yet, so it’s always in your best interest to protect yourself when you can. Here are reminders on how to protect yourself in bars and minimize the risk of being drugged — found at Brown.edu
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline: Call 1–800–799–7233
  • RAINN hotline: Call 800–656-HOPE to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

Bonus: My mother — while I’m not going to make her available as a resource to you, I’ll regurgitate what she relentlessly said to me as I was walking out of the door, growing up: “Be aware of your surroundings.” Especially now, with screens being so prevalent. Pick your head up. Walk with a purpose.

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