If you see something, do something.
I write today to bring light on two women’s stories of assault and harassment. The first is by Lopez, a woman who attended my band The Flavr Blue’s show at Neumos this past March. It is a deeply unfortunate instance on how a malicious act, amplified by passivity and bystanding, leads to trauma. Her initial degradation and humiliation was only amplified by the inaction, the passive observation, the denial of her experience. How is someone assaulted in a crowd of people and yet left so alone? How could so many people come to watch women perform onstage, and yet look away as a woman is assaulted amongst them? I truly regret that Lopez or any woman would have to experience such a violation and subsequent ambivalence at our show.
The second story is my friend Lizzie Vance, who was aggressively harassed and mocked by a man in downtown Los Angeles. Dozens of women have reported this same guy, Dan Ciley, for similar harassment, but because he does not place his hands on or otherwise physically assault women, choosing instead to film them without permission and post the footage online, there is little legal recourse for victims, leaving him free to terrorize women. In fact, you can see Lizzie featured from 19:44 on of this Youtube video that Ciley posted the day after he harassed her. As with Lopez’s assault, Lizzie received no support from witnesses at the scene. Not only did witnesses decline to help Lizzie, some men at the scene decided to film what was happening, piling onto the initial humiliation and creating a many-layered, unwanted spectacle.
These are only two of countless other stories of women being abused in public, while bystanders look on. In too many places, it is unsafe to be a woman (or a trans or non-binary person). Doing nothing — standing by — is its own violence. If you are a man, and you see another man threatening or assaulting someone, it is within your ability to be a force of good. It is also the responsibility of all of us to intentionally create spaces where harassers and assaulters understand that they are unwelcome; where they know that there will be consequences for their actions. I make a commitment as a performer now to no longer assume that just because people have shown up to attend a show I’m featured at, that they will automatically share my respect for the boundaries and safety of all people. It is on us as conveners to make crystal clear that any form of intimidation or harassment is absolutely unacceptable. The abuse that Lopez was subjected to at my band’s show was not acceptable — and neither was the inaction of those who witnessed it.
A man urinated on me. I was standing by the speakers on the main floor in front of the stage watching Isabella Du Graf perform while waiting for The Flavr Blue to come out and the man standing behind me began to urinate on me. How did I know it was urine? Well, I’m pretty sure that a spilled drink doesn’t feel like a warm stream purposely, intensely hitting my right leg. I froze. I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t want to accept that this was happening to me. But then I heard a zipper, turned around, confronted this complete stranger, and just received a blank stare. Against the blaring speakers, I kept yelling at him, “What the fuck is this? Why is my shoe wet?!” Still nothing. Instead, he pretended not to know what I was talking about and distanced himself from me. He didn’t appear intoxicated nor under the influence of any substance. I questioned the two men standing next to him but they didn’t know what I was talking about either. I pointed at the wet floor and that’s when they admitted that they saw that same guy tuck it back in and zip up his pants.
They decided to stand up for me after initially doing nothing and intimidated him until he disappeared. The rest of the crowd around me who learned of the incident told me to shake it off and enjoy the show but I was standing there trembling and still humiliatingly wet. After ten minutes of trying to rationalize everything, I sought the help of a security guard who told me that they had kicked the guy out. I told him that I wanted to press charges but he explained that there was nothing I could do since he was no longer inside the venue. At the very least, he tried to sympathize with me.
My friend showed up to make sure I was okay. We waited outside for my fiancé to pick me up and that’s when I saw him nonchalantly turning the corner and walking straight towards me. I pointed him out to my friend and said, “That’s him.” She called him out and I nervously confronted him once more. “Why did they kick you out?” “I don’t even know,” he said calmly. “Why did you piss on me?!” “I didn’t,” he said. A bouncer overheard, got involved, and questioned him even more but to my disappointment told him to get lost. I was offered a free show to make up for this unfortunate violation.
And that’s what still infuriates me. I didn’t realize that what had happened to me was considered assault until I got home. I got in the shower and started sobbing when I reached for the soap. I felt overwhelmingly dirty. After I got out, I called the Seattle Police Department to file a report. My voice cracked several times and the woman on the other line seemed to understand the gravity of my experience. But sadly she couldn’t take my statement because I lived outside of the city limits. I cried myself to sleep that night.
My fiancé drove me to the East Precinct station the next morning. I wanted to throw up when we pulled up. Inside, I gave the police officer a play-by-play of what took place the night before. Did you know the suspect? And you’re sure it was urine? But you didn’t see it happen? Did you get any names? I felt stupid. I hadn’t followed protocol after somebody pisses on you. I gave him as much detail as I could fully describing my attacker but the officer later admitted, “A lot of the information isn’t relevant but it’ll do.” After he handed me a copy of my report, he chuckled and said, “I hope you have a better day.”
It’s been six months since I was assaulted on Capitol Hill in Seattle and I’m ready to go public with my story. Why now? Because I continue to feel disgusted by the bystander apathy effect that I witnessed that night. I am speaking out now because I am done grieving for the sense of security that was taken from me. I am speaking out now because I cannot actively work towards gender equity by remaining silent on gender-based violence. And I am speaking out now because I cannot begin to empower others without empowering myself first. To this day I get angry with myself for showing restraint and respect when I confronted my perpetrator outside the venue. I just wish he had done the same for me.
I walked this path countless times before: parking garage to 5th & Flower in busy downtown LA, through the sliding glass doors and down the escalators to my gym. Post-work, post-everyday B.S., the gym is my sanctuary, a place to make my body stronger, my mind clearer. When I’m done, my path reverses and I’m on my way to my car, homeward bound as a revived woman.
But on August 12, my usual path back to the parking garage was interrupted by an unwelcomed stranger. Headphones in, face to phone, I was busy texting a friend when a man approached me from out of my line of sight, his quiet voice asking, “Hi, how are you?” I had seen his face before, not in person, but shared as occasional photos and screenshots posted within an informed women’s group I’m a member of on Facebook. The primary purpose of this group is to share creative projects and ideas, but because the group is exclusively women and because street harassment is very real for women, frightening experiences are often shared as warnings — look out for this man, do not go to this establishment, etc.
In a matter of seconds, I registered Dan Ciley’s face. I looked down and as described many times to the women’s group, he stood before me with a video camera pointed to my face, smiling in what can only be described as malicious, menacing. This is his m.o. — aggressively approach women day or night, ask vulgar questions, make disgusting remarks, record the interaction and post online. Most women awkwardly oblige him, not sure what to do or say, mostly out of not confusion but fear. My answer? “Oh no, no, no. You are that fucking creep. Get the fuck out of here.” Thoughtful, I know.
I turned around and put two tall, broad men between the two of us — safety, I thought. As I’ve been taught to do since I was a little girl, I became very vocal about the fact that he was threatening, that he has been reported to the police and that he should leave me alone. This whole experience was unnerving and exhausting, but what’s worse, is that not one person even inched to intervene. I get it, we’re all strangers, no one knows exactly what’s happening. Why put yourself at risk? Why step in when the potential consequences are unknown?
When traffic stopped, I crossed the street, putting even more distance between us, making my way to a private security guard standing coincidently just on the other corner. Even then, even in the presence of another man, Dan continued to harass and mock me. He continued to record. In the video, now posted online, the security guard waves his arms and tells Dan that he does not have the right to record. Except, he does. And he knows it. According to police, as long as Dan is on public property, he has the right to approach women, harass women, record their faces and post their interactions online.
As I walked away from the scene, shaking and enraged, I caught the two men I had put between Dan and myself, recording the end of this embarrassing and nauseating scene from a safe distance. Why put yourself at risk when something’s worth recording? Why step in when the unknown is avoidable or better yet, shareable? Because I have had strangers follow me home on many occasions. Because men have purposefully blocked my path forcing me to walk into on-coming traffic. Because I’ve had a stranger try to enter my home 2am. Because Dan’s form of male entitlement, though legal, is a symptom of a much greater, much more dangerous illness.
Men, if you’re reading this, ask yourself if you walk with your keys between your knuckles. How many people have suggested you carry pepper spray as an accessory to your key ring? Ask yourself if you habitually check over your shoulder in parking lots, on the street. How often do you cross the street to avoid unwanted attention? When was the last time a stranger verbally attacked you for not smiling? Do your Uber drivers ask to come inside when they’re dropping you off at home? How many times have you carried your friends home because a stranger drugged their drink at a bar?
I was raised to be polite, empathetic, to take up as little space as possible. I was also raised to constantly be aware of my surroundings, to live my life with a tint of fear — fight or flight preparation for what’s to come. But now, I suppose partly in thanks to Dan Ciley, my voice as been raised. I will never be a silent bystander, complicit in the everyday aggressions forced upon women. I will always intervene on a behalf of another woman. I will always create space for women. And I ask you to do the same.
— Lizzie Vance