An open letter to the people at the party where I was molested in plain sight
I’m not here to blame you for not preventing what happened. I understand the situation was confusing, and you thought I was okay.
But I do blame you for the way you acted afterward.
You showed no compassion. Instead, you blamed me for what I did about it.
How could you ruin this man’s life?
When Christine Blasey Ford accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, many people, including the president of the United States, chose not to focus on the validity of Ford’s statement or what we can do to prevent abuse like this in the future. Instead, they chose to focus on how the accusation would affect the accused’s life and the lives of other men who must deal with accusations of sexual assault.
These highly publicized events reminded me of what happened to me in Goa, India several months ago. In my case, the man in question, whose life may have been ruined by a sexual assault accusation, wasn’t the accused. It was, instead, the beloved man who provided the drugs on the night it happened. Let’s call him: Joe.
The assault and the next 24 hours
The night of my assault, I had taken too much LSD and I couldn’t open my eyes for more than a few seconds. As I lay on the edge of the dance floor of an underground club in Anjuna in north Goa, largely incapacitated, a man was touching me all over my body. Everyone at the party thought I was okay because I was smiling and even moaning in my dream state. My good friend at the time, Ajay, who was also on drugs, asked his friend Joe to confirm I was okay. By waking me up briefly and asking me: “Are you okay?” Joe thought I was fine. However, in reality, I did not know what was happening.
On the ride home later on when I was a little more sober, I was horrified to find out what had happened during the several hours I had been at the club. I had felt safe and had been with one of my close friends. It seemed impossible a man had been touching me without my knowledge the whole time.
I knew I needed to do something about it, and my first idea was to tell Joe, the good friend of Ajay’s, who had assured him I was okay at the party. I needed to tell Joe I hadn’t been okay and he’d severely misjudged the situation. More importantly, he might have known the assailant, and I wanted to figure out how we could find and confront that man.
So the evening after my assault, Ajay and I headed to the store where Joe worked. When I saw him, I said: “I had no idea that guy was touching me last night. Do you know who he was?”
Joe responded: “Yeah I know that guy,” and then went to attend a customer.
Joe was in the middle of his shift as I told him this, and separately, he was dealing with some serious personal issues, which I was privy to, so I didn’t press him on his lack of a reaction. I don’t know if he didn’t care, or didn’t believe me, or didn’t get it. All I knew is he didn’t seem motivated to help me.
This confused me, as I wasn’t sure how I should feel about what happened either. I was angry at the man who’d assaulted me but I was also angry at myself. I wished I hadn’t overdosed on acid. I wished I could have gone back in time, woken up, and kicked that man in the face.
When I arrived home later and thought more about it, I realized doing nothing was not an option. It couldn’t end like this; that man needed to be stopped. What if it happened again to someone else? What if he were able to find another inebriated woman and bring her home with him this time?
Getting the word out
I needed to tell people about the person who took advantage of me, so I decided to write a blog post. In the post, I recounted the events of the previous night based on my memory and the details filled in by Ajay. I mentioned there were drugs at the party; even though it made me look bad, it was a major part of the story. I didn’t say who gave me the drugs or mention any specific names of attendees. And it was a private post that could only be accessed via a direct link.
I had my friend, Ajay, read the article first and make sure he thought it was okay to share. I knew he would have the other people at the party’s interests in mind.
I sent the link to the club where the incident occurred through the contact form on their website. A day later, the venue owner called me. He apologized for what happened but said as long as this article is online somewhere and his venue is mentioned in it, there needed to be a formal police investigation regarding the assault as well as the drugs. The venue was responsible for reporting this or else he could lose his business license. He also asked me who brought the drugs to the party.
I told him I would not tell him where I got the drugs. That was not the point of my story. I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble except for the man who’d taken advantage of me.
In the end, I didn’t feel it would be worth it to press charges against the assailant because I knew the Goa police would care more about the drugs than anything else.
That said, the venue owner assured me the man who molested me would never step foot in his club again. (He knew who he was based on my description.) He would also install cameras in the venue to prevent events like this in the future.
Even though that meant the man could roam freely, I was satisfied with the result of what I’d written. I felt there was some justice.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t where the story ended.
Later, my friend Ajay told me some people in the Anjuna community were angry at him for letting me publish that article and, of course, at me, for writing it. Apparently Joe stopped talking to Ajay completely, and at least one other attendee of the party had made a snide comment to Ajay for his support of me.
“They invited you to the party as a friend in a close circle. And they felt there were other ways to take action and you didn’t need to put people who invited you in risk of trouble,” Ajay texted me.
When I read those words, I was shocked and hurt. I couldn’t believe I was now the “bad guy.”
Despite my efforts to omit and obscure details, apparently, the article was still incriminating. I felt badly about this. In hindsight, there was more I could have done to protect against any investigation of drug-use. And I can see how if the police were to see the article, they might have been able to figure out who brought drugs to the party and take action against them.
But from my perspective, I was doing the right thing by telling the events mostly as they occurred. I didn’t want to compromise the validity of the entire story. After all, it was the truth.
Why we blame victims
At the time of the assault, I felt badly about potentially hurting people who were uninvolved. (Today, I don’t know if anything happened to them or not.) But now that I’m no longer in India, I realize how backwards that was. All I did was talk about what happened, yet I was painted as reckless and ungrateful: me, the victim.
In made me wonder: why are we so quick to get angry at the wrong people?
One reason is we’d rather not see the world through the victim’s eyes. It’s less painful and easier that way.
People don’t like it when their view of the world darkens. They don’t like it when the images of their former heroes are tarnished. They don’t like it when the world that once appeared safe is no longer so. They do not like it when their memory of a woman enjoying herself at a club transforms into a memory of a woman being abused as they stood by. It’s difficult to accept these realities. In the short term, denial is a much easier mental feat.
They do not like it when their memory of a woman enjoying herself at a club transforms into that of a woman being abused as they stood by.
By talking, victims bring problems to light and to the attention of others. But if we remove the victim’s credibility, the problem goes away. In my case, that was fairly easy because I was an outsider visiting Goa only for a few weeks.
Furthermore, sexual assault cases are often not cut and dry. These cases sometimes involve drugs and almost always involve missteps by the victim as well. It’s rarely the case of some perfect virginal woman and an evil man that comes and kidnaps her while no one was looking. In those cases we couldn’t blame the victim; it would be too obvious she was innocent.
Thus, because the lines are often blurry, we can more easily imagine these events in whatever way suits us best.
Because the lines are blurry, we can imagine the events in the way that suits us best.
But we need to understand abuse can occur anywhere and in a myriad of ways. Sometimes it occurs among close circles of friends at elite business schools over extended timeframes (as with my close friend). Sometimes it implicates people who are not the victim nor the perpetrator and never asked to be part all the “drama.”
But ask any former addict and they will tell you: the first step toward progress is acceptance. All of us need to accept the world is and has been a dangerous place for women for a long long time. And when someone is molested, the answer is not to attempt to walk away with our hands up yelling “not my problem!”
We must listen to victims and ask ourselves what we can do better to prevent violence. What can we do to make the world a place where men and women are free to do as they please? To wear what they want. To go out alone. To get lost completely in music without worrying about predators.
To the attendees of that party:
It’s not my fault that man assaulted me. It’s not my fault you didn’t see it was non-consensual. And it’s certainly not my fault you brought drugs to the party.
Turn your attention to the man who molested me. It’s his fault.
We’re not telling these stories for your pity. Or to justify our own behavior. We’re telling these stories to warn others they need to be careful, so they do not make the same mistakes we did.
And we’re telling these stories to send a message to predatory men. To make it loud and clear that when they use their social or physical power or our relative inebriation to manipulate us, we won’t be silent anymore.
In the absence of a community or a legal system that will support us, all we have is our voices. And rest assured, we’re going to use them.
I will not be silent. I’m going to keep telling this story. Because it’s true, and it’s helped others heal. Take responsibility for your actions.
And stop blaming the victims of sexual assault. Do you hear me?