I was sexually assaulted yesterday in broad daylight in New York City.
He approached me on Rivington while I was waking my dog. I instinctually did “the scan” every woman does when she is alone and a man approaches her on the street. In other words, on a scale of 1–10 how likely is he to rape me? Things we look for during this scan include but are not limited to: Is he leering at me? Does he look aggressive? Drunk? If I scream will others hear? Will they come to my aid?
One thing we do not think about during this scan is what we are wearing. What we are wearing is not a factor because we have learned it is not our clothes that “ask for it.” It is our mere existence as women. How dare we.
During my routine half-second assessment I saw he was holding a Starbucks coffee cup. It was nine-thirty in the morning. I rationalized any threat down to a level one with, “he’s just going to work.” He asked what kind of dog was panting on the end of my leash. I responded. He then looked my body up and down and extended his hand, introducing himself. I reluctantly shook it, while scanning for escape routes.
Threat level back up to an eight.
Yes, a cordial handshake is actually a very aggressive move. I have learned over the many years men have approached me on the street that a handshake is some weird version of consent to them. They’ve touched your skin with your permission. They know your name (or the fake one you routinely give out). So, why wouldn’t they be allowed to follow you? You shook their hand.
Yes. After knowing all this I still shake their hands because I am afraid of what they will do if I don’t shake their hands. It also buys me three seconds to scan for escape routes and manage the situation because as soon as a female senses danger, she is managing, negotiating, and manipulating her own survival.
I chose my escape route and quickly strode towards it. But a block later he was still at my heels asking where I lived, if I was going home.
We were now stopped at corner, the light not ours. He was too close and too aggressive. All my internal alarm bells were ringing.
So I risked it, picked up my dog and bolted across four lanes of oncoming traffic because I trusted those cars to stop more than I trusted him to stop. He followed me, keeping with my invigorated pace. Ironically one of the cars I ran in front was a cop car.
By the time we crossed the street he was on my heels, his presence pushing me closer and closer to the walled side of the sidewalk. He was closing in on his prey.
I was trapped. I knew it was time for me to cause a scene. Maybe it was time five minutes prior, but I was just doing my best to be the slippery silver fish that stealthily slides between ones fingers to its freedom.
And that’s when he grabbed my ass. I was wearing sweatpants and he managed a whole handful.
And then I lost it — but not without apologizing first.
I whipped around, suddenly felt ten times bigger than my 5’8’’ frame and yelled, “I’m sorry but — “ (followed by a torrent of expletives).
I have never unleashed like that on a stranger before. I find myself to be a polite person, deferential even. But how dare I be so deferential that my instinct was to apologize to him. Let me repeat — I apologized to him!
He stepped back with his “innocent” hands up, saying “whoa, whoa, whoa. Okay. Okay.” His reaction made it seem I strung those expletives together because he asked to pet my dog.
As I turned to walk away his parting words were “I’m going to jerk off to you.”
I am writing about this because I will not let his actions shame me into silence. I want myself and others to start identifying these everyday occurrences as what they are, sexual assault.
Kelly Oxford started a Twitter phenomenon when she asked women to tweet at her their sexual assault stories with the hashtag #notokay after the Donald Trump and Billy Bush tapes were released last October. When I scrolled through the stories (and I hate how passive “scrolled” is as these women deserve so much more) I wondered how many women were sharing their story (or stories) for the first time. Was this the first time someone asked them, “tell me your story”?
I have other stories of sexual assault and harassment. Other stories I’ve internalized, silenced, blamed myself for. They become our burden, altering our posture, our smiles, even our livelihoods. And I am one of the lucky ones — my bruises are mere dents in my armor compared to others.
No more silence. I hope the phenomenon of #notokay continues, not just with incidents from the past, men whose secrets we’ve kept, but with the current “locker room talk” that spills onto the streets and that we dip and dodge on a daily basis.
I filed a police report. For those women in the New York area he was about six feet tall, long brown curly/frizzy hair in a bun under a beanie. His right front tooth prominently over lapped his left. Brown eyes. Ethnically ambiguous. I believe his name started with a “J.”
He will follow another women. Possibly at night. Possibly with greater repercussions.