What to Do After Being Groped
I had known the man for a matter of hours before he slid his hand down my shirt while I was sleeping.
Yes, you read that right, I was sleeping in the presence of a man that I had barely met. There were six men on that bus, three other women, and two children. So who was I to assume it was safe to fall asleep?
What was the situation?
We were on an overnight bus so we could attend a long weekend event of an international club in Bagan, Myanmar. We started the night toasting and sharing stories. But the happy, upbeat vibe I fell asleep to did not match my feelings waking up with a hand in my shirt.
I suddenly became aware of my surroundings and tried to wiggle my fingers to make sure it wasn’t me touching myself. But this hand was not mine, and neither was the beer scented breath I felt near my ear.
Cataplexy is defined as sudden episodes of muscle weakness usually triggered by strong emotions such as laughter, exhilaration, surprise, or anger.
Before I could plan any reaction, I brushed the hand away, muttered something like, “What the fuck!?” I looked up to see his sneering smile as he turned to return to his seat behind me.
I was so disgusted, cataplexy took my neck, and my chin fell to my chest. While looking down at my knees, I thought about what to do next but time was slipping away. I felt a need to vocalize what had just happened to this bus full of strangers.
At the same time, causing a scene felt impossible. It’s not in my nature. Besides, the cataplexy wasn’t letting up, and soon, I was fast asleep.
Cataplexy is defined as sudden episodes of muscle weakness usually triggered by strong emotions such as laughter, exhilaration, surprise, or anger. It is a symptom of a neurological condition called narcolepsy that impairs the brain’s ability to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. This was not the first time the symptom robbed me of my ability to react to an emotional situation.
I failed to speak up
Minutes or hours later, I was curled up in my seat with a blanket over my head. Another opportunity to speak up arose when he put his hand on the blanket and made a joke like, “What is this blue blob on the bus?”
Once again, I wanted to react in a way that showed him I wasn’t weak; I wasn’t vulnerable. He had the attention of the others on the bus; this was my chance to react.
Despite the adrenaline I had in my system from being violated, I couldn’t shake myself out of the deeper stages of slumber.
I hoped to kick him where it counts or punch him in the face to give him a black eye. Instead, when he leaned against me drunkenly, I tried to shout, “Don’t ever touch me again!” But it came out quiet and shakey. I was afraid of my voice and terrified of causing a disturbance.
He laughed and reported back to the others, “She said: ‘Don’t ever fucking touch me!’”
I felt like screaming and kicking and punching, but it was about two o’clock in the morning, and I couldn’t rouse myself out of sleep enough to deal with this imbecile.
During the day, I have a good handle on my symptoms of narcolepsy. But in the middle of the night, sleep reigns. Despite the adrenaline I had in my system from being violated, I couldn’t shake myself out of the deeper stages of slumber.
What is the appropriate reaction to being groped?
The next time I looked around, it must have been an hour later, and everyone on the bus was sleeping. I covered my head with the blanket again and contemplated how I was going to handle this incident moving forward into the weekend.
I realize what I wanted was an “appropriate” reaction. I didn’t want to over-react or make a scene because that has never been my style. I also didn’t want this man to essentially “get away with it” or be able to act as it had never happened. But I didn’t know what that appropriate reaction would be.
I typed into Google, “what to do after being groped” the results I got were not making me feel any better.
I started to think maybe it wasn’t such a big deal. It was just a boob, and after all, men have done much worse to my body. I’ve never felt as if my reaction was “appropriate” in any of those cases. But I wanted this one to be different.
In the morning, when we arrived at the hotel, I knew I had to tell someone. The trip organizer who invited me had been friends with my offender for over 20 years, which made me feel like he might not trust me. I have seen enough women speak up and be ignored, so I opted to talk to a married couple instead.
I felt weak needing their support. But, I’m glad I told them when I did because, by the middle of the afternoon, I felt the doubt creeping in.
What if it had been a hypnogogic hallucination? These are visual, auditory, or tactile hallucinations upon falling asleep or waking up that can often be frightening and confusing. They are a symptom of narcolepsy that I used to have frequently but in recent years are much less common.
Was it real?
What if it hadn’t happened at all? I saw the guy interacting with everyone else on the trip, laughing, drinking beer, and no one else seemed to be disturbed by his behavior. What if it had all been my imagination?
In my past, I have had hundreds of hallucinations of being violated. Often when those occurred, I was locked safely in my room, alone, with no possible perpetrator around. In those cases, I had to accept that it was not real and be grateful that I could let it go. But in this case, I wasn’t able to shake it.
Luckily I spoke up about it before my doubts got the better of me, and the way he acted toward me the rest of the trip confirmed that he was guilty, and he knew it. However, he never apologized or expressed any remorse.
What should I have done?
But by the end of that weekend, I still didn’t know what an appropriate reaction would have been. In my mind, these were the options:
- Physically respond by hitting, kicking, or punching him
- Legally react by filing a police report
- Socially respond by telling anyone who would listen about his advances
- Not respond
Narcolepsy affects my life in a lot of unexpected ways. Cataplexy took away my ability to choose option one, although I am not sure that is the “right” answer, it is undeniably what my mind was screaming at me to do. Doubting myself and my credibility as a witness has theoretically removed option two. Not to mention, we are two foreigners in Myanmar, which would make it difficult to go through legal proceedings.
My Emotional Response
Ultimately I am glad I chose option three. But I know that it is not enough. He will continue to go on with his life violating others, and I feel it was my responsibility to do something about it.
I have spent a lot of time figuring out how to forgive him, and understand that he probably didn’t mean me any harm. Although in this case, it’s challenging to apply the unconditional positive regard I try to award to everyone I encounter in life.
Unconditional Positive Regard
When you wake up in the morning, do you ever think… “I really want to make some people mad today! I’m going to piss…
I realize he probably wasn’t thinking, “I’m going to screw up this woman’s life by touching her as a reminder that men can violate her whenever they see fit.” While I can’t fathom what his thought process was, it probably had little to do with me and more to do with himself.
I know that doesn’t make it okay, but staying angry at him will only zap my energy. I refuse to give him the power to do that. But six months after the incident, I still find myself wondering what I would do if something similar happened again. What would I do?
We all have different perspectives on options and possibilities. So I would love to hear from you. What alternatives do you see?