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An Ugly Rite of Passage

August 31, 2012

So a guy groped my ass on the subway yesterday.

I was heading home from the gym on the Q, where I’d gotten on at Union Square. I was standing by the door because there were no free seats, and the train was packed, so when the doors on my side opened at Dekalb and then Atlantic Ave, I turned and stepped slightly out of the car to let people pass and then took up my position by the doors again as they closed. At Atlantic, as I was standing waiting for the doors to close, the guy sitting next to the door reached through the seat railing and grabbed my butt.

At first, I was in shock. Did that really just happen? Maybe it was an accident. But it was a distinct fondle, not an accidental brush. I was at least five or six inches away from the seat–he had to reach out to grab me. It was NOT accidental. Did anyone see that? It didn’t seem so. If they did, they didn’t say anything. As I was processing what just happened, I moved a few feet away and closer to the door on the other side. I glanced back to the culprit and yes, the look on his face told me that he knew EXACTLY what he’d done. I considered making a scene, but ultimately didn’t want to draw attention to myself. And thus, I became fully baptized as a female New Yorker–I had been groped on the subway.

I’m still angry at myself for not doing anything. In my head, I always had this fantasy that if anyone put their hands on me on the train, I’d grab their fingers and twist as hard as I could while yelling, “WHOSE HAND IS THIS AND WHY IS IT ON MY ASS?” I wouldn’t let go until other passengers held the guy down and a cop came and arrested him on the spot and I’d have done my part to eradicate sexual harassment from the city. But it didn’t happen that way. I stayed silent. Because I didn’t think anyone would believe me, and if they did, they’d probably shrug and say, “What’s the big deal? Get over it, lady.”

That’s the kind of attitude that allows violence against women to perpetuate in our society. Not just the indifference of bystanders, but the inaction on my part. I feel awful now. I should have done something. But it’s a victim’s right not to make a scene or press charges. I shouldn’t have to feel a duty to do something that makes me feel uncomfortable in the name of saving other potential victims. At the same time, I SHOULD BE ABLE TO BE A WOMAN ON THE TRAIN AND NOT HAVE MY ASS GROPED.

The situation of having to spend two minutes on the train with the guy who groped me has brought up a lot of mixed feelings in me in the last 16+ hours since this happened. This is actually not the first time I’ve had someone touch me inappropriately on the subway. A few years ago I was getting off the N at Times Square when a guy striding down the middle of the car smacked my ass as I was stepping onto the platform. I turned around, agape, and he glanced back as the doors closed, smiling as if he was the cleverest person in the world. There was nothing I could do as the train pulled out a second later, but I sincerely hope that the people on that car beat the everloving shit out of him, or at least shamed him into never doing anything like that again. There was no chance for me to do anything about it, and so I didn’t feel what I’m feeling right now, where I had all kinds of time to take a picture, or tell someone, or scream at him, “THAT WAS NOT OK, YOU PIECE OF SHIT.”

Again, I feel strongly that a victim should be able to make a choice about pressing charges or not, but at the same time I recognize that the potential backlash and public shaming is a very strong deterrent to doing anything. Say that I had brought charges against the guy. I’m sure it would have been brought up that I was wearing tight spandex workout pants, and that I may have positioned myself badly by standing near the door and brought the entire thing upon myself. Never mind that even if someone has their butt in your face on a subway car with a skirt that is 3 inches long, that doesn’t give you the right to fondle them against their will.

I do remember his face, though, and if I see him on the Q again and he tries the same thing, you better believe that the next time, I’m breaking fingers.

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