Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Survivor's panic

Somewhere around 4 months ago I was sexually assaulted on a bus. I've talked about it a little bit in previous posts, but today I feel the need to talk about it in more depth.

I will warn that this post is very lightly edited and written very much from the moment, and consider the above a trigger warning.

So, the short story is that one lovely Fall afternoon I was catching a rush hour bus home when some creep trapped me in a corner, pressed up against my side, and rubbed his junk for a good ten minutes until it was his stop. I tried to take up less space, and when that didn't work elbow him off. His response was to glower and puff himself up.

I tried to gaslight myself the second I was off the bus. Maybe he just had super itchy balls? I mean, he was a creep either way, but you know, people on buses right?! I promptly realized what I was  doing, and pointed out that if I felt this rattled  and violated it wasn't "nothing". Some people have an angel and devil. I have an optimist who insists on seeing the good in everyone and a someone who is brutally pragmatic. The optimist wins more than you would think.

So I filed a police report and spent a few weeks being so anxious I could hardly eat. I am not an anxious person, but every day, getting on the bus to go to work and to go home (or any other running around I did) I was just a ball of rattled nerves. I was scared to take public transit alone. Something I had been doing (often late at night!) for five years. I had a few guys sit too close or ask questions like "SO YOU'RE ALONE WHERE ARE YOU GOIN BABY?" and I've had to deal with obnoxious close talkers and guys who called me a bitch when I told them no I didn't want to go out with them. None of that had traumatized me. This did. It got better, and I'm almost totally comfortable on the bus again.I mean, I still scan it every day just in case, and if I see a large bald man with a pencil thin chinstrap get panicky, but it's been (mostly) fine.

Until today.

Today I saw him again.

Not on the bus though. At work.

I work in a medical building, and there are a few coffee shops in it. One is right beside the kitchen I work in, which is right at the entrance. I was coming in for my shift and there he was. I did a double and triple take, being guided by my coworker  who I bussed in with that day. He looked puzzled as we rounded the corner into our own dining area. "You okay?"

I shook my head and told him what I had seen. He looked back but my attacker had vanished into the bowels of the building. Which is probably for the best. I wouldn't have wanted to file a second  police report.

At this point I was freaking the fuck out. I serve customers directly. I was suddenly in a situation where the man who had assaulted me on a bus could walk in and ask me to make him a sandwich. My hands were shaking, and my job involves using knives. I tried to talk myself down. I had told a few of my co-workers what was going on, if I suddenly bolted, they'd know what was up, right? I did not need to deal with him if he came in. There was also the nagging little voice in the back of my head. What if I was wrong and it WASN'T him and I was potentially about to bring a whole lot of awful onto some innocent random guy who's only crime was thinking a chin-strap was a good idea? They're really not, if anyone is thinking about it. Just, don't.

So I spent a few hours trying to calm the fuck down and get my prep done for the day. I managed the second half of that before I went to talk to my boss. I started by telling him I was freaking out and kind of needed some help getting my head back on straight. He looked intrigued if not wary. As did my kind-of-sort-of boss who was also in the office. I know many people would be shy and quiet about this sort of thing, but I've come to feel that if I can talk about something it's less scary, so I tend to be pretty open about... everything.

So I told them that I had seen the guy who assaulted me on a bus over the summer and was freaking out. For reasons I don't quite get, they asked for details of what happened, which I gave. I was a saint and didn't loose it on my not-actually boss when he started saying I should have gotten up and moved or screamed or or or. I just said "It's hard when they're twice your size and have you trapped in a corner" and he seemed so confident that had I just piped up, someone would have come to my rescue. I've been harassed in public before, and it's been loud and obvious, I've never had someone come to my rescue. I don't know why he was so certain I would have been saved. Maybe he needs to tell himself that so he doesn't hate the world? After I explained that no, I saw him IN THE BUILDING and I think at that point was on the verge of tears because why was my not just saying I was freaking out because I saw a guy who assaulted me on a bus not enough? Why did they need to know HOW? Did they have to decide if I was the "right" kind of victim (turns out I am. Yay?) before we moved on? I was told if I saw him to grab one of them and he'd be promptly banned, and my boss agreed to stick me in back for the day while he handled my station because I just couldn't stomach being on the service side that day.

So I have spent almost an entire day in a rattled, panicky state, simply because I saw the fucker. I imagine it will take a few weeks before I'm back to being almost totally okay with taking the bus again, and now I get to look around anxiously for 8 hours a day, too. What really struck me however is, my story, which isn't really that dramatic, has left me rattled and traumatized. Facing the victim blaming. People trying to push on me that I could/should have done something differently, because these are things that are stoppable if you follow the rules for their own peace of mind. A well meaning but incredibly condescending "Don't worry. We'll protect you from the big scary man" were enough to make me want to hide in dry storage and cry for a bit. I didn't because I'm stubborn like that, but damned if I didn't want to. It was so frustrating and just added to the helplessness I was already feeling. In all of this there was one thought that struck me- how much it must suck for so many other people who've lived through truly horrific things. Yes, what I went through is terrible and I shouldn't try to brush my own shit under the table because other people have it worse. I know that is the jerk-brain talking, but sometimes "It could be so much worse" is comforting in its own horrific way.

I don't have a clean way to tie this all together. I just wanted to share my sudden and horrific perspective of "Oh god if this is anything like what rape survivors deal with I need to get right the fuck to work on that mind control device so people will stop with the victim blaming and the "BUT HE SEEMED SO NICE AND YOU DRANK SO YOU'RE A DIRTY WHORE" bull shit."

So, as always, I'd like to hear your insights/thoughts in the comments, but I WILL be moderating them more closely than usual. If you slip into victim blaming, or rape apologisim, or anything of that ilk, depending on the severity you might get a single warning. If it's bad, you'll just get banned and the comment deleted. 50 Shades (and less heavy topics) on Thursday.

Also a quick note: I'll be tagging more "personal" posts with "Erika's diaries" for future searching ease.


  1. I have pretty much the same reaction when I see someone who has assaulted me. It takes a while to feel safe again.

    You did the best you could with the resources you had available to you at the time, and you got away.

  2. I am sorry you had to go through that.

  3. Well...fuck. I keep trying to find something reassuring or sympathetic to say, but I know that circle of paranoia and optimism. But it pisses me off that you got that coulda-woulda-shoulda shit. I can understand them asking what happened because, honestly, that would be my first reaction--not because I didn't believe you, but because I wanted to know what had happened and what we might be dealing with. But it does suck ass how people just love to point out the coulda-woulda-shoulda from the comfy armchair of Hindsight.
    I wonder, though, if guys just get reflexively defensive on the subject of rape. I had a rather heated discussion with my dude about it, but I know he has some emotional baggage on that because a girl tried to accuse him of raping her in order to manipulate him. (What's funny/disturbing was that not even her parents or boyfriend believed it because they knew my dude.) I don't know what to do about it.

    1. I was torn on how to respond to this comment. On one hand, I actually do think you're coming from a place of honest intentions, on the other, the "Oh and my boyfriend was once accused of rape but she was just crazy" is hanging around in the territory of rape apologisim. People rarely think a person is capable of rape when confronted with the accusation, and don't want to think a seemingly nice person is capable of such a horrible thing. So they opt for the less horrific interpretations of events- that some crazy girl is making it up for attention (or to manipulate a guy or to hide the fact she cheated or or or. Apparently women have lots of reasons to lie about rape) and while I'm not trying to say "NO YOUR BOYFRIEND TOTALLY RAPED A GIRL!" I have already said for the comments in this section, we're running with little to no tolerance for that sort of thing, but I do think you mean well, so, warning as opposed to ban hammer. Not cool dude yes, even if it's "TOTALLY TRUE SHE'S UNHINGED!" this is not the space to talk about that.

      Also I'm unsure if you're asking for help on how to try and navigate the situation with your boyfriend or just mentioning the situation. If the first, if you want to feel free to e-mail me (or keep the comment thread here going, but I figure e-mail might be... easier.) at somethingshortandsnappyblog@gmail.com and if the second, well, feel free to ignore this part.

      And because I feel this is an important thing for everyone ever to read: http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2009/11/12/meet-the-predators/

    2. For what it's worth, I did mean well. I only meant to express that it's a tangled, messy, touchy sort of discussion to have, and communication is like a minefield.
      And I've rewritten and deleted about five explanations for why I mentioned my dude's experience, but I'm afraid of digging myself a deeper hole. I'll just apologize for bringing it up.

  4. Thats, really, really horrible- poor you. I really hope you dont see him again, and he falls off a cliff or something. I have also wondered about rape in Canada. The only things i have heard about it have been bad (not that there's anything good, at all, ever) but the things that i can remeber is Justin Beiber saying that it happens for a reason. Now i dont give a flying fuck, except that that could well reflect a wider perception and thats really worrying, as well as him being intently listened to by a massive portion of the media etc. The other thing was the police officer who claimed that women who got raped were asking for it by dressing provocatively. I dont mean to insinuate that all Canadians are rapists or anything even remotely like that,it just seems like there is a real problem. Which is especially contradictory considering Canada's reputation for being a really nice place.
    One other thing.One of my friends was raped. She told me, and we went to the police. It turned out she hadnt been the first, and the man is now in jail. It was all handled incredibly well, and she seems so much better. So, although there are stories about how bad the police are, they're not all like that, and I expect the vast majority aren't. If anyone reading this has got any experience, i urge them to come forward. Please.

    1. As far as I've ever been able to tell it's about the same in Canada and the US, although Canada has a much less terrifying definition of rape/assault. I'm blanking on the exact wording (I was reading up on rape in Stats Can not long before the initial assault had happened oddly enough) but basically any unwanted touching is no-go, plain and simple. The US has much more... specific definitions from my understanding (I have yet to have the wherewithal to read up on it in more depths so someone feel free to correct me) so only certain types of assault count as sexual abuse.

      Canada is actually a pretty nice place, but it still has its problems, and they are not small in number or scale. Its attitudes towards women and "women's problems" (like rape, apparently that's a woman's problem. Because there has never been a man raped) is not particularly progressive.

  5. Erika... I'm sorry for your experience. That is a situation I don't wish upon anyone. Nobody should have to deal with it ever. Since when is riding a bus by yourself an invitation to have some douche grab his junk at you? People suck... the things we're capable of scares the fucking shit out of me! Especially when it's probably "normal behavior" for them AND they get away with it! You should've threw a "What pineapple" at his fucking head when you saw him again.

    I think your reaction is justified and screw anyone who doesn't understand. Everyone deals with their experiences differently, whether it be good or bad, and it's not up for anyone else to tell you what you should/shouldn't feel, do/not do, etc. You need to deal with it the best way for you & that's all. You shoulda, coulda, woulda, did something different, but you didn't and that was your choice, because that was the way you were comfortable dealing with it at the time. Not to mention, fear & panic,that in itself is paralyzing. I mean WTF? Seriously, nobody wears a Superman costume under their clothes anymore! Everyone is too afraid to get involved, and that's sad but true! The most that may have happened, that would maybe help, is that somebody probably would've video taped the dispute on their phone, so possibly you'd have evidence. But sadly in today's society, the odds are better that it would just end up as a joke on YouTube!

    People are detail oriented. I, too, would've asked what happened, but only to better understand the entire situation, but I wouldn't have dismissed it or treated it any less important, especially if it had this kind of overwhelming effect on you.. make sense? (this is a really bad analogy but its the best I can describe what I mean... I AM A COMPLETE ARACHNOPHOBIC! The tiniest of spider can cross my path and if I see it, I completely lose it... panic, fear, tears, sweat etc. but people who don't experience this, don't understand & completely dismiss my fear as an overreaction. In my rational mind, it probably is but FUCK THAT it's how I feel & it should be respected...) I feel this is how you're viewing your guilt. In your rational mind, you think "Yeah somebody somewhere has had it worse" and you're right, they have, but that doesn't make your situation any less severe ESPECIALLY if its causing you to physically breakdown. NO situation of this kind, IN ANY FORM, is okay and it is a completely rational reaction to be distraught over it. Even if it wasn't the same guy that attacked you, obviously it still has a profound and unsettled effect on you & needs to be dealt with. I hope you find a way to, cuz otherwise it's poison in your system.

    To help with United States stance on abuse...
    The U.S. stance on Sexual Assault is "Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape."
    Of course, it varies by who is taking your statement! If someone grabs your arm & says he/she is going to touch your boobs, it could only be "simple assault" because he/she didn't ACTAULLY touch your boob! Or sexual harassment because it was "only words"... shades of grey.. no pun intended!

    Anyway, I hope you can come to peace with this... Esse Quam Videri...To be, rather than to seem.
    To be at peace with this rather than to just seem at peace, is what I wish for you...

    Have a good night.
    --Crazy, cursing girl

  6. That sucks. And boo on your boss that wanted to blame you for what happened. What you did was a good thing. If anyone wants to blame you for that, they can take a one-way trip to /dev/null.

  7. I'm sorry you still have to go through that. The fear that you usually carry at the back of your mind of "What if I ever see him again, then what?" is traumatizing enough, but when actually faced to it, and you usually freeze and go into full-on panic mode, is just about the worse. It takes you by surprise, even though you've been thinking about it, you never would've admitted to yourself that it COULD happen. And then all the progress you've made is stripped away from you. The menace, the threat is real. It can manifest itself anywhere, you are not safe. Unfortunately, that point is usually when you lose it, when you actually go through all the emotions of it, even if you have been through it before.

    So, you can probably tell I know all too well what you are going through and I am very sorry. Reading about it makes me all kinds of crazy mad, at the abuser, at society for judging on it, at other people's reactions to it (not really here though, thank god.) and the general victim-blaming of it all.

    I can tell you it will get better eventually, even though right not it doesn't seem like it. A tiny little bit of sad personal experience? Years and years after, even after a move to a different province, I will sometimes very randomly catch a glimpse of someone I think I recognize in public and freeze in terror. You know, the kind of scare that make you want to roll in a ball, completely immobile and close your eyes. It sucks. You think you're over and that you've move on, but a trauma will always remain a trauma, sometimes it just surfaces.

    Ok, I just re-read my comment and it pretty much sucks. Nothing positive about it. Again, I'm sorry. It was meant as a "I'm sorry, I understand, I agree with you and it will get better...."

    1. It doesn't suck. If anything it reaffirms that what I suspected for the long term of it all, and that it's "normal", so if nothing else I can brace myself for the inevitable relapses. Although seriously how did YOU deal with people saying things like "Well why didn't you..." because I nearly lost it on someone today.

    2. Well, I have to admit my experience ws very different than yours. Mine was more about long-term violence and abuse from a boyfriend, than completely random public sexual assault by a stranger..... So I did not have to go through the comments of know-it-all asshats who thought they could/would of dealt better with the situation and that it was appropriate to ask questions....

      I kept my experience a secret for a very long time, so I did not had to go through scrutiny. And for somewhat stupid reason I don't understand (Because I do not think it's fair to any victim) society will not be so fast and easy to doubt or blame a girl suffering from domestic violence. It's almost like, we see the violence, we see its aftermath, we can't sweep it under the rug. But sexual harrassment? Now that's different. And it shouldn't. I don't know how to explain it, but it seems to be a bad perception, almost like if you can't see proof of the trauma, we're not as willing to believe/accept it? (And I say WE in meaning society....)

      I think you are the doing the very best thing by talking about it and opening up, you are protecting yourself, even though you have to deal with jerks. That, unfortunately, cannot be helped....

    3. I kind of lose it on people. I try to do it semi-calmly, but so far I've just ended up spitting, "Um, I shouldn't HAVE to have said no more than once. I shouldn't HAVE to have fought. I shouldn't have to justify myself to you. Rape is rape." asdfjkl it makes me so mad. I mean honestly. Just start fucking saying it, because people need to hear it. "I shouldn't have to have said no more than once. I shouldn't have to fight off sexual assailants on the bus. That's really beside the point, and the tendency to focus on what *I* did 'wrong' that 'allowed' someone to assault me is kind of a big part of why one in six women get raped in this country."

  8. I understand why your boss(es) asked what happened, it could have been to better have a grasp of the situation, and see what would be the proper course of action to take with the guy. Sadly, the only one I disagree with is the not-a-boss-but-a-boss guy telling you that you should have taken better precaution.

    You did.

    You did what you could in that situation at that point in time, and to be told otherwise is just fucked up. If he saw that you were visibly shaken, and were admitting to your inability to function well in your station, then he should have taken what you were saying at face value. Instead of wagging his finger at you and saying "OH, HAI! YOU SHUD HAB DUN BET-TAR, SO WE NO HBS DIS SITUSHUN". I'm now an angry troll, and can't think straight.

    Angry, angry troll.

  9. Shame on your coworkers. As if you didn't already having enough thoughts of what you could and should have done. That man invaded your space physically and lewdly in a public place that you should have felt completely safe in. That's three strikes: your personal bubble was invaded, he maintained physical contact, you should have been safe (or at the very least, ignored) on a bus, and then to top it all off you came face to face with him. No warning at all. It's easy for a man to tell you what you should have done (no offense to all the men out there).
    Women are basically taught from day one to be polite all the time, to act like "ladies." When we speak up and defend ourselves against harassment in public, no one comes to our rescue because they assume that since we spoke up we can take care of ourselves. And when we try to be polite, our discomfort is overlooked.
    Honestly, I don't think there was much you could have done on that bus. Something very similar to this happened to me on a school bus when I was 15, although it involved him shushing me as he put his hand down my pants. And I was terrified that if I stood up everyone would see and that they'd think I was a whore and that my very religious parents would find out. So I did absolutely nothing. I didn't even scoot over; I just kept whispering 'please stop, please stop.'
    So if something like what happened to you were to happen to me next week, it'd be easy (easier) for me to say/do something about it. But if this is the first time something like this has happened to you, you just don't know how to react. There's revulsion, anger, feeling violated... it's a lot to work through. I hope this doesn't effect you for a prolonged period of time :( my heart goes out to you, I know how it feels.

  10. I'm so sorry he did that to you. I don't really know what else to say, except that I hope you feel better.

  11. I wanted to kill everyone who said, "Well, did you say no again?" when I told them I'd been raped. LIKE ONCE WASN'T FUCKING ENOUGH? Or maybe he should have sought consent in the first place? Why do I have to explain myself and try to justify feeling so freaked out and confused and too drunk to say "no" more than once?

  12. I am sorry, that you had to go through that. I was a very young child (11-12) when I was walking from my grandmother's apartment back home (this was literally about 5 mins walk) in broad daylight!, when I heard a man's voice calling something out (that I can't translate with the same meaning in English). I knew he was calling me, because there was no one closer and I don't know why, but I instinctively made a few steps towards the voice. When I turned around I saw this unpleasant, foul man showing me his junk (while calling me). I got scared and felt tained and horrible and ran away crying (I ran all the way to home, without turning back). He called after me for a while, but thankfully didn't follow me. I got home, my parents weren't in yet and I cried for maybe half an hour.

    Days, even weeks after that I was anxious to walk this way again - I always looked around for that truck (ready to run if I saw it) and didn't even want to go on the same side of the road again (it made me feel a little safer). Eventually I told my parents and they were horrified and calmed me down, but there was nothing they could do. Thankfully, I never saw him again.

    When I share this with my friends I get the... well not victim blaming but the 'Oh, come on, don't overreact,' and I just... this is such bullshit. I was a child! I felt traumatized! And yes, rape-culture and pedophilia in my country are less recognized (like it's very common for 15-16 year-old-girls to go out with 25-30-year-old man and those girls are called whores, sluts etc. - however this situation in particular is not exactly pedophilia and rape - I mean technically yes, but in reality...- while those ARE young and impressionable girls (though not THAT impressionable, trust me), no one technically forces them into the relationships, it's just a thing that's happening - not that I condemn it, but I also try and stay away from epithets like 'slut'), but still. I feel cheated by society, when my horrible experience is being belittled. And I know it could've been much worse, but that doesn't make mine any better. And I've also had other incidents since - when an old man (and I mean someone well over 55) or just someone who I have no romantic/sexual interest in (that's really the only male attention I get), gets over familiar and/or over touchy with me - and even though technically harmless, it's still unpleasant.When I say 'harmless' I mean that if I would've said 'fuck off,' they would have. So yeah, sorry that you had to go through that and you had people making you feel even worse by putting you on the stand and then blaming you, for not reacting, It wasn't your fault. It;s the fault of the patriarch society that favors men and makes them feel justified to rub their junk against a woman they may find sexually attractive, disregarding her rights as a PERSON and then making HER question if her rights had been in fact disregarded. It's just too fucked up to be real and yet it is.

  13. Was he drunk too?

  14. So I know this post is very old but I'd like to share something that recently happened to me in a similar vein.
    Background info: I work the graveyard shift at a coffee chain inside an airport. I'm 25, female and well known for being polite and friendly.

    I had a regular customer come in, he always wanted to know what time I took my breaks and when I was getting off. I always brushed him off politely, not only am I shy to begin with but working persona was on so I do everything to make the customer happy. I did my usual smile, wave, pretend to do something important. This time though he came into my back area and proceeded to hug and try to kiss me. I shoved him off and told him to leave. At first I tried to laugh about it ("Haha, that sure was weird! I'm too young for him! Silly!") But the longer my shift went the more worried I got. What if he came back? What if I was alone? By the time I got home I was fully breaking down. My friends and family all supported me but my work was a little more hesitant. I filed a police report and they caught him but my coworkers pretty much all treated it like I over reacted. I even had one male coworker look at me point blank and say "He's a good guy." With the implication that I shouldn't have called the police. I started second guessing myself and worring about my attacker in ways I promised myself I wouldn't.
    It's been four months now and I still jump when guys touch me. I get nervous standing alone at the bus stop. My coworkers make jokes about it now. How I, the chubby white girl in a group of mostly pretty Indian girls, was the first one to ever run into an issue like this. If any customer asks for me they joke that it might be a "stalker". I laugh along but inside I'm terrified of it happening again.
    I hate that I feel this way, it could have been worse. I should just let it go. But I can't and I'm stuck here hating myself and these feelings.

  15. I'm so sorry that happened to you and your co-workers are being a bunch of gross jerks. What you're feeling is valid, and your reactions are valid. I hope you have a good support system outside of work, and if you want to talk more e-mail me on my personal account (clevernamepending@gmail.com). I know here if you file a police report there's a program in place for a few sessions of subsidized/free counseling to help cope with it, which I didn't find out about until nearly a year later, I'm not sure if that's your jam but it might be worth considering.