With the attack on Planned Parenthood this past weekend and the serial rapist in the Lower East Side, I have been thinking even more than usual about women's safety. I say more than usual because in truth, I am always thinking about it.
In the past year, there have been several attempted rapes right out on the street, and I personally know many people who have suffered assaults or rapes in our community, both by known and unknown perpetrators. It is hard to talk about it mostly because people often don't believe us.
Unless it was a violent attack by a stranger caught on camera, it can be very difficult to admit you were physically or sexually assaulted, both because it is painful to think about it and the discussion about it is usually silenced by discomfort and shock.
A woman never knows when a casual encounter with a known or unknown person might devolve into a scary situation, and we as a community have a responsibility to be vigilant for our neighbors.
An example of this happened to me just two weeks ago. I was at a local bar after I attended an event. While we were there, my male friends saw a person they knew so they went over to talk to them, leaving me to sit at the bar. As I sat there, a stranger started commenting on my outfit. Then he started touching my jewelry and flirting with me.
Unfortunately, my reaction is always to "be nice," so I engaged with him even though I probably shouldn't have. I quickly started to realize that this man was not going to be respectful of me – he wasn't asking me for my name or my interests or anything about me. He just started to make very nasty sexual commentary about me.
At first I laughed because – well, what would you do? It's a strange scenario to be confronted with. But then he wouldn't stop. I was very relieved when the bartender came over and interrupted him, asked him what he was saying to me, and told him he wasn't allowed to engage with me like that in the bar. Then the bartender stuck around until my friend was back.
Eventually, after harassing several other women in the bar, the man was escorted out by the barback. Unfortunately, when he came back in, we all lost our will to stand up against him. He should have been kicked out for good, but when he returned, we let him.
Eventually I felt so scared and uncomfortable by this man's lack of boundaries, his willingness to touch me in a familiar way, that I stood up and put my coat on. He then got up too, and I yelled at him for everyone in the bar to hear. He was saying, "I'm so sorry, Miss Sexy," and so I said, "I am sorry too. Sorry that you won't respect me unless I am with a man, and sorry that I don't feel safe unless a male friend walks me home. It's not okay to make women feel like this, and you're doing it all wrong. You are doing it all wrong."
Going home, lying in bed, all I could think about was how lucky I am that nothing worse had happened. I felt guilty for engaging with him. I felt scared that I would see him again. Truth be told I don't really want to return to that bar, which had formerly been one of my favorites.
I am thankful that the bartenders are watching the way that men engage women, and I hope that we can see more follow through on that front. But most of all I dream of a day when women can walk down the street, engage in a friendly way with whomever they choose, disengage with whomever they choose, and never have a comment made to them about their body or their sexuality or be addressed in a predatory manner.
And until we reach that day, I hope my neighbors will continue to look out for me. I promise to look out for you too.