Content Warning: This post contains descriptions of sexual harassment and assault.
When I was 17, a middle-aged man in a faded green polo shirt and blue jeans exposed his erect genitalia to me and groped my buttocks.
We were in a bookstore at the train station. I had seen this man on the bus earlier that morning. We had made incidental eye contact and he’d smiled at me and I probably smiled back. Like when I pass someone in the street or in the corridor at work. It’s something I just do without really thinking about it — and it sure as hell doesn’t mean “whip out your wang”.
But according to some well-meaning people I spoke to afterwards, I should have thought about it. I shouldn’t have smiled. I shouldn’t have been alone. I should have screamed or made a scene — instead of freezing and trying to pretend I hadn’t noticed.
But staying silent or laughing it off tends to be my default response to someone making me uncomfortable. I guess it feels like the safer option. Especially when you don’t really know what someone might be capable of.
And I don’t think there’s a perfect way to react to a WTF situation like that, but humans are pretty good at prescribing how others should behave. I know I’m guilty of it sometimes.
The man in the green polo looked like a perfectly normal person until I caught him staring a little too long over the top of a bookshelf. And I might have convinced myself I was just imagining it until he came over and pulled out his dong whilst asking me if I liked to read.
He probably looks and acts like a decent person most of the time in his everyday life. Creeps don’t wear signs telling you they’re creeps. Sometimes — I dare say, most of the time — the bad guys look just like everyone else.
I had a long internal debate about whether or not to publish this post.
But I claim to be a writer so… this is me writing a story. This one just happens to be non-fiction.