When I was sixteen years old I was sexually assaulted at a resort in Peurto Vallarta, Mexico. I was leaving the hotel’s disco around ten thirty at night, when one of the bartenders followed me out of the club. He came up to me from behind, took hold of my arms, and told me that he was going to walk me back to my hotel room.
I told him no, but he insisted, digging his hands, hard into the tops of my arms and the nook of my elbow.
Instead of taking me back to the room, he dragged me far down into the darkened open-air theatre.
Pushing me into a seat, he held on my arms, and told me that he loved me.
You don’t love me I whispered.
I love you, I love you, he whispered back.
I remember watching myself sitting in that seat – almost as if I was looking down from above, or from the side – my body, immobile, my voice, gone. I felt unable to scream and unable to fight back, too afraid to move; I shouted over and over again in my head, telling myself to run away, to punch and kick him, knee him in the balls, scratch his face, tell him to fuck off, do whatever it takes.
I watched myself sitting there in the chair; and as I sat there I felt my heart beating so hard I imagined it punching its way right out of my body, and I felt this man’s hands all over my skin, over me, his sticky, foul lips on my face, and I cried.
I cried, and I cried, and I said no, please, no, no, no, please.
No, no, no, I said it again, and again. Please.
Yes, he said. Yes, yes, please, yes. Again and again.
And then he put his hands under my skirt, into my underwear.
And through my sobs I managed to cry out. NO.
And he stopped.
I’ll never forget the look of absolute disgust he gave me, as he stood up, and brushed his hand on the shirt, his shorts.
As if it was his decision to stop. As if I was nothing.
You are nothing he said. Don’t tell anyone. They won’t believe you.
And I didn’t.
I was too ashamed, too horrified.
Because I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t done anything. Why I hadn’t screamed, why I hadn’t fought back.
Why I had been afraid of causing a scene. Why I had been afraid of hurting this man’s feelings.
And I remained afraid.
There have been other similar situations since that night where I have a similar powerlessness.
Times where men, sometimes faceless, sometimes not, have said things to me, yelled down a sidewalk, whispered them at parties, or mumbled the on the bus – words that debase me, strip me of my humanity, words that remind me that I am a sum of my parts – I am hair, breasts, legs, ass – a body.
Not brain, heart – not strength.
Not a person.
And I remain silent. Still.
Burning with shame at my silence, my stillness.
And this happened to me again, two nights ago.
And this is what I would like to say to that man, so drunk on a mix of himself and spirits, careening about the world defined by a complete disregard for not only my humanity, but the humanity of all other women:
You are not a gift.
You are a predator.
Your lechery makes me feel like garbage, because I want to yell obscenities in your face – but I don’t because we are in a social setting and I don’t want to make a scene.
But you know this, don’t you?
You know that because I am polite I won’t tell you to fuck off, or physically assault you, and because of this, you are happy to continue to harass and verbally assault me.
You make inappropriate comments about my physical appearance.
(Because that is what I am to you – a physical appearance, and nothing more.)
And because of this, you do not understand that you do not have a right to speak to me. You do not have the right to dance with me.
You may not just sit down.
I am twenty-seven years old. You are seventy-two.
I am married.
You are old enough to be my grandfather.
And I hear that you’re upset – you think others are treating you unfairly.
I would recommend opening your eyes, and realizing that the problem is not other people.
The problem is you.