11 May 2010

The A B C's of unwanted touching

A friend of mine (Friend A) recently told me about a friend of his (B) who had been unexpectedly fondled by a man in a group social situation. A had been present when the groping occurred but hadn't witnessed it directly. A said that B hadn't acted upset at the time, but told him about it later in the evening, when they were alone. A told me about it because he was thinking about confronting the man. But A was hesitant because, it seemed to him, B had not been upset when it happened. When I related this story to yet another friend, C, C expressed similar confusion, and queried B's response/reaction to the unwanted touching. C did not understand why B had not dealt with it when it happened. Why did she only bring it up later? Why had she not acted angry at the time? Why had she not confronted the man? She's an adult, isn't she?

C's questions reminded me of things I have not thought about in a long time. But plus ça change. How is it that even with an incident as brief as this instance of unwanted touching, the woman's behaviour is questioned? It did not appear to be intuitive to A or C (and neither are insensitive people) that B's reaction was actually perfectly understandable...and matched my own experience.

Of course I cannot speak for all women or all cases. But I can recall being in a "hands-on" situation where I, frankly, felt shocked, embarrassed and did not know what to do, my mind drawing an absolute blank, and later when people asked me "So, what did you do?", I felt a similar blank. What did it matter what I did in response? What I did was get out of the situation with as much grace as I could – and that grace, by the way, was somehow very important. It was only later that I felt disgusted – as much with myself as anyone else. And along with disgust came anger and regret that I did not have presence of self and/or mind to be more – what? – assertive? confident? fearless?

But why should those qualities be the standard? Why isn't it understood that the instinct of women may be to not fight back or draw attention to ourselves? Is it any wonder that sexual assault is still one of the most unreported of crimes?

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