The Sexist

“I Just Wanted Him to Finish And Leave”: Why Some Groping Victims Stay Silent

Picture 10

It used to be that Jessica Graves was always up for a dance party. So when she headed out to Dupont Circle gay bar Cobalt one night in 2006, Graves and a male friend hit the crowded dance floor hard. “We were being kind of raunchy,” she says. “When we go out, my friend says things like, ‘Trash me!,’ and I play along. It gets pretty outrageous sometimes. But my friend is gay, and we’re just being ridiculous and having fun.”

Later in the evening, another dancer decided to join in on the fun. “I was grinding with my friend, and this dude got up on me from behind,” says Graves, now 27. The interloper inserted a leg between Graves’ legs and latched his hands around her waist. “He was strong enough that I had to adjust my body to not get knocked over,” she says. But everyone at Cobalt that night was dancing close, and Graves didn’t think much of it—until something shifted.

“At some point I figured out the guy was straight,” she says.
The man had developed an obvious erection. “We were all still moving,” she says. “He rubbed up on me with an erection and wouldn’t back off until, as best I could tell, he had ejaculated.” Graves stayed silent as the man assaulted her. “By the time I figured out what he was doing, I just wanted him to finish and leave.…I didn’t want anybody else to notice what was going on, because I was so embarrassed by the whole thing,” she says. When it was over, Graves bolted for the bathroom in an attempt to rinse off the experience. But years later, Graves still remembers the look on her groper’s face: “He just had this nasty smile on his face. He knew he had me. And I was too stunned by the whole thing to really stop him.” Graves rejoined her friends and waited out the rest of the night inside Cobalt. “I had to stay,” she says. “My friends were my ride.”'

Stephanie Rinehart’s grope occurred on a brightly lit Metro train, in plain view of dozens of people. But she did not immediately register a physical reaction to the assault. “I wasn’t actively groped,” explains Rinehart, a 24-year-old office administrator. “Well, not with a hand.”

In May 2009, Rinehart was in the middle of her standard commute—a Yellow Line to Red Line switch in the direction of Silver Spring. “After shuffling on to the Red Line at Gallery Place, I was sandwiched with my crotch in some poor lady’s face, and a gentleman standing slightly behind and to the right of me, who stank of alcohol,” she says. Before the train left the station, the man had already begun “noticeably rubbing his front parts to my back parts,” Rinehart says.

She froze. “I couldn’t move forward, or sideways, since I was smashed in place by the other riders on the train,” she says. “It was discreet enough that my friend, standing five feet away, never knew it happened, but it was alarmingly obvious to me.” Rinehart wasn’t eager to acknowledge that a large, drunk man was rubbing his genitals on her body in the middle of the crowded train. “I did have a moment where I thought, ‘Maybe he isn’t doing it on purpose,’” she says. “I’ve had my share of accidental brushes on the Metro.”

In fact, Rinehart was being accosted by a type of sexual assailant so common that the French have a word for him: frotteur, or “one who rubs.” Rinehart stood still as the man frottait. “I didn’t know what to do or say to him,” she says. “It wasn’t until two stops later, when I shot quickly into an empty seat, did I notice that he had a full-on erection.” Later, Rinehart was able to process exactly what had gone down. “Nothing that happened to me, I know now, was an accident.”

Liz, who asked to be identified only by her first name, was also groped on the Metro—just feet away from where her parents were standing. “I was in charge of navigation on the subways, because my parents are, in general, inept,” she says of her family vacation duties. “I motioned for them to get on to the next train, which had just pulled into the station. As I moved toward the open doors, some middle-aged man with a Walkman grabbed me by the ass cheeks and herded me onto the train.” As the man grabbed her, Liz looked back to see her parents still waiting on the platform. “I had to pry his hands off my ass to get off the train and back to my parents,” she says. “I was 14.”

A couple of years later, Liz was groped again—this time at a concert in Philly. “I walked past a guy,” she says. “While maintaining eye contact with me, [he] grabbed my crotch.…I remember he smirked, and his friend laughed. I’ll never, ever forget that, because it’s probably the most degraded I’ve ever felt in my life. I felt violated, and pissed off, but I couldn’t even muster the courage to make eye contact.” In both instances, Liz did not confront her attackers. “I remember feeling a sort of quiet desperation,” she says. “I still get mad that I didn’t respond.…To this day, I wonder: Why didn’t I do anything?”

Why didn’t these women do anything? Perhaps it’s because they were being abused by professionals. A groper doesn’t strike just once. He repeats his depravity so often that he knows how to prey on the various conditions that allow him to go unpunished—surprise, uncertainty, fear, and shame.

And so, after being assaulted on Cobalt’s dance floor, Jessica Graves never even mentioned the violation to her friend. “My friend would have brushed it off anyway, because it’s a really raunchy dance floor,” Graves says. Nowadays, Graves doesn’t go out like she used to. She prefers dancing of the ballroom variety, with rules that emphasize decorum and personal space.

Graves’ attacker had succeeded in exploiting the gay bar’s different rules—where innocuous touching between gay men and straight women is common, and women don’t expect to be targeted by sexual aggressors. “It was extra creepy because I was in a bar where the women are not there to get picked up,” says Graves, who says there were fewer than five women at the crowded club that night. “I certainly didn’t have my guard up like I do in a club where I expect there to be straight men.” The guy who shows up at the gay bar looking to target straight women is aware that his victim is unsuspecting. “This is a hyena coming in and scavenging,” Graves says.

Rinehart didn’t speak out about her attack until several months later, when she relayed the story to her boyfriend. “He’s the only person who knew, and he laughed about it because it was ‘unbelievable,’” Rinehart says. “I think there’s a large amount of society that views what happened to me, or incidences in a public place, as not a valid form of molestation or groping.…It’s something that women should just brush off and get over.…[There’s] this mentality that, ‘After all, honey, it was just an accident, your clothes were on, you were safe in a public place.’” After her assault, Rinehart retraced the factors that contributed to her temporary paralysis. If her groper had only been smaller, less imposing, not so drunk—then, maybe she could have said something. “I do have those moments where I think, ‘Next time! I’ll get him next time!’,” she says. “But there hasn’t been a ‘next time.’”

Nine years after she was first groped, Liz, now 23, doesn’t talk about her experiences, either—not even to her boyfriend. “It’s not like my logical brain thinks he’ll be mad at me, but I’m embarrassed that a stranger touched me so intimately and I did nothing about it,” she says. “What it comes down to is that I don’t want him to ask me why I didn’t say anything.  I don’t think I could explain that in a way that a guy could understand.”

This column is the second in a series. Catch up with Part 1: Touch and Go: How Groping Happens. (Illustration by Brooke Hatfield).

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  • noodlez


  • Critic

    I see you're still up to the same horsesh*t. This is getting older than that Russian comedian who makes joke about Soviet Russia: In Soviet Russia, women assault YOU!

  • Jenn

    noodlez: that would also be called "sexual assault." But somehow I think your question falls more along the lines of "utterly inept rhetorical device intended to excuse male gropers" than "honest question," so I doubt my answer will be very helpful.

  • Spider Goodlegs

    I don't know what to say about this article except "tactical baton." Mine retracts to fit nicely in my purse.

    I call it my "d*ck" because if I have to take it out, you WILL be on your knees.

  • PearlsBeforeSwine

    I remember the example of people being molested in crowded subways being discussed in a psychology class while I was in college (almost 40 years ago - this was pre-Metro so it was the NY subway being mentioned). The professor used the term dissociation to describe what was going on in these situations.

    From the web:
    '2.1.1 Definition of Dissociation

    Dissociation is the state in which, on some level or another, one becomes somewhat removed from "reality", whether this be daydreaming, performing actions without being fully connected to their performance ("running on
    automatic"), or other, more disconnected actions. It is the opposite of "association" and involves the lack of association, usually of one's identity, with the rest of the world.

    A dissociative disorder would be one in which the degree of dissociation (or the frequency of it) is such that one's functioning is somehow impaired. The DSM-III-R defines a dissociative disorder, generally, as one in which there "is a disturbance or alteration in the normally integrative functions of idneity, memory, or consciousness. The distrubance or alteration may be sudden or gradual, and transient or chronic."

    It is important to note that a certain amount of dissociation is considered completely normal; most (if not all) people experience dissociation at least periodically in their life, and some mental health
    workers consider dissociation to be a healthy defense mechanism, provided the dissociation itself does not cause impairment of functioning.'

  • yomommaoncrack

    if it feels good

  • FrankTalkDC

    This happened to a girl on the subway in Paris whilst i was their. She was beyond fine and yelling about something when we de-boarded. "Somethin somethin 'frotteur'". Come to find out some dude just skeet-skeet'd on her bottom. I wanted to offer help but she had spooey on her booty and the only baby batter i touch is my own.

    I hope Ms Hess is doing a follow-up on on 'femme frotteurs.' Men seem to be a silent minority in "The Sexist" features.

  • Katie

    oh jesus christ.

  • Teresa

    As a young girl growing up in Mexico and using public transportation every day, I was constantly aware of gropers. Whenever I felt them on me I will step on them hard with my high heels or with a large umbrella that I will strap on my back for that purpose. Strong eye contact usually deterred them. The tactical baton is a great idea, I also had one of those in my bag.

  • Katey

    I think I might've encountered a groper now that I think about it. He sat down next to me and put his hand on my thigh. Without thinking, I grabbed his hand and slammed it hard back down on his leg without even breaking the conversation I was having. The guy seemed stunned, apologized, then just sat there paralyzed for a while before leaving. I was glad that was my knee-jerk response to the situation, but it pisses me off just how ubiquitous these things are, like, would he have pushed the boundaries further if I hadn't "been such a bitch"?

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  • …done

    You know what, Amanda, until you and your editors start moderating comments I think you need to leave posts like this out. Any good you think you're doing is swiftly and thoroughly undone by the rapists trolls who walk through this open door.

  • Anthony

    Women riding crowded busses in New Delhi often carry needles with them in their hands to stab into those who try to grope them. We are trapped in a rape culture. This world is fucked up.

  • Oracle

    Each of these women is pathetic. Once they recognized what was happening they should have reacted loudly and forcefully. By quietly letting it happen they have emboldened these freaks to do it to more women. They deserve no sympathy. If you don't protect your boundaries then you have none.

    The 14-year old gets a pass cause... hell, she was only 14. Her parents should be horse-whipped.

  • Matt Corrigan

    In NY, self defense is a crime in this case
    "A 16-year-old girl accused of fatally stabbing a man who she said harassed and groped her at a restaurant in Queens last week turned herself in Tuesday and was charged with first-degree manslaughter, the police said."

    Tokyo Cracks Down Again!,8599,1924845,00.html
    It seems that a woman's defense is an umbrella and a stilleto heel.

    Here is the Needle User...
    "In her schoolbag she carried a sewing kit used as part of her school activities. When troubled by a groping situation, she would quickly produce a couple of needles and push them into the offending hand or whatever. Reaction was almost instantaneous — and she traveled on undisturbed! "

    What about Traveling Abroad...
    ""Usually, foreigners are subjected to groping by particularly the Indian men. It is harmless. Just ignore such people and enjoy your trip."

    And here is a recent push in Egypt to create a law.

    The problem is in the defense, if a woman can barely get a conviction for being raped without DNA evidence, how are these cases going to have a flipping chance.

    Europe used Close Captiond TV to capture this bonehead!

    American's including myself are antsy about being videoed for anything including speeding or running a red light.

    I've witnessed this happen as a guy stepped out of a train, he accosted this beautiful woman, and stepped back as the doors closed. How do I react? The last thing she wants is to be consoled by a male stranger such as myself. If I chase the guy down, I'd get charged with Assault as the woman would be at another stop.

    My suggestion is that if you see this use your cellphone and snap a picture, even if you don't get the act, you can follow this guy around until you can get a good shot and then take the time to do a report with Metro Police. Two separate reports with the same photo, has the tendancy to make the hunter the hunted.

    I like the needle idea, small, doesn't set off metal dectectors. Serves a distinct purpose, and causes marginal harm in such a way that the assailant may be caught.

    Overall, this behavior seems as if it is only going to be stopped by the victims themselves. Even doesn't have any comments on the prevention of groping.

    I'd be open to a dialoge on the defenses that women may take situationally and legaly. What kind of evidence do they need to colect to put these perps in jail.


  • Oscar Worthy

    I agree with Oracle... don't be a victim! Carry that hatpin and USE it...don't just stand there and take it! That just encourages the bad behavior.In the mind of the perpetrator your failure to react is compliance!

  • LeftSidePositive

    Oracle and Oscar--I invite you to watch Candid Camera or any number of prank videos on YouTube...when something totally unexpected and shocking happens to someone, they often aren't in the perfectly deliberative mindset that you are when safely typing at your computer.

    Don't you think it would be better to get victims to come forward and seek consequences for their assailants if they weren't met with, "why didn't you do this?" and "why didn't you do that?"

  • MKS

    This kind of thing happens in crowded urban areas all the time, and it's not always intentional. Sometimes the contact necessitated by crowded conditions results in embarrassing circumstances. In Kolkata, a polite request along the lines of "Sir, do you mind managing your belongings?" loud enough for the whole train car or bus to hear usually does the trick. If it doesn't, then another loud request usually invites intervention by fellow passengers.

  • airdrummer

    t saw the term frotteur in an article many years ago about that problem on japanese trains...

    and aren't "raunchy dance floors" emblematic of everything religious conservatives rail about?

    i'm just sayin...maybe there's a balance somewhere...

  • airdrummer

    oops...make that: the 1st time i saw the term frotteur...

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  • Kristen

    I have participated in and have been an assistant instructor in several women's self-defense classes over the course of several years. I am a martial artist and consider myself to be a confident person who does not allow herself to be a victim. However when a man on a public bus in Guatemala spent the better part of a half hour bus ride rubbing himself against me the only thing I could do is shift myself away as best I could. Those of you who are criticizing these women who did not speak up are doing them a disservice. As soon as I got off the bus I told everyone I knew what had happened. I was outraged. But I did not do what I have taught others to do in the past, which is to say something when it was actually happening. It has nothing to do with courage or awareness or anything like that. At least for me it was partly shock that something like that was actually happening and partly fear of escalating the situation. I was truly worried that the man was armed. Riding city buses in Guatemala City can be dangerous and I was worried what would happen if I called him out. I wish I had acted differently looking back on the situation. But this does not make me pathetic. I am disappointed that there are still those out there that think it is helpful to blame a victim for the acts of an aggressor.

  • Gregory A. Butler

    Spider Goodlegs,

    I like your tactical baton idea - although, I would also suggest the humble xacto knife. It's intended for artists, so, unlike a tactical baton (which is a police weapon and has no civilian uses), anybody would have a perfectly legitimate excuse to have an xacto knife in her purse/pocket ect ("I'm taking art classes").

    Also, it cuts quick and clean - and those cuts hurt like a bastard.

    I once saw a middle aged Polish immigrant guy grab a young African American woman's butt on the downtown 1 train just north of 59th st - she whipped out her xacto knife from the sleeve of her jacket with ninja-like speed and, in less than a second the perverted guy was crying out in pain and bewilderment as his blood splattered the subway car's floor.

    When the cops came, the young lady explained that she was tired of perverts grabbing her ass on the subway during rush hour, so that's why she had brought along her xacto knife and had it tucked up her sleeve.

    I don't know what happened to either one of them (the cops shooed all the spectators away while they handled the dispute) but I bet that dude never groped a woman ever again!

  • lawyer face

    this is just ridiculous. stabbing for a grope is wrong. and if you do stab, i hope you are damned sure the grope was done purposely. i dont know. feeling like people need to get over it. unless the person just outright intentionally grabs a handful of your stuff, it is just too ambiguous to label. even if the guy is smooshed behind you on a train with a hard on, its not his fault. for all he knows you are enjoying the ride just as much as he is. in that situation you need to move or make it clear that you are not. frotteur is a pretty dope word tho btw

  • jf1

    " Matt Corrigan January 14th, 2010
    4:54 pm

    In NY, self defense is a crime in this case
    “A 16-year-old girl accused of fatally stabbing a man who she said harassed and groped her at a restaurant in Queens last week turned herself in Tuesday and was charged with first-degree manslaughter, the police said.”"

    She wasn't charged with manslaughter for an act of self-defense. She was charged for an act of retribution. Simple fact, stabbing someone while they are molesting you is "self-defense". Chasing them down and stabbing them *after* they molest you is retribution.

    Well, certainly such acts are not just offensive they are also demeaning and abusive. And certainly I can understand why some women have trouble responding "in time", it must be a stunning event, and of course there is the threat of real physical violence and the possibility of a mistaken identity and of course the likelihood of denial. But likewise some people would act swiftly, whether "pressed up against them in a crowded train" or whatever. It's just a matter of who you are. The fact is that this happens and someone is going to feel bad as a result, even if the other person is prosecuted. If you're the type of woman who would respond immediately, then it's also likely that you're not the type of woman who would be, let us say, on the Red Line or Yellow Line heading into DC during rush hour, on a crowded train in the first place. The sort of woman that these men target.

    Do pickpockets target guys who look like Green Berets in street clothing, or do they look for more genteel victims? I think the latter. And if you're embarrassed by that then you are embarrassed by yourself as you truly are. Accept that, say "well, I learned my lesson and from now on I will not put myself into that position" and try not to let it happen again. And just realize that you were lucky, and it could have been worse. It wasn't. Life goes on.

    That's half the battle. Just staying out of situations where things like this can happen. Even if it means not taking the train to work in the morning. Seriously. It's either that or learn to speak up -and speak up loudly- when some strange guy starts to rub against you. If not hit him over the head with a large metallic object. You really have 3 simple choices. Let it happen again and suffer in peace out of fear, don't get on the train in the first place and if so move away from any guys who could possibly do this (sure, right) or be ready to scream bloody murder and/or beat the shit out of any guy who may even possibly be doing this.

  • Liz S

    Wow, jf1, that is some serious victim-blaming... "the type of woman who would be, let us say, on the Red Line or Yellow Line..." What? It's one thing to avoid compromising situations when possible, it's quite another to say don't ride the metro if you want to avoid being groped and having to confront your assailant. There may be some truth to it, but it doesn't make it right and it doesn't mean we should be expected to get over it.

  • Paige

    Yeah I've been groped. I've never talked about it but since this is relatively anon and i don't feel alone anymore...

    I was watching a movie with a friend from school; I was in 10th grade. I got up to go use the bathroom and just as I did the guy jammed his hand between my legs and pulled me back to him. I felt like a deer in the headlights. But then I was calm all the sudden; Probably this disassociation thing. I looked at him over my shoulder, probably a bit glassy eyed, and told him to leave. He seemed kinda stunned. He just got up and left. Weirdest experience ever.

  • Paige

    hmmm.. I wonder if I was about to get rapped. Glad it didn't happen though *whew*

  • guest

    yeah i'm a guy and i have a of more feminie guy friend and he's been groped in his ass. so he turned around and said what kinda gay creep are u?! i laughed really hard and that guy was really emmbarassed cause every1 was all like WTF O.O and his reaction he jumped back and was like WTF O.O and he just left real fast. i hate these stupid pervs they jsut don't understand that if u don't know this person then why are u trying s*** like that. u shouldn't don't do it. people who do are just some messed up freaks who i really wanna torture. i mean yeah some girls that i know jokingly grab my butt. i'm still pretty creeped by it i mean it's not a big deal but guys who look at it like what no i didn't do tht or oh hey i'm saying ur sexy so.... they're jsut so dumb! how would they feel if some random shady guy kept followin' them around feelin' up they're ass nipples and knads. that would be so creepy some people r so stupid.

  • Smurf

    Maybe he thought you were a prostitute?