“Why Would I Want to Touch Your Ass?”: When Groping Victims Talk Back
Last week, the Sexist highlighted a fairly common reaction of groping victims around the metro region—say nothing. A woman who got assaulted on a crowded dance floor, a woman who got rubbed on Metro, a girl who got her ass grabbed—they all kept it to themselves. What if they’d said something? What kind of reception would they get? Below, five groping victims who spoke up—and what happened next.
THE INSIDE VOICE.
Vee Meadows’ job required her to stick her butt out a little bit. Meadows, a seasonal employee at a Dupont Circle bookstore, had bent over to fetch a bottom-shelved cookbook for a waiting customer, forcing her posterior to jut slightly into the aisle. “I suppose it was an irresistible temptation for a couple of guys walking by,” Meadows says. “So, one of them grabbed my ass.”
Meadows, 25, wasn’t expecting anybody to sexualize her cookbook duties. At that job, she had always felt like “less of a woman and more of a bookstore clerk.” And so Meadows assessed the situation like a bookstore clerk would. “I did feel like I had to act professionally in front of the customer,” she says. “I ended up having to be polite to my customer while I was inwardly fuming.” Post-grab, Meadows whipped around and administered a verbal response befitting her position: “As professionally as I could, I did say, ‘What the hell?’”
THE TIMID REPORT.
When Elizabeth, 28, felt a guy “shove his hand between my legs, all the way to the front” while waiting in line for her morning bus at PG Plaza—then caught the creep smiling at her—she didn’t say a thing. What she thought was, “Oh my God, I’m going to miss the bus.”
So she hurried on board and sat through the 15-minute ride to her museum job in College Park. When she arrived, she headed straight for the office bathroom and dry-heaved. Even though her body was attempting to puke the experience away, Elizabeth says she “played it down” when she informed her boss what happened. “I was agitated and livid, like, ‘Why are some men jerks like that, what is wrong with people?’…[But] I wasn’t calling it what I felt it was—and what I now know it was—which is a public sexual assault.”
When it came time to replay the scenario to her boss, “I felt ashamed—not of what happened to me, but of how I responded,” Elizabeth says. “I feel like I should have known better. I should have screamed.”
FLIPPING YOUR SHIT.
Emily was walking down U Street on a Friday night with a few girlfriends when a man walked up and helped himself to her scalp. “His hand went up to hold the back of my neck, then up my scalp, and down through my hair,” Emily says.
Emily, 22, has had her run-ins with gropers before. She’s endured an ass slap at a crowded bar a few times. But nothing like this. “It was such a violation. All I thought was: Wait. He’s groping my hair. What the hell is going on?” Emily says. Her response was too explicit to repeat: “I just started screaming at him: ‘What the bleep are you doing? What the bleep is wrong with you? Don’t bleeping touch me like that!’”
The man who reached out to caress Emily’s hair without her consent was not very open to considering Emily’s feelings. He fell back into a group of friends and joined them in “laughing at the 5'4" white girl
flipping her shit,” Emily says.
Emily’s friends begged her to stop yelling and resume their stroll to the bar. “My friends just kept saying, ‘Come on. Come on. It’s not worth it. You’re embarrassing us.’ When I finally left, I told them, ‘I’m sorry, guys. He was really close, and it creeped me out,’” she says. “I shouldn’t have apologized for myself. I hadn’t done anything wrong…I could still feel him in my hair.”
Dani, a friend of Emily’s who witnessed the petting, says the crew wanted to err on the side of caution. “I definitely am in support of Emily reacting that way, because it can make people think,” she says. “On the other hand, it’s not the safest of neighborhoods. After it happened, we were just kind of like, ‘OK. Lets keep walking.’ We didn’t want to cause any more trouble.”
THE PUBLIC ACCUSATION.
Jessica Graves screamed, too. Graves was waiting in line for the bathroom in an Austin, Texas, coffee shop when a man walked by, dragged his hand under the hem of her skirt, and grazed her butt. “He got a pretty good swipe,” Graves recalls. She followed him out the door. “Did you just touch my ass?” she demanded. “Why would I want to touch your ass?” he replied.
Graves had refused to be a passive victim. Her groper got even more of a thrill out of that. “I could see the sick sense of satisfaction on his face,” she says. “His expression said, ‘Gotcha! I can deny this, and you can’t do shit about it,’” says Graves. “I was enraged for hours. I didn’t sleep,” she says. “It made me so angry that I wanted to hurt people, and I’m not a violent person. I was so pissed off that I just shook with rage.”
The hug was not Allyson Rudolph’s idea.
Rudolph had hailed a cab after a night of drinking with some co-workers. It was late, she was tipsy, and a secure cab ride from the West End bar to her home in Shaw sounded like a good idea. “The bartenders had started bringing us shots, which is usually about when I realize I need to go home,” she says. “I’m a very cheap date.”
On the ride, Rudolph struck up a conversation with the driver, and the discussion turned to cab-riding etiquette. Both concurred that it’s important to exchange pleasantries between cabbie and customer. “We
were in solid agreement that one should never ignore a person they happen to be sharing a car with,” she says.
That’s when the proposition came. “Can I have a hug?” the cabbie asked as the ride came to an end. Rudolph obliged. “I was drunk and we’d been chatting, plus I love hugs, so it seemed like a great idea,” she says. Rudolph and the cabbie both opened their doors and stepped out of the car. “Then he squeezed my boob and tried to kiss me.”
Rudolph, who says she was too tipsy to report the cabbie, settled for laughing at him. When Rudolph tells this story, she casts the cab driver as a pathetic buffoon, his unsolicited grab at her breast marking him as inept instead of threatening. “I make light of this a lot and tell it to friends as a funny story, but actually it really angers me,” says Rudolph. “It’s easy to see how the story could have had a much less funny ending.…It’s only when I start to put the story in the context of a major social issue that it stops being funny. It’s a really clear example of the way the world is just different for girls, and that is something that I don’t find entertaining at all.”
This column is the third in a series. Catch up with Part 1: Touch and Go: How Groping Happens. And Part 2: I Just Wanted Him to Finish And Leave": Why Some Groping Victims Stay Silent. (Illustration by Brooke Hatfield).