The Sexist

“I’m Claimed By This Pervert”: One Woman Who Reported Her Grope

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Emily Ruskowski isn’t thinking of much as she sits on a concrete bench at the Foggy Bottom Metro stop on a late-summer night in 2009. In a station crowded with loitering commuters, one man makes his presence known. He’s tall, young, dressed professionally in a blue button-down and black slacks, not bad looking, actually. He paces in front of Ruskowski once, twice, before finally settling down next to her on the bench. He stands up again, paces a few feet away, turns his back to the rail, and stands facing Ruskowski. When the train arrives, Ruskowski files in one car behind him.

Twenty minutes later, Ruskwoski, 25, arrives at the West Falls Church station and heads up the escalator. There he is again—already waiting at the turnstiles, quibbling with a station manager over a faulty SmarTrip card. The manager lets him through the gate, and he stands on the other side, facing Ruskowski again, waiting as she makes her way through the turnstile. He starts flirting. “How are you?” he asks. He speaks with a thick foreign accent. Ruskowski was right: He is handsome. “What’s your name? Do you have a boyfriend?” They turn toward the parking garage, where Ruskowski had left her Toyota that morning. He asks her to have dinner with him. And for her phone number. She is polite. She tells him she’ll take his number down. She’ll call him.

They reach the elevator. Ruskowski presses the button for her floor. “What floor are you on?” she asks him. “Same as you,” he says. It’s almost 1 a.m., and Ruskowski doesn’t mind having company through the desolate garage, actually. “I’ll be fine,” she thinks. “This pervert is going to walk me to my car. No other pervert will grab me, as I’m claimed by this pervert.”

They exit the elevator. The floor is empty save for two cars, parked side-by-side. Out of 2,009 parking spots in the garage, they had parked directly next to each other. “That’s funny. You parked next to me,” Ruskowski tells the guy. “I didn’t drive,” he says. They reach her car. He asks her out. He asks for her phone number. The hair on the back of her neck begins to rise up. Had he followed her all the way from Foggy Bottom? She counters again for his number. “No, I’m taking yours,” he informs her. Ruskowski rummages for a slip of paper in her purse, careful to avoid any receipt with a name or an address or a credit card number. She considers delivering him a fake, but what if he calls, right there, in the empty lot? She writes down her phone number and hands it to him.

And then he’s leaning on the driver’s side door of her car. He wants a hug. She puts her arms out to block him and he wraps himself around her. She pulls away and says goodnight. “Why don’t I come to your house, now?” he presses her. “Where do you live? I don’t have a car,” he says. Ruskowski tells him she has to leave. She unlocks her door. She’s shaking. “One more hug,” he insists. He circles around her, blocking her access to the door. He reaches his hand out and grabs her breast. His hands pin her arms to her side. She struggles. He tries to kiss her. She whips her face away, pushes him off, enters the car, slams the door, and locks it. He knocks on the window to wave “bye-bye.”

She watches as he walks away, then peels out of the garage. She calls her best friend, Sean Duggan. Duggan is asleep in his Boston apartment, but he picks up the phone. She sounds calm at first. “I think I’ve been assaulted,” she tells him. As she recounts the story, she becomes more and more upset. She sounds like she’s in shock. She starts to sound a little paranoid. She’s worried about the man recognizing her car, knowing her license plate number, tracking her down with her phone number, showing up at her house, waiting for her at the Metro stop. They stay on the phone for an hour. Ruskowski returns to the station the next day and files a report with the Metro Transit Police.

That night, she receives a call from a strange phone number. She doesn’t pick up; the caller leaves no message. The next morning, the number calls again. No message. She can’t believe she actually surrendered her contact information to a sexual assailant. Ruskowski calls the Metro police over and over again, hoping to reach an officer who will investigate the case in light of the new information—she’s got the guy’s number. She keeps getting redirected to a line that no one answers. Eventually, Detectives Jim Duncan and Kate Loran take Ruskowski’s call and provide her with this instruction: If the guy calls again, pick up.

The next day, he calls. She picks up. It’s him. The phone connection is bad, and the man’s accent is thick, but she can make out his intent: “When can I see you, when can I see you,” he says. “I love you, I love you. I’ll see you, I’ll see you.” Ruskowski proposes an afternoon date for the next day. They agree to meet at the West Falls Church Metro at 4 p.m.

Ruskowski gets there at 3. She waits just outside the turnstiles. Loran stands beside her, posing in plainclothes as Ruskowski’s friend. Three other officers stand by. Ruskowski keeps her eyes on the top of the escalator, scanning the face of each passenger who churns up into the station. Her date calls at 4:10 p.m. He’s late.

An hour later, he comes up the escalator and walks through the turnstile toward Ruskowski. He doesn’t get within 50 feet of her. She signals Loran. The man slows down. He sees the officers approaching. He attempts to turn around and re-enter the station. Then he swerves and runs for the exit. The officers restrain him. The man attempts to struggle out of their grasp. They bind him in handcuffs. One month later, he pleads guilty to sexual battery by force in Fairfax County District Court.

Six months after the attack—after the stalking, the grope, the police report, the sting operation, the restraining order and the plea hearing—Ruskowski is glad her groper followed up. “I felt really stupid for giving him my phone number, but that’s the thing that helped us catch him,” Ruskowski says. “I would never advocate giving your assailant your number, of course, but I would do anything in your power to report the incident, as hard as it  can be. If you’re persistent and honest, someone will listen to you at some point.”

This column is the fifth (and final!) in a series. Catch up:

Part 1: Touch and Go: How Groping Happens.
Part 2: “I Just Wanted Him to Finish And Leave”: Why Some Groping Victims Stay Silent.
Part 3: “Why Would I Want to Touch Your Ass?”: When Groping Victims Talk Back.
Part 4
: "I Wanted Him to Feel Physical Pain": The Revenge Fantasies of Groping Victims

Find all the Sexist’s groping coverage here. Illustration by Brooke Hatfield.

  • Rando

    Protip: When you are assaulted, sexually or otherwise, but physically unharmed, and you're sitting in a locked car in a public space and the perp is walking away and making no threatening motions, and you have a cell phone, a good description of the perp, and his phone number, CALL 911. This persistent myth that even moderate sexual violence is so traumatizing that the appropriate response is not to contact law enforcement immediately does unbelievable harm to future victims of sexual violence. I'm sure I'll be accused of blaming the victim here, but come on folks, we all need to remind each other that when bad things happen, CALL THE COPS IMMEDIATELY SO THEY CAN CATCH THE SCUMBAGS.

  • latecomer

    @Rando When someone's traumatized and processing what has happened to them they're not necessarily able to act so immediately. It sounds like Emily did a great job considering what she went through. That was some pretty aggressive stalking there...

  • Rando

    Latecomer, that's my point -- stories like this reinforce the idea that even moderate assaults like this are so traumatizing that calling the cops just isn't an option. We need to get past that myth that women are so emotionally fragile that we can't handle making a 911 call and instead need to call a friend or family member for an hour or more of psychological stabilization before pressing 3 keys on our phones and telling the operator where we are and what the perp looks like.

    To be clear, I'm not coming down on the writer personally here, more on CP for putting this story out there as model behavior with a happy ending.

  • latecomer

    Well a story in which the victim works with the Police and the perp is captured/convicted sounds like it has a much better ending than the bulk of the other groper articles/stories I've seen on the city paper recently...

  • m

    @Rando: I understand where you're coming from, but I don't think you can really grasp the experience of something like that unless you yourself have. The best you can do is accept and be understanding when it comes to people's descriptions of their experiences.

  • L

    This persistent myth that even moderate sexual violence is so traumatizing that the appropriate response is not to contact law enforcement immediately does unbelievable harm to future victims of sexual violence.

    Oh, for fuck's sake, Rando.

    1) Clearly, this is not a myth. Clearly. The woman in the article was too traumatized to report right away. This may not be the case for every woman who experiences sexual violence. But being traumatized by sexual assault? That's totally and completely normal. You're an asshole for shaming women who feel traumatized after experiencing something traumatic.

    2) Reporting or not reporting sexual assault does not cause sexual assault. The person committing sexual assault causes sexual assault. Don't blame victims for things that really, REALLY aren't their fault or within their control.

    3) Calling the cops WAS an option in this story, because SHE DID CALL THE COPS. Therefore, this post is not promoting any sort of narrative that women are too "emotionally fragile" or whatever to call the police. Did you, by the way, notice how long it took her to get in touch with someone who would actually follow up on her report? The hour she spoke to her friend before calling 911 is nothing in comparison to how long it took her to get someone to pay attention. If there's blame to be laid anywhere, it's on the transit cops for not answering her phone calls.

    To sum it up, stop being a mansplaining, victim-blaming dick, Rando.

  • Emily H.

    Rando -- I hear where you're coming from, and I agree telling women it's somehow more appropriate or "normal" to be too freaked out to call the cops is a bad message. But one woman's story doesn't send that message, because it *is* just one woman's story. It's what really happened, not what society as a whole had decided should happen, and I'd much rather hear the truth.

    Also: I was once attacked by a crazy guy while out jogging, and I called 911 as soon as I got away from him. The dude ran to his car and drove away. The cops showed up 20 minutes later (!), and the criminal was long gone. People don't necessarily expect a quick or useful response from the police, because often they don't get one.

  • http://rickmangus@aol.com Rick Mangus

    WHAT!, no snow groping stories today Amanda!

  • Emily

    At the risk of beating a dead horse, I'd like to say that Rando, you're operating under the assumption that the cops can and will do something - get there on time, try as hard as they can to catch the attacker, succeed. Sometimes they can't, sometimes they don't. Much as we'd all like to believe that the police can always make everything ok, it's not the case.

  • Rando’s Defense

    Couple of points here in defense of Rando:

    1. One person's story = one person's story. An article put out in the public space without comment = how myths get perpetuated.

    2. 911 responses may be fast and efficient, or they may not be. That is no reason not to call the cops.

  • Miike snow

    Rando, it seems like you just made up an imaginary problem. Nobody in these stories thinks of calling the police but then says, "Oh wait, I'm supposed to be traumatized" They are just actually traumatized.

    And none of these stories are saying your "supposed" to be traumatized. So, I don't know where you're getting this "myth" from, but I suspect you actually just have an agenda.

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  • frgerg

    "If you’re persistent and honest, someone will listen to you at some point.”

    This series is excellent but this line is unfortunately not accurate. :-(

  • EmilyRuskowski

    When did I say I was traumatized? I got out of the garage as fast as I could and called both the Falls Church City Police and the Fairfax County
    Police. They both told me to talk to Metro Police the next day. Also, I helped set up and participated in a police sting. What's emotionally fragile about that?

  • http://hexalm.blogspot.com hexalm

    FYI to the author(s) (and to readers I suppose)

    Link to article 1 in the series is incorrect/broken. Here's the correct link: http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist/2010/01/06/touch-and-go-how-groping-happens/

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    Thanks, hexalm. It's been fixed.

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