i don’t live in washington d.c., i never have. i was born and raised in toledo, ohio and have lived in los angeles for the past 5 years, i am now about to turn 40 years old. but, the first time i can recall being sexually harassed by an adult male happened to me in d.c. i’ve been to hollaback dc many times and every time i’ve felt the urge to tell this story, but never have. part of me feels silly that i’m so scarred by something that happened to me 28 years ago, but part of me knows i wouldn’t feel so upset by it so many years later if it wasn’t a very serious matter.
the public school i attended in toledo, ohio offered a class trip for 7th graders to washington, d.c. i grew up in a poor neighborhood, was a poor kid. and this trip to the nation’s capitol was a huge deal, was something a poor family had to start preparing for a few years in advance. neither of my 2 older sisters showed interest in it, but from the 1st time i’d heard of it, when my oldest sister had a chance to go, i desperately wanted to see washington d.c., particularly the smithsonian institute.
we spent a week in washington d.c., a week that for me included seeing my first aggressive panhandlers and being pickpocketed (at the age of 12!) of almost all my spending money. but, the worst experience by far was what happened to me on the subway (or whatever you call your trains there).
our school group took one trip on the subway while in d.c. it was super crowded, i remember that. we had to stand once we were herded onto the train. i was a shy kid by nature and was already feeling overwhelmed by discomfort. i remember feeling claustrophobic standing shoulder to shoulder with mostly adults as the train started moving. then i noticed this grown up man staring at me. he was holding onto the same pole that i was, but not directly next to me, he was one person away. he just kept staring at me. i was embarrassed and kept looking at the floor, then looking back up to see that he was still staring. but at one point i looked up and he’d moved next to me, and then behind me.
and all these years later it’s still difficult for me to write about this. and i now realize it’s still impossible for me to type the words describing exactly what he did to me once he was standing behind me. i still feel guilty that i didn’t say something to the chaperons who were there with the kids, i still feel partially to blame for this guy being able to get away with being a pervert.this guy eventually moved behind me. his hand was holding onto the pole above me and i could feel him pressing against me. i knew it was wrong, but didn’t understand 100% why it was or what was happening exactly. i did try to move away from him, pushed my way through the crowd of people to another pole to hold onto – and he followed me, standing against me and above me. and the entire time i knew whatever was happening was wrong and “dirty”. and after that, my memory kind of ends. i know i felt something that was awful happening, but that’s all i remember. i just know that what i recognize as a 40 year old woman as a public molestation of a child truly scarred me and followed me for many years.
and unfortunately, it wasn’t the last – though it was one of the worst experiences i ever had with public sexual harassment. i avoided crowded public spaces after that experience and then learned how to spot these perverts and avoid them- well, avoid them as much as is possible – though we all know how almost impossible that is.
it still haunts me, though, this public molestation. and i don’t doubt that i could spot this man on the street if he still looked like his younger self – i can still picture those piercing eyes when he was first staring me down. i can still feel him behind me as he assaulted me. and i only had the vaguest idea about sex, came from a pretty strict and uptight protestant home. this experience made me think only of a made for t.v. movie i’d seen at the age of 9 about a rape that was blamed on the victim. and to the mind of a 12 year old, and a more naive than average 12 year old, i didn’t understand that made for t.v. movie enough to know that it was meant to be AGAINST blaming the victim. so i blamed myself for many, many years that this man was able to do to me what he did among a huge crowd of adults, many of whom were chaperons from my school, as well as many of my classmates.
sorry for the babbling post – but this experience really has haunted me for many years and i think of it every single time i visit a “hollaback” site or a street harassment site. i guess i’m hoping that finally writing about it (i think i’ve told all of ONE person about this over all these years) might get the image of this man and the feeling of him behind me out of my head at least a little bit.
Submitted by Viv Szabo
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