I was feeling rather down over a breakup, so I went to sit by the fountain at Dupont Circle and just relax a bit. As I walked down Connecticut Ave. and approached the outside of the circle, people leaving the circle and walking toward Connecticut Ave. passed all around me heading in the opposite direction. Within that large cloud of people, however, my intuition picked up on one individual in particular. A man in his early 30′s or so. He didn’t look particularly dangerous or different from the other people, but my intuition flickered when I saw him notice me, and I immediately thought to myself: PREDATOR. When you’ve experienced as much harassment as I have, you get to a point where you’ve developed a 6th sense about these things.
As he passed by me, I heard him mutter something under his breath in reaction to the sight of me, but I just kept walking. –With the firm knowledge that, despite the direction he was walking in (away from the fountain I was headed toward), I’d see him again in about 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 minutes. And sure enough, 5 minutes later, as I was sitting peacefully at the fountain with my feet in the water, I saw him out of the corner of my eye casually walking around the circle “innocently” looking for a free place to sit. What a shock when that free place just randomly happened to be right next to me!
I was on the phone with my mother, and really not in the mood for some creep to try to talk to me, so I just sat there ignoring the fact that he was facing me and looking at my legs in my sundress. I did, however, immediately take my pepper spray out of my bag and hold it firmly in my hand.
After a few moments of wondering why he wasn’t trying to talk to me, it occurred to me: Of course. He wasn’t there to talk to me: He was there to jerk off to me. I didn’t even have to look at him to know that he was rubbing the growing erection in his pants as he stared at me. But I did eventually look, and of course, I was right. I told my mom I had to get off the phone, propped my finger on the pepper spray switch, and then turned to the woman next to me and told her I was about to call the police because the man next to me was masturbating, and asked her to please be a witness (because the last time this happened, the police couldn’t arrest the man since I was the only witness).
Startled and repulsed, she glanced in his direction, which caused him to realize he was about to be exposed. In true, predator-coward fashion, he immediately stood up to slink away. But this time, something came over me, and I wasn’t having it. I immediately pulled my feet out of the fountain, dialed 911, and stood up right next to him. Nervous but not wanting to draw attention to himself, he began to walk away. And I began to walk right behind him, speaking very loudly to the 911 operator, telling her that a man in Dupont Circle was sitting next to me and masturbating. He of course picked up his pace, and I did the same, raising my voice so that everyone in the circle could hear me telling the police what was happening. At this point, realizing I was on the phone with the police and that people were staring at the furious barefoot girl following am man through the circle screaming on the phone, I he began to trott away.
And I swear to god, something just snapped inside of me. I started screaming at him, “You can’t run away, sir! You can’t just sit in a park and jerk off publicly to the site of a woman and then run away when the cops are called!” ……….which caused him to BOLT down New Hampshire Ave. and disappear around a corner.
All the while, the utterly disinterested dispatcher on the phone commanded me in an irritated tone to not yell at the man. I told her he was running away, and she said she would send someone out.
No cop ever came. The dispatcher didn’t even take my name for the report. –Neither of these things surprised me, but they still infuriated me.
–As did this incident. After nearly 5 years of being verbally, physically, and passively (i.e. public masturbation) harassed in DC, I AM ANGRY. Something has come over me, and I officially want to fight back. Up until this incident, I’ve always been too possessed by sheer shock when these things happen to actually do anything. But this time, probably because I’m so used to it by now that shock is secondary to rage and disgust, I was collected and poised and utterly determined to nail this motherf*cker.
As he ran away, rather than feeling possessed by the horror that usually grips me when a man masturbates to me in public, I felt furious with myself: I was ready this time. I had my pepper spray right there. And I didn’t spray him!!!
I understand why. I understand that it’s because it is not in my nature to aggress upon someone when they have not aggressed upon me first. It is my nature to defend myself, but not to aggress, as it is with most sane people, especially women. And though a man jerking off to me is most certainly a form of aggressing upon me, it is a passive form. And passive aggression does not ignite the same impulse to defend oneself with aggression.
Nonetheless, I still feel furious at myself for not immediately pulling out my pepper spray, aiming it straight at his face (and then possibly his crocth), and macing the hell out of him. Right or not, safe or not, I’m intend to be ready to react this way next time.
And lord knows there will be a next time. There always is.
***The absolute weirdest part of all? Last year, exactly one year ago to that week (in June, 2010), I was feeling down about a breakup, and went to Dupont Circle to relax and reflect. I was on the phone with my mother, wearing the exact same dress I was wearing this time, when a man decided to walk up and begin jerking off to the sight of me. –I don’t know if it was my vulnerable state/vibe, the short sundress, or just the universe telling me it’s time to leave town, but seriously, people, this is just too weird and creepy of a coincidence!***
Submitted by b
Location: Dupont Circle
Time of harassment:Evening Rush Hour (3:30P-7:30P)
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