September is the best month to travel. It’s the awkward shoulder season between summer and fall – and, in most locations, prices and crowds are at an annual low. Which is why I invited my BFF, Melanie, on an epic cross-country road trip.
Originally, it was going to be just us girls. But then I met a guy named Gabriel at my friend Josh’s Colorado wedding. Gabriel and I totally hit it off. We talked about science, psychology and ideas. We talked about travel and adventure. And, naturally, I mentioned that I might be back in Colorado in September during my epic road trip. He seemed like a nice, trustworthy guy – not to mention, he came with some of the best social proof ever. Josh is such a sweet guy that he always kind of looks like he’s standing in a beam of sunshine. A friend of his is a friend of mine.
“You can show us some of the best Rocky Mountain hikes!” I told him. “Also, by the time we get to Colorado, we might be tired of camping every night. If it’s no trouble, maybe Melanie and I could crash on your couch for a night or two.”
He agreed that that sounded awesome, so we traded numbers and stayed in touch over the rest of the summer.
September came, and Melanie and I embarked upon our journey. We camped in the redwoods and caught crayfish in Lake Tahoe. We discovered Thunder Mountain – the bizarre concrete remains of Chief Rolling Mountain Thunder’s apocalypse-proof domicile.
We explored roadside attractions, like the largest killed polar bear in history and the largest light-up cowboy sign in the world. We visited museums in Salt Lake City and rode the Mountain Roller Coaster in Park City.
But around that time, we realized that we were not going to make it to Colorado on this trip. There just wasn’t time for everything. So I called Gabriel to let him know we wouldn’t be coming.
“Oh, really?” he asked, disappointed. “Where are you going? Where are you now?”
“Park City,” I told him. “Tomorrow we’re driving back to Salt Lake City to meet up with our friend Tomas, and then we’re headed to the Grand Tetons. And then Yellowstone!”
“Yellowstone, huh? I’ve always wanted to go there. You know what? Let me see if I can find a cheap flight from Boulder to SLC… maybe I can meet up with you there, too.”
“Um, okay,” I said. “I think it’d be fun to have you… Just, don’t you think it will be expensive? And how will you get home?”
He told me that he had a lot of miles, and that he’d look into it and call me back.
A while later, he called to confirm that it would be okay to meet up with him the next evening in Salt Lake City. I saw no reason not to bring him – I’d had a great time with him at the wedding, and Tomas and Melanie would be along. Plus, it’d be cool to have someone else to split the gas with.
“Sure. Go for it!”
There was a little bit of weirdness that first night – as we lay facing each other in the tent, chatting quietly (Melanie and Tomas had fallen asleep), he tried to kiss me. It was dark, but I could feel his face coming because he had a couple of long black hairs growing out of the tip of his nose.
So I stopped him.
“Actually… I don’t do that. Not with people I don’t know well. Kissing is a big deal to me.”
It didn’t seem to be a problem. We talked a little more. Then I rolled over and went to sleep.
The next few days were awesome. We got caught in a horrible hailstorm in the Grand Tetons (which means boobies in French, BTW). I’d never seen hail before – and it was wonderful, until it was painful. We camped under the blackest sky I’d ever seen before! And, finally, we made it to Yellowstone.
Words cannot describe the wonder that is Yellowstone. From the vivid thermophiles that color the hot springs blue, yellow, red and orange; to the hungry grizzlies preparing for hibernation; to wolves, buffalo and coyotes… What can I even say?
Well, one thing I can say was that it was cold! Apparently, winter starts in September in Yellowstone. It snowed during our second day, and dropped below 20 degrees that night, so we decided to head into town for the night to see about a cheap hotel room.
We found one right outside the park for $70 – and it had three beds. So we showered, changed, and headed into town for pizza and beer. After we ordered, I excused myself from the table to go check out the arcade – because, yay, arcade games!
But Gabriel followed me, and said that he wanted to talk to me alone. He said he wanted to define things between “us.”
“Gabriel,” I told him, very clearly, “There is no ‘us.’ Whatever energy you think you’re feeling between us, nothing is going to happen. We live in different states, and I would never date anyone long distance.” (Not to mention that he was kind of annoying and not boyfriend material.)
Then – saved by the bell – the pizza came. After we all finished eating, we decided to see what people do at night in Montana. We found a lovely little bar with a jukebox, and I convinced everyone to pool their quarters together so we could play some DANCIN’ music. You know – like The Beatles. And I had another drink or two.
I didn’t get wasted. But I was definitely tipsy. So as we walked back to the hotel, I loudly announced, to everyone, REPEATEDLY, “I have been drinking, and I don’t want to share my bed with ANYONE! Y’all figure something out, because I want to sleep ALONE! A-L-O-N-E – ALONE!”
Pretty clear, right? But, just to be sure:
“Everyone, LISTEN! I want to sleep –“
“Alone. We heard you the first ten times,” Tomas quipped.
So imagine my surprise when I went to bed alone and woke up next to Gabriel.
At first, I did the typical, stupid girl thing and didn’t want to make a big fuss. I didn’t want to wake everyone up. I didn’t want to have a big fight in the middle of what was a totally amazing road trip. Besides, he wasn’t touching me, so I guess it was okay…?
But as the morning went on, I got more and more upset about it. I had been perfectly clear when I went to bed what my boundaries were. Why weren’t they respected?
So I confronted Gabriel. “Why did you get into my bed? Didn’t you hear me say no?”
He mumbled something sort of vague about how he thought I wouldn’t mind.
“I was drinking, Gabriel. And I said no. It was completely inappropriate! But… at least you didn’t touch me, I guess.”
“Actually, I did touch you.”
“What the -- Where!!? WHY??”
“No place inappropriate! Just your face, neck, arms, back and legs.”
From here, the situation escalated. I became enraged.
And the crazy thing is – he was mad at me for being mad at him. You know – instead of being like, “I am SO SORRY! I never meant to violate your boundaries and make you feel this way!” he said -- he LITERALLY said, all entitled-like -- “Your tone and body language said yes.”
Which made me so angry that I kicked him out of the car on the side of the road. I felt a little empowered… and a lot terrified.
Over the next few days, I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened – or the disgusting, rapey way he’d justified his actions. I had been violated. And I wanted justice.
Everyone told me it wasn’t worth it – that there was no way a DA would ever prosecute someone for “only” touching my face, neck, arms, shoulders, back and legs. But I looked it up – touching someone when they’ve said not to touch them is battery – “an intentional, unpermitted act causing harmful or offensive contact with the ‘person’ of another.” And doing it in a sexual manner is sexual assault.
Even so, I knew it was a bit of a stretch… After all, according to RAINN, 54% of rapes are never reported. Of every 100 that are reported, only 9 are prosecuted and 5 are convicted.
So I decided to get proof. Gabriel had emailed me after our blowout to see if we could talk. I finally replied, demanding to know exactly where he touched me while I was sleeping, and why.
His response was basically plagiarized from Robin Thicke.
On the subject of that night,
I didn't touch you in any place that was new to us. I must have touched your shoulders and upper back, your belly, your face, and with absolutely NO touching below the waist, or above the belly on the front. I might have touched your legs, but with absolutely NO touching above the middle of your thighs.
For sleeping in the same bed, I believe that inferred consent is sufficient among friends. A no does mean no, and this needs to be respected fully - agreed.
Further, we need to know how to say this NO. If you say "NO," but your body language and tone say "YES," then you are giving a mixed, dubious, contradictory message. In this situation, whatever the other wants, yes or no, they will act upon it. They have basis for consent in either direction.
When we say one thing, and show another with our body language and tone, the latter takes precedence with respect to the receiver. It's like we say one thing, the proper thing, then our body language and tone say what we really want. The blurred lines can be alleged by someone wanting a particular result, but only when communication is inconsistent. Please be careful with this - I say this from one human to another with you in mind, and I also say this as a man who gets mixed messages.
Many people think that verbal communication is first, but I believe that the more REAL and substantial things are communicated via other means. Verbal communication says the complex things, and non-verbal says the fundamental and real, in most cases.
Please note: This is verbatim from his email. He LITERALLY said, “blurred lines.” He also basically said, “I know you want it,” and, “You’re a good girl.”
Feeling like I had the evidence I needed, I forwarded his email to the police department, who requested Melanie and Tomas’s contact info. The two of them wrote sworn statements about the night – how I’d repeatedly said I didn’t want anyone in my bed, how I had been in my bed by myself when we all went to sleep… and how they were disturbed to see Gabriel in my bed with me in the morning.
And, guess what? Against everyone’s prediction – including my own -- the police and the DA were totally willing to prosecute!
Surprisingly, no one (but my friends) tried to make me feel like my case wasn’t good enough – that I should “just deal with it,” since he’d “only” touched my face, neck, arms, back and legs, rather than my breasts, buttocks or vulva. The police only cared that it was my body and I said no, and that he heard me say no, but didn’t listen.
Because, you know, that’s illegal.
Ready to move forward, the officer explained next steps to me:
When this went to trial, which it almost certainly would, I would have to get myself to the state of Montana. Once I got there, my expenses would be covered. I would have to testify in court – but Melanie and Tomas wouldn’t have to. Their statements were enough.
However, the case was a little complicated: I was in California, Gabriel was back in Colorado, and the crime happened in Montana. The authorities had to decide if it would be worth it to extradite Gabriel from Colorado to Montana (which, apparently, is very complicated and expensive)… or if they should just charge him with a failure to appear (FTA), which is punishable by 6 months in prison and/or fines. This would also result in the court issuing a warrant for his arrest, which would basically mean he could never go to Montana again.
As a victim/survivor, figuring out whether or not you want to testify is a huge decision. Especially considering that I’d have to travel so far, and the guy probably wouldn’t even show up.
But after some thought, I committed. Because maybe this was my chance to make a difference. Depending on your source, a woman is raped every 6-90 seconds in America. A huge number of them never have their day in court. So I was going to do it for all of us.
Moreover, I really wanted to challenge the ridiculous notion that you “can’t” or “shouldn’t” press charges against someone who “only” touching you on your _____. It is your body. YOU decide who touches it, and when. If someone touches you anywhere on your body after you’ve said not to, they are breaking the law. They should be punished.
Gabriel never appeared in court. But I hope, at least, he’s learned a lesson about consent. I am so on board with “Yes Means Yes.” But let’s not forget that No still (and will always) Means No.
* Names have been changed.