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Nobody loves the New York Subway system. The trains in New York are like a bad ex you can't shake: they're hot, dirty, and there are always too many other people riding them. I spent my childhood in fear of the lurching, vomited-upon trains that perpetually lost power in the tunnels, but like the chauffeurless commoner that I am, I found myself lured back time and time again by her siren song.
On one hot summer night a few years back, my close female friend and I grew tired of watching Ludacris videos on my bed and decided, being the danger-seekers we were, to venture downtown to meet a friend. We boarded the nearly deserted Subway near my home and found ourselves seats in an empty car, talking about our plans for the evening and our excitement about heading back to school later that month.
After a few minutes in the car together, a man in his early 20s boarded. We took little note of him until, without warning, he took the seat right next to me. He didn't say a word or even glance in our direction, but there he was, with his khakis pressed against my thigh as the train chugged through the tunnel.
Nervous, I squeezed my friend's hand, coaxing her out of the seat and toward the door. While the stranger had done nothing wrong other than commit a little personal space invasion, I was uneasy enough to know that I wanted to be far away from him, and fast. Once we had exited the car, we let the stranger pass us in the station while I pulled my friend aside. We decided to take separate stairwells out of the station, in case the man might mug us. At the very least, we agreed, we would still be able to get home, and maybe even still have a decent time, with only one wallet and one phone.
My friend took the stairs first, and when I could no longer hear her footsteps, I headed across the empty station toward another stairwell. The stranger was no longer in sight, and I began my ascent, confident about our choice to split up, and thinking about all the Andre I would be buying in mere moments.
As I reached the first landing, I suddenly felt the cold tile wall against my face as a surge of pain rushed through my head. While I tried to steady myself, I began to notice the warmth of another body against mine and the smell of cigarettes. As I turned my head, I saw the stranger, pushing me up against the wall, his lip caressing my ear as his sweaty face slid across my cheek.
Before I could scream, his arm was against my throat and I found myself gasping for breaths of the hot, exhaust-filled air. I was growing lightheaded when I felt my skirt move up my thighs and, in seconds, his fingers enter me. In the moment, the unwanted penetration was the least of my worries. Did he have a knife, I wondered? Was he going to kill me? Without further thought, I used my remaining strength to push him off me hard and ran, screaming bloody murder, up the stairs.
My friend, who saw me run screaming from the stairwell, followed me into the first doorman building we saw, where we called the police. As we looked through the glass doors of the lobby, we noticed a familiar face. The stranger had followed us and was staring at us from outside. When the lights of the police car became visible from around the corner, the stranger gave us one last look and leisurely walked off into the night, like a man who hadn't spent the last 5 minutes trying to rape a stranger in a public stairwell.
When the police got out of their car, I felt instantly relieved. The officers, one male, one female, were young and kind looking, and I was certain they would Benson and Stabler the shit out that asshole. They immediately started asking a series of seemingly irrelevant questions as I implored them to walk down the street and arrest the man, who couldn't have been more than a hundred yards away at that point.
Lady Cop: What were you guys doing on the train?
Me: Going to meet a friend. (Being the stupid lady idiots that we are, we thought we could go out at night!)
Lady Cop: Is this friend male or female?
Me: Male. (Because I'm a slut like that.)
Lady Cop: And is this your boyfriend?
Me: No. (Just one of the many guys I have the slutty gall to talk to.)
Lady Cop: And what happened with the gentleman in the stairwell?
Me: He pushed me against the wall, choked me with his forearm, and stuck his fingers in my vagina. (But he was such a gentleman about it.)
Lady Cop: So what did this guy look like?
Me: Light skin, light hair in braids, a backwards blue Yankee cap, khaki shorts, a white tank top, red Nike high tops.
Lady Cop: And what race was he?
Me: Hispanic, I think.
At this point, my would-be Mariska put down her pen and looked at her partner. He shook his head. "That's what every guy we're looking for out here tonight looks like, miss," she laughed. Her partner chuckled. "Frankly, there's nothing we can do." My eyes were wide with disbelief as I saw her fold up the paper she had been writing on and open the passenger door of the car. "And my suggestion?" she offered. "If you have the cash, take a cab home." And like that, they were gone, off to not do their job somewhere else.
This is the kind of boogeyman sexual assault story victim blamers love to cite as an example of a "clear-cut" attack, the terrible, unconscionable capital-letter Sexual Assault that bad scary criminals do to nice girls from good families. This man was a stranger. I wasn't drunk. I wasn't somewhere I "should have had the good sense not to be." He overpowered me. I screamed, I ran, I called the cops. I did everything every self-defense class, every cop who visited my middle school, and every "Law & Order," told me to do, and still nothing was done. There is probably a video of my assault somewhere, or at least, there probably was at one time. There are probably videos from the apartment building of the stranger standing outside. And nothing was done.
I'm not writing this article to paint a portrait of myself as a victim or gain sympathy for my experience. I am not doing this to remind anyone that there are inherent bad people in this world who will do bad things. I am not trying to speak for someone else's experience. What I am trying to do is provide one answer to those who ask, "If it didn't go to trial, how can we call him a predator?" "If it was really assault, why wouldn't she get the cops involved?" Because, for some of us, nothing is done.
When someone tried, unsuccessfully, to steal my friend's iPhone last year, they were driven around by cops for hours until the wannabe thief was found. When a stranger tried to rape me, I was told to take cabs in the future.