It Happened to Me: I Was Groped

Apparently, the only socially-acceptable response to a stranger touching you is saying “It could have been worse,” and moving on. But I can’t.
Publish date:
October 14, 2011
sexual assault, street harassment, gropers, self defense

The Fort Hamilton stop on the D train lets you off in a quiet, Hasidic Jewish neighborhood. It goes dark and deserted there by 8 pm. I usually avoid it when I do the closing shift at work -- until 11 pm. But that night, at midnight, I was reading "Darkly Dreaming Dexter" and missed my usual stop at 9th Avenue.

I skipped down the steps full of apprehension about my book -- would Dexter turn his brother in?! -- but not worrying much about my dark, two-block walk home. He must have been there the whole time, but I did not notice a man following me.

I stepped out onto the street and flipped open my cell phone to call my boyfriend. I heard someone ambling up behind me, but he didn't seem interested in passing, so I ignored him. I was picking up a continuing argument with my boyfiend -- “I can’t read your mind, babe!” -- when I heard the man behind me start to jog.

Instinctively, I shifted to the side to let him pass. But the fast rustling of his pants, the rapid clip clop of his shoes -- I realized he wasn’t jogging, he was running, hard. I froze. Just as his breath hit the back of my neck I whipped around, that’s when it happened. A loud clap. Then pain. Pressure.

He’d slapped my ass. No, not slapped -- cupped, grabbed, squeezed. Then he took off down the street.

I wasn’t sure whether to be horrifed or not. I giggled. I mean, just for a second. It was an outlandish thing to do to a person. And then watching him run -- a full grown man of at least 30, sprinting across the street, I realized he was running like he’d done something awful. That’s when it sank in.

“Hang on baby,” I said into the phone. I stalked after the man, a plastic bag with my heels in it in one hand, open cell phone in the other. The stream of obscenities that flew out of my mouth as I chased him surprised me. My voice shaking, I called him a coward. I called him a pervert. I told my boyfriend, who was faintly screaming from my open phone that I shouldn’t chase the guy, that I was going to “kick his ass!” -- loud enough for the man to hear, of course.

But the butt-grabber didn’t hesitate -- he sprinted, hanging a left onto 9th Avenue. My bag was bouncing, and I had to stop once to untangle it from my dangling, crossbody purse. By the time I made it to the typically busy street, I realized two things:

1. He was gone, and

2. 9th Avenue was deserted.

It was stupid and dangerous, but I tore down the avenue alone, checking side streets, then circling back in the other direction. All the while I was screaming things alternately into my cell phone and the air, using all the bad words I knew in Creole, my boyfriend’s language.

“Yes, I am still walking. Because I need to find the little pum-pum that grabbed me… ‘tite salope la… NY FUN CHOO, SALOPE.” (Translation: I will kick your butt, you nasty person.)

Eventually, I wore myself out and did the normal thing: sobbed uncontrollably and went home.

“I’m actually glad this happened to you,” said my mother on the phone the next day. “It will put you on your guard now. And you weren’t seriously hurt.”

She had the majority opinion; I told this story a few more times and the response was the same: Be glad you weren’t raped. The police officers I reported the incident to had their own special input.

“Now don’t take this the wrong way,” said one of them, a guy with a tough accent and fatherly face, “But when people are yapping on their cell phones, they’re usually not paying attention to their surroundings.”

I nodded, silently kicking myself for mentioning that.

“And what time were you walking?”

A few friends suggested that my ass-ailant might have actually been reaching for my bag. I considered the idea, but something told me that the touch had been intentional -- rehearsed, even. I Googled “grope” and “run away” and got my answer: Dozens of stories like mine, in my area.

Joggers, students, a woman walking her dog. The man gets a running start from behind and grabs her. By the time she can react, he’s long gone.

“Oh my god,” said a coworker when I told him what I’d found, “Like a drive-by.”

“A run-by,” I corrected him.

I found more disturbing information. Eleven women have been grabbed in Brooklyn since March. Police are advising women to avoid skirts, which one suspect seems to target, but that wouldn’t have helped me -- I was wearing pants and a hoodie. (Police recently made an arrest. Unfortunately, the man they caught seems considerably shorter than the one that grabbed me. It's scary, but I'm starting to think there's a lot of these guys out there.)

And though I was on my cell phone, which police discourage, I was fully aware there was a man behind me. I just didn’t know what to do about it. Now when I tell the story, I leave out the part where I chased the guy. I hate the looks people give me, like if I would go asking for trouble that way, I got what was coming to me.

Apparently, the only socially-acceptable response to a stranger touching you is saying “It could have been worse,” and moving on. But I can’t. I jump when people pass too close to me on the sidewalk. I feel intense hostility for medium-build guys in an orange T-shirts. I don’t look at men anymore, and I feel like I don’t like them anymore.

And I dream about what I could have done differently. Tripped him? Run him down and tackled him? It’s funny, but much more than wishing this hadn’t happened to me, I wish I had done more to defend myself.

Of course, the safest thing to do is run. I whole-heartedly advise the next girl to do exactly that. But if she happens to kick him in the balls in the process, well, all the better.