The day was June 26th. It was the afternoon on the last day of school for all New York schools and I was making my way back uptown for an end-of-the-year staff celebration.
As always, at slightly after five p.m., the metro buzzed with out-of-work excitement. I also sensed the collective urgency of the crowded trains of everyone wishing and rushing to get where they needed to be —home and out of the New York summer heat that makes a person melt as soon as he or she steps outside. The train was so crowded that people were unable to board, leaving little to no room for any sort of maneuvering. Slight shifts occur at each station as people make space, or have the opportunity to sit down after a long day’s work.
As I boarded the train, I positioned myself right next to a pole, to lean on for stability as I was carrying two bags. I took out my book and started reading, occasionally glancing up to check that my bags weren’t in anyone’s way and to check the station. At one stop, I stepped closer to the doors that were not opening. The contact of strangers passing was normal.
Mid-chapter, I felt heat pushing against me from behind, so I shifted to balance my weight on my other foot, thinking it was nothing other than another person in close proximity, suffering from the heat. As I shifted, the thread of heat followed me and rubbed against me, up and down along my work pants. It was then that I turned around to stare down the outline of an erect penis in a jumpsuit that was being stroked by a man, I stood eye-level with. Startled by my realization that this man had been getting off quite literally on me, I flipped around and shoved myself away from him, appearing rude to unaware bystanders as I had disrupted the position of several other commuters. He was unruffled by my reaction and through his dark sunglasses gaped in my direction as if to indicate that his game would carry on,uninterrupted.
I stared, unable to speak, as he slyly positioned himself behind another woman, with his hips thrusted forward and his right hand firmly grasping his penis pointing it at his next target. I shooed him away from her, but still was not able to say anything. As the train approached the next station, he positioned himself at the mouth of the door —ready for his next perverted enterprise. I watched as he attempted to follow a high-school girl that had just boarded the train. I finally had it in me to tell the guy to get off at the next station. He did.
Nearing my stop, tears swelled in my eyes. No, it wasn’t rape and no, he did not physically hurt me or them, but he did violate us. He violated us more than every cat-call ever could. He violated our right to merely ride the train and again, stripped women of their voice —their consent. Frotteurism, the act of rubbing genitalia against a stranger, without consent happens at high rates, almost always in crowded places, such as subways, or escalators, so the person has no idea it has occurred, or they believe it was an accident. It’s not - it is illegal.
Disappointed in my ability to call this man out in the moment, I phoned the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). They immediately put me in contact with a detective that is solely in charge of cases of this manner. The seriousness of the the NYPD and the MTA comforted me, yet I am still frustrated.
In the past several years, women have come out in unprecedented numbers to talk about their experiences, and how they too, have a story. I have read stories about the mountain towns that I call home about which girls are scared to go home because of the reminder of high school involving peer-pressured nights that led to hook-ups that they never agreed to. They followed through because of the pressure that they felt as if they owed it to a boy who drove them around or bought them a meal. I have also talked to friends and family whose lives have been altered because of abusive relationships, suicide threats from significant others, and worse - the many women who have been raped.
I’m grateful that these stories are coming out. These stories are part of the solution vis-à-vis the formation of a culture that doesn’t value woman on 10 point scale, but rather as a valuable member of society. However, the greater solution lies in raising better men and not letting our daughters go down on a male because it is easier or he feels that as a male, that he is entitled. It’s time to erase the stereotype that a female is expected to please a man, yet should the female choose pleasure, she is labeled as an outcast, whereas her male counterpart - for the same actions, would be praised. The narrative must change. This requires people to say no, to speak out, and to report any nonconsensual acts. As a fellow woman, we can lift each other up and support one another as opposed to viewing ourselves as competition. Men have the ability to change how they speak to and about women. In turn, they will see much more than a body—but also a person with opinions, capabilities and dreams.
In the end, I think that lasting change most strongly rests with our generation raising the next in a manner that teaches them to acknowledge and to value women as human beings - not as objects or prizes to be won or possessed.
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