I noticed he was following me. I started walking faster, clutching my wallet and phone. I had two turns until I reached school – could make it. He was just another weirdo. Then it happened. I was speechless, in shock. I froze. There, he stood between me and the school door grabbing at me. I couldn’t scream or push him away fast enough. He grabbed my chest. I pushed him away, he came back, a second time I pushed harder and kicked. Finally, he ran off. I got to the door, rang the bell, got into the school and ran up the stairs to my classroom.
I was studying abroad in Rabat, Morocco. Men catcalled more often and they got a tad more handsy than back home in the states, but I saw similar behavior in D.C., Boston and even walking down the street I grew up on. I was, like many women, accustomed to it. Until that man touched me – that was a step too far.
I didn’t walk alone often, but on that hot Wednesday, I had forgotten my water bottle and decided to take the quick 10 minutes to walk there and back. As I sat at a desk in my journalism class, with the teacher proceeding with the lesson, I started thinking of every reason it happened, only finding myself to blame.
Maybe I was wearing the wrong thing? I was wearing jeans, a tank top and a light jacket. I usually layered because I could wear a jacket and take it off when I got back to school to catch some sun on the rooftop terrace.
Maybe it’s because I decided to wear makeup that day?
I reported it to everyone at my school. They gave me options and help, but I decided to only go forward to police if there was video evidence. It happened in front of my school where there was a camera someone would check before letting the person into the school. Of course there was no space left on the server, so my interaction was never recorded.
I went on with life as normal, never going forward to police because there was no evidence, they wouldn’t believe me. Instead, I threw myself into the culture that was so beautiful. That Friday, I caught a train with friends to Marrakesh, where we got to escape for the weekend. Lots of days I forgot about it. As the semester went on I traveled with friends around Morocco. After the semester finished I traveled through Europe for three weeks before boarding the plane home.
I thought going home would help me to completely forget about the attack and feel safer, because if this happened in America I would have reported it, right? Once the plane landed I realized it wasn’t that easy. With every whisper on the street and man invading my space on public transportation, I continue to shudder and feel the terror of that day.
When a guy walks too close to me on the street I get that bit of panic in my stomach. I continued to wear sunglasses and listen to music, a coping mechanism from Morocco, when I commuted through D.C. everyday on the metro over the summer for my internship. Multiple men had the audacity to tap me on the shoulder during my summer taking the metro and other subtle instances of sexual harassment happen often.
I find myself at odds over my decision not to go to the police over a year later. One of my best friends did when a similar situation occurred, but the officers just laughed it off. I told myself in America I would have reacted differently. I would have gone forward to police video evidence or not. Being back I can say it wouldn’t have been so black and white. I couldn’t be sure of myself over anything.
Here is what I know – it was not because of what I was wearing, what I was drinking, where I was going or what I was doing. It was not because I was in another country where catcalling happens more often. This type of assault could happen anywhere, anytime. It could have happened while I was in high school, living with my parents, or at St. Mike’s, living with the oversight of res life, or while I was abroad. It happened because the perpetrator wanted to take my power away from me, and make me and everyone else second guess my decisions. Unfortunately, that culture exists for women everywhere.
My story is unique to me and my circumstances, but similar acts happen all over the world, constantly. One in four women will be sexually assaulted during her life. However, that should never be a deterrent; we shouldn’t have to live our lives in fear of what if.
This can happen to anyone, anywhere. I’m thankful for my friends who have left with me when I feel too uncomfortable at parties and who don’t get mad when I accidently bump into them while walking down the street and a man comes too close.
A few weeks ago we got an email from Public Safety. There had been a sexual assault on campus, and this was a timely notice to warn the public about the incident. It was a fresh reminder that yes indeed, this happens here, though it may not always be reported, or the top thing on our minds. It’s important to know that it does happen here, and to try to change the status quo.