It happens at a college house party.
I chat with a guy who sits behind me in of my new classes this semester. He asks me to dance and I agree, but I feel uneasy about leaving my friends.
We’re swaying as the music blares.
He grabs my wrists and pulls me closer to him. I was much happier when there was a bit of distance between us. I pretend this is my favorite part of the song just to give myself an excuse to lean back and fake a silly dance move, pulling myself out of his grasp.
He’s drunk. He puts his hands back on my wrists again, harder this time. His hold is too tight. It hurts a little. He’s whispering in my ear.
“Let’s go to my room,” he says.
Alarms go off in my head.
He starts pulling me.
That’s going to bruise tomorrow.
I just wanted to dance. I hardly know him.
I glance back at my friends to make sure they’re still there. I take note of the nearest exits.
The song thankfully ends. I yank my arms free.
He looks angry.
I make some excuse about checking on my friend and being a designated driver, any lie that will allow me to peacefully exit.
I walk away.
It happens when I go to the grocery store.
My basket is full of items and heavy.
Out of the corner of my eye I see a man leering at me. I walk quickly past as he scans my body. Up and down.
I shudder and keep moving.
I go to another part of the store. He follows at a distance. I pretend to look at a box of cereal to steal a glance and study his appearance and features. I may need that information.
He’s busy talking to a woman and child and I take the opportunity to turn down another corner. I think it’s over, but now the woman and child appear at my side. The man is watching them from the end of the isle.
“You’re very pretty,” she says.
I’ve heard about this exact scenario before. This is how sex traffickers operate.
I smile at her and quickly make my way towards the checkout. They’re tailing me. I see them glaring at me, whispering, and pretending to read tabloids.
I move for my bags and they move to follow me.
I ask the bagger to accompany me to the lot. They back off. I make him stay as I check the underside and backseat of my car.
I walk away.
It happens at a club.
I just came to have fun with my girls. We’re laughing and talking. We’re dancing and holding hands.
There’s safety in numbers, right?
It comes out of nowhere. A pair of hands wrap around my waist. Male hands.
The dance floor is too crowded. I’m sandwiched in. He’s rubbing his hands up my torso, the tips of his fingers quickly making their way under the edge of my bra. I feel him pressed against my back. I feel sick.
Who are you?
Get your hands off me.
I turn around, push him away by the shoulders, and fix him with a glare. He staggers backward, a look of surprise on his face.
“Chill, babe,” he says.
As if I’m the one who is being inappropriate or aggressive. As if I’m the problem.
I’m not your babe.
I walk away.
It happens on a dark street.
They’re catcalling. I ignore them.
Ignoring them makes it worse. They’re louder. They make moves to grope me from behind.
I assess the situation quickly.
I want to scream. But, no noise comes out. I want to push back. But, I don’t turn around. I fumble for my phone and work the sharp end of my keys through the space between my fingers.
Telling them off or fighting back could end badly. They outnumber me.
Walk tall. Walk fast.
I make it to a more well lit portion of the street. They back off.
I walk away.
These are just a few of my personal stories. The few that I am willing to share.
These are the stories men don’t hear.
They don’t know what it’s like. When a simple conversation or dance turns from a pleasant encounter into a scary situation in mere moments. When keys are not a means of transportation, but a weapon of defence. When a stranger decides they have a right to touch you without consent. When a walk home alone is a death wish.
Men don’t know the fear and the worry.
And yet, all women do. Because these are the stories that connect us.
These not-normal shared experiences that must be given a voice. So men will know and learn and teach their sons. So other women see themselves in our tales and realize they are not alone.
These are the stories we women share, yet never share.