Today, when Toronto police revealed that they arrested a suspect in connection to the Christie Pits sexual assaults, two thoughts came to mind: how could a 15-year-old boy be responsible for those attacks, and I wondered if he was the same person who grabbed my ass the other night.
I don’t know if I should be more shocked that a teenager is accused of committing the string of sexual assaults near downtown Toronto or that a stranger decided to grope me as I walked down the street with my partner this weekend.
When the media and commentators speculated about the recent spat of sexual assaults, people (myself included) wanted to know the degree of severity of the attack. If it’s just a grope, then it’s not that bad, right?
And others questioned whether the victims could have attracted unwanted attention because of what they wore. Krista Ford, the mayor’s niece who apparently also suffers from the unfortunate foot-in-mouth disease that affects her uncle, tweeted that women should “stay alert, walk tall, carry mace, take self-defence classes and don’t dress like a whore.”
When it comes to sexual violence, we tend to find fault with the victim. And I only understood how ingrained that mentality is within us when I judged myself for being groped.
I thought, well he must have realized that I was inebriated because I was stumbling. And maybe if I hadn’t worn a skirt, he wouldn’t have tried to touch me. And I shouldn’t have been walking on Queen Street West at night, even if I was with my partner. And I knew I couldn’t do anything about it because I had no idea who did it – I didn’t see his face as he passed by me.
In fact, I didn’t realize what happened until a couple seconds later. The man walking towards us must have mastered his reach-and-grab technique a long time ago because he observed, watched, and groped like skilled predator who dashed away and blended in with the crowd on the street.
I turned around and yelled but my partner didn’t know what to do because he was unaware of what had happened.
So I burst into tears. The tears weren’t for the asshole who grabbed me but for the fact that it wasn’t the first time I felt violated and powerless.
It wasn’t a violent assault. It wasn’t rape. But it was a personal violation that I didn’t ask for. I was having a good time that night. Yet by the end of the night, I went to bed exhausted after sobbing in my partner’s arms.
I cried because the violation made me feel like I was a piece of meat when I have worked so hard to graduate from two great schools; I cried because I had kept reminding myself that I am intelligent despite what I looked like, but that only made me realize that I must think other women are more deserving of their attack because they were stupid enough to dress so promiscuously. I cried because, as a man, my partner will likely never experience what it feels like to be powerless in that kind of situation.
But I cried mostly when I thought of the other times my friends and I had received unwanted attention.
For every story I’ve shared with a female friend recounting an uncomfortable situation, that friend could probably share at least a couple of her own experiences. And those experiences don’t necessarily have to involve a blatant physical attack. Instead, it could mean being propositioned at work, being fetishized (ex. I’ve been complimented for looking “exotic” a few times), or it could be something similar to the Reddit creepshots.
In fact, when I lived in Harlem, I would sometimes change my morning work route to avoid passing by an elderly male neighbour who sat on the stoop of his brownstone and hollered at the women walking by. He didn’t say anything extremely vile but I always became upset because I felt like it was a power struggle and I would always be on the losing side: his words reduced me to a “thing” and made me feel demoralized as a sexualized object.
So, does it matter whether a sexual assault is a grope or a violent attack? Yes and no. While I’d want to know if the assaults have escalated to rape, I think the bigger picture is that most women have experienced situations – verbal or physical – that have made them feel like they have been violated.
Ask the women around you – I bet you’ll be surprised by the number of stories they’ll tell you.
And that’s why stories like this one that involves another teenager, which seems so innocuous, are troubling to me.
I hope that as we find out more information about the Christie Pits assaults, we don’t easily dismiss the case if the 15-year-old is accused of “only” groping his victims because the scariest part of those attacks isn’t only that a teenage boy assaulted his female victims but that our society doesn’t think much of it if the assaults turn out to be just a little ass grab.