I don’t really know how to begin this, or even where to go with it. I am writing this because I don’t know how to feel, and I wonder if it’s just me or if everyone has a different opinion?
A few weeks ago I reported on Facebook and Twitter that a guy had smacked my behind in the middle of crowded Swanston St. I was standing at the ATM, and completely lost in my own thoughts – when it happened, I was so shocked, all I did was turn around and yell ‘OI!’ at him (in a typical fit of eloquence appropriate to the situation, obvs.). I was still waiting for my money to come out of the machine, so even as he shot back, ‘Settle down’ and kept walking, I couldn’t follow him. Not that I wanted to.
It was a bloody horrible feeling. Having your personal space invaded is bad enough, but to be caught completely unawares, touched in an intimate place (and quite forcefully too, it really hurt), 100% against your will is a very disempowering feeling. Also, the fact it happened in a crowded street was humiliating. I was feeling all shaky, but trying to appear unaffected because I didn’t want anymore unwelcome attention. I collected my money and waited until I caught a glimpse of him in the crowd up ahead. He was walking quite slowly, (I think accompanied by another person, it was hard to tell), and he looked unsteady on his feet. Whether he was under the influence of something or if that’s the way he is normally, I have no idea. I hung back until I was sure he was some way up. There was no way I was going to walk in front of him. I started walking, hoping I wasn’t going to be late for work because I was hiding from some dude who was taking his sweet time up Swanston St. I kept catching glimpses of him as he was further up, and I saw him do the same thing to TWO other women. My eyes weren’t on him constantly, so I don’t know if he got anyone else, and the only thing I was brave enough to do was tweet about it and put it on Facebook, telling people he was headed north of Swanston St. The thought crossed my mind to call the police, but what could they have done? Even if he was still around when they got there, they had no proof that he had done anything wrong, and as not one single person protested when he did it to me at the ATM, I wasn’t counting on witnesses.
What I should have done, is run after him, and told him off loudly. That way it would have warned other people around us, and maybe he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do it to those other women. But, and I am really ashamed to admit this, I was scared of him. All he’d done was smack my bum – I should have been stomping all over him in protest. But he was much bigger and taller than me, and because he looked drugged, or at least drunk, and obviously had no qualms about keeping his hands to himself, I was afraid of him hurting me again. I crossed the road when I was sure he was far enough away from me, and I tried to put the whole thing out of my mind.
A few days later I saw him, chatting to a busker on the intersection of Bourke and Swanston. I got that horrible sick feeling in my stomach and just avoided the place entirely. He wouldn’t have known me from a bar of soap, but I didn’t like the feeling I got when I saw him, and hoped I wouldn’t again.
The other night I was walking around the city at night with a group of people. It wasn’t late – perhaps 7pm. I saw him again. He was sitting with another guy, who looked scruffy and dirty and cold. They were sitting on cardboard boxes, leaning up against vending machines under the cover of a train station. I stared at him. And instead of feeling that hot, bubbly sick feeling in my stomach, I just felt overwhelming sadness. And I thought instantly about my house, and my warm bed, and my fridge full of food, and my computer, and my bank balance, and my university course and my health, and all these things that I have right in front of me, ripe for the taking and the using and the discarding when I’m finished with it. And I thought of how angry this man had made me and how silly that anger seemed now.
Not to blow my own horn, but I give a lot of money to charities and sponsees, and I will try and give money to homeless people when I have cash on me. It’s partially a generosity thing, but partly a faith thing too. I always end up with enough money for the things I need, and I firmly believe that giving away money doesn’t make you poorer, because it always finds its way back to you somehow in some form. Some people will call it karma, for me it’s more of a spirituality thing, but I’ve done it for quite a while (okay, pious-y lecture over, sorry guys).
I didn’t approach him. I didn’t give him any money. I kept walking.
I am still afraid of him. And I am still mightily pissed off with him and with any person who thinks it’s okay to touch someone inappropriately without their consent. But I am chastened by the fact that I never considered this man’s circumstances, and I was so conflicted about what to do in this situation. It wasn’t even a self-important judgement call like ‘because this man has assaulted me, he doesn’t deserve my money’. It was more of a weird, fear thing. And it was so much easier to keep walking and pretend I hadn’t seen him. I’m not proud of myself. I don’t know how to feel, or what the right thing to do or think would have been. I wonder what other people think about this and if anyone wants to let me know?