What I still wonder about
My remaining questions about the case studies seem to boil down to the question of whether I could have done more.
- Should I and could I have used more physical force against the Korean man in #1?
Although I was genuinely interested in getting him off me I didn’t go so far as attacking him. Instead my self-defense involved twisting my torso away, wriggling in some attempt to shake him off, and using my free left arm to alternately try to loosen one of the two hands that were gripping my right arm and to push against him to get space.
Truth be told it was completely futile because he was so heavy and because I was trying to do too many things at once. When I reflect on it I’m actually somewhat grateful to have had the experience of being randomly accosted by a heavy man because it didn’t take place in a dark and empty setting. Thanks to that experience I now know full well that if I’m really serious about getting away I won’t act defensively, I’ll act offensively. The first goal is to get away, but thinking that I’m going to be able to do that simply through wriggling and struggling is a delusion. What I see now is that what’s necessary is to focus on carrying out one action at a time, and to focus it somewhere other than where they are focusing their actions. I probably can’t win a tug of war but if I manage to cause sharp pain in one particular area I can probably interrupt the tug of war for a bit. It may have been possible to direct high impact force at that nifty spot between his legs. I actually wish now that I would have.
But this brings me to what I wonder about – the relationship between what one should, or is allowed to, do in a given social context.
I think…….. that I was trying to do the best I could whilst not being totally offensive considering I had just entered a country, whose views on women’s rights and violence in the name of self-defence I did not know. I think I was worried that I could have ended up getting into trouble. Many countries will take the side of the man before the woman. I did not want to be going to the police station my first day in the country, as a young foreign woman no less.
It’s a bit more than that though. I don’t really want to admit it but I was definitely afraid that if I started attacking him he would have attacked me back. I did not doubt that he had it in him to do that, he was completely off his face and basically had already assumed possession of me in his head. I am conflicted about this question of setting, there are advantages and disadvantages to both the open and the unwitnessed ambush. If there had have been no one around I like to imagine that I would have gone ballistic on his ass. What else would there be to do? But there was something quite horrible in not knowing how long it would have taken those bystanders to come and help if he did start hitting me. This wasn’t exactly a situation where I was free to run away. We all like to imagine that they would step in straightaway, or not let it get too bad before stopping him. But in the moment I didn’t feel confident about where their heads were at.
I tend to think that there wasn’t much more I could have done in this situation. And maybe I didn’t have to, the immigration desk that stalled me had to stall him as well. It was just a disturbing experience because my well-being seemed largely out of my hands.
- Should I have caused more of a scene in #3, and should I have asked for the couple’s companionship even after the guy drove off?
It has been rightly pointed out to me that in the instance of the third case study I made my warning to the young guy in a very subtle way. I gave him a chance to get out of what he’d created with no drama or real damage to him.
At first when I started attempting to gain the attention of the couple in the carpark I was unsure whether I would achieve what I wanted to without more urgent, demanding action. My brain cells seemed to be suddenly lit up by the very real hope that this couple’s presence provided, yet at the same time I acutely felt grains of sand slipping down through the neck of the the hourglass; smooth, sure and indifferent. If I didn’t get the couple’s attention soon, they would drive off and I could well be screwed; but was I in a safe enough position to make a big scene without forcing a stronger move by him?
I decided quickly that the most important thing was that they didn’t leave without knowing I needed help, but that before doing anything drastic like running and shouting to them I would make sure I was further out of reach from him and his open door. If the woman had only stopped to look for a second and then turned to head to their car I would have immediately started running. Or if she hadn’t have stopped at all I would have run.
I was fortunate enough to get what I want using body language, as soon as he realised there were other people around he drove off. It hadn’t required any running or yelling, it was a nice neat bow of a conclusion. But why didn’t I go over to the couple after he’d left? I couldn’t know that he wouldn’t come back.
There were three reasons. Firstly, my own estimations told me that he wouldn’t come back, simply because he appeared sufficiently scared off. Secondly, I thought that the bus must be coming soon because it was already late. Thirdly, I didn’t want to cause unnecessary drama for the couple and detain them further. I didn’t want to be demanding.
There is something persistent in my head that wants me to be able to solve such problems as smoothly and coolly as possible. Perhaps it’s related to my introversion, but if I have the choice to not make a scene then I tend to go that route first. In a social setting I am still bound to the desire to uphold basic standards of social behaviour. Sure, I kicked up some dust in #1, but not enough to get him off me and have others be interested in the problem.
I tell myself that I always know where my line is drawn. If the guy in #2 had insisted I leave with him while it was clear that I was non-compliant, I would have stayed in the cafe and demanded that someone else in there help get me out to the main street. I knew what would make me run in #3. My line in #1 was if he had been able to give his passport and get through immigration still glued to my side.
Most of the time I think I do know where my line is. But how good is my judgement really when I never even considered asking the couple to at least sit and wait for the bus with me? If we are talking safety, that would have been the safest course of action. I got out of it, but I didn’t do the best thing. This is something I wonder if I am missing in my handling of these situations. I make it all about “getting out”, not about all-round safety, from pre- to post-incident.
- How reasonable are my fears of reprisal or of not being taken seriously?
- Am I smart for moulding my actions around avoidance of the justice system or am I supporting this bad behaviour by not doing more?
Aside from getting out of the situation of #3, what was my responsibility? I never thought to take down his license plate number. Could I have made a real complaint? On one hand the justice system must generally wait for a bad event to have occurred before casting judgement on it and making moves to protect the public. On the other, what about warning men when they are in the earlier stages (assuming this was an earlier form) that their behaviour is not acceptable? Men who do these things probably have a habit of it. What will this young guy go onto doing, thinking that he can get away with it? He really didn’t give a fuck what I wanted.
Women who travel alone have these stories in spades. I’ve had strange phone calls in the middle of the night when I was alone in a hotel room. One friend has told me of a friend of hers who was sleeping in her room when a man tried to undo the lock from the outside. There are more than a few who have stories of men, either complete strangers or tourism industry workers, who have tried to get them alone to cop a feel or demand a kiss.
It’s really easy to convince yourself that no one really cares about these types of encounters. How many countries’ police would take you seriously if you complained that some random man molested you? If they were following you and cruising you from their car? How seriously would they take it especially since they know that you can’t stick around for a long time? Considering that some places aren’t even keen to take a young girl’s murder seriously, how can women’s morale and confidence in solo travel be kept up?
These things can be hard for a woman to do in her own society, let alone in a foreign one. I used to believe staunchly that if I were ever raped I would report it to the police straightaway. Now that I see some of the subconscious feelings I’ve had about how women’s concerns are likely to be regarded by the authorities, I feel a little less staunch in that assertion.
But I don’t want to think this way. I want to at least try and not assume it. I want to fight even if people will laugh at me. And I find it neither responsible nor wise to wait until I’ve been raped to start fighting.
If anyone reading this has any other thoughts regarding these questions, or in light of what I did do, I would appreciate hearing them. These are things I continue to wrestle with today.