A few weeks ago, around 8:30 p.m., I was assaulted on the Green Line on my way home. A man already on the T saw me get on, grabbed at my jacket as I passed by. He followed me to where I decided to stand: a small alcove in the T, usually reserved for mothers with strollers. He put his hands on the steel-hold ramp above me and started grinding his genitals into me, blocking my path out.
The T was not rush-hour crowded, but it was not empty. Another female woman stood beside me. She was probably a student because she held a leather backpack, but the reach of my peripherals stopped there.
Before I got on the T, a friend of mine told me she was worried about going to an interview with a man she did not know. She was worried she would get kidnapped, raped or both. I told her she would be fine and reached into my backpack to give her my pepper spray. I’ve never had to use it, but when I walk home at night, I hold it in my hand with a finger on the nozzle while I hum to myself. The pepper spray was not in my backpack that day, because I left it at home. I offered her one of the rape whistles on my keychain instead.
Back on the T, I pushed myself as far against the window at my back as I could. The train stopped. The man who was still trying to grind into me offered me a seat, scanning my entire body with his eyes. I said “no” loudly, “excuse me” and went to the opposite side of the T.
He did not follow me. I got off the T at the next stop, which is not the stop near where I live, and called my boyfriend.
You’re probably wondering why I didn’t make a bigger scene on the T, or why the woman standing next to me didn’t offer any help to this clear violation of human decency. You’re probably wondering why we didn’t gang together and harass this man the way he was harassing me, like the videos you see on the internet. If not those questions, maybe you’re asking why I didn’t file a sexual assault complaint to the MBTA.
To be entirely honest, I didn’t even think about it. This is not the first time I’ve been assaulted and it unfortunately won’t be the last. From cars slowing down next to me, the men inside making coarse remarks about my body, to men on the street turning around as I walk by and shouting at my back. Then there are the physical assaults, the intrusion like the night on the T and much more insidious acts.
I am not speaking of just my own experience, but of the female experience. I hear stories of female sexual assault daily. Though I am angry and frustrated beyond belief, I cannot help but acknowledge that when I hear of sexual assault or experience it myself, I am not surprised. I, in some way, expected to hear that story, to be writing it myself.
So is that what has become of us females? Half of the population educated to fear and panic and hum in the streets so they don’t think about what happened to their friend, their mother or themselves? Separating us from our fellow woman because we are so occupied with our own safety that we can only empathize with her after the fact, if at all?
The next night, I was walking home with my boyfriend at around 1:30 a.m. If I was alone, I would be holding my pepper spray instead of his hand. He asked me how I felt. I clutched his hand tighter and answered, “Safe.”