A reflection written by Women’s Center staff member, Yoo-Jin
Content notice: This post contains information about a sexual assault.
This past week has been both emotionally charged and draining all at once. I’m sure that Baltimore and its people have been in many of our thoughts, and I hope that we can keep the conversations going. In this post, however, I wanted to share my story about sexual assault and the reflections I’ve had since then.
On April 26th, I attended the Kesha concert at UMBC. The concert environment was already a difficult space to feel comfortable due to the huge crowd of people on the floor, many of whom were associated with large groups and/or were intoxicated. As the show started, I began to feel more comfortable and tried to enjoy what I thought was going to be an amazing concert. At one point, my friends and I were slightly dispersed due to the shifting dynamics of the packed crowd. I was in a pocket of space where I was mostly close to my friends but was also near open space and other people who seemed to be minding their own business.
This was when things drastically changed.
First, I felt someone grab at my hip. I thought to myself, “That’s strange” since I didn’t think people would be grabbing me if they were trying to move past me like many people had already done. I shook it off and went back to focusing on the music until I suddenly felt someone’s hand fully grope my body from behind. I turned around instantly to stare up at one taller male, who shifted his eyes toward me but did not acknowledge me, and another male next to him who seemed to be dancing to the music. I had a feeling that this incident would happen again so I informed a friend who was standing behind me of what happened and asked him to look out for me. Unfortunately, the guy did grab me again, but this time– I saw him.
I have never felt more angry in my life. I went up to the perpetrator and started yelling at him with various expletives asking him what was WRONG with him and telling him NOT to touch my body. The man who didn’t acknowledge me from before, who clearly knew and saw what happened, stood in between the perpetrator and me, telling me to “Chill out” while spreading his arms out. If that wasn’t enough, another one of the perpetrator’s male friends came up to me and explained that I should just “Calm down” since he was “just trying to have fun.” When he noticed that this comment didn’t, in fact, help calm me down, he reassured me that he would make sure his friend didn’t touch me again, in which I responded in dumbfounded anger that, “No! Tell your friend not to touch anybody. That is sexual assault!”
The scene eventually subsided and I went back to my close circle of friends in the crowd. The tone of my evening significantly soured and I felt angry tears well up as I watched the perpetrator and his friends enjoy the rest of the concert with laughter.
Looking back at what happened, I think what was most hurtful was the bystander behavior of the guy’s friends, who excused his perpetuation of rape culture behavior. Rather than holding their friend accountable for violating a person, they instead turned to me and told me to “chill out” and “calm down”, as if my reactions were completely unwarranted. Could you imagine how this situation would have been different if any of the surrounding male presences stood up for me and held the perpetrator accountable?
Being told to “calm down” and “chill out” when you have been sexually assaulted is the worst kind of ignorance and isolation. When someone touches a part of your body without your consent your sense of safety is also taken away- and for me, this happened several times.
While I was glad to have stood up to the person who assaulted me, I still felt a deep sense of anger. I channeled this anger through a Facebook status the next day. Even though I did not know the name of the guy and was not able to hold him “officially” accountable, I chose to share my story on Facebook as a way of hopefully holding us all accountable.
The responses I got were overwhelming. I did not expect close to 400 people to like this status and furthermore, the comments on the status were even more telling. I had women share that they’ve also experienced this and one friend who even said that she was inspired to speak up the next time this happens after reading the status.
I was so moved by the immense support I received from sharing my story. Now more than ever, I feel motivated to tackling gender-based violence and calling it out for what it is: an act of violence that no one should tolerate. Women should not be made to feel unsafe in public spaces or events, particularly in those that are crowded, where people feel they can hide in a cloud of anonymity.
While I wish that this incident didn’t happen, sharing my story and reading the responses have further reinforced for me the need to continue talking about these issues and calling them out in our own lives.
Want to learn more about bystander intervention? Check out UMBC’s Green Dot Program
You may also want to check out Baltimore Hollaback for more information related to public/street-based harassment.