In today’s letter, I would like to talk to you about what we, girls, experience on the streets. While we might think that streets are public space for everyone, they are actually dark places where patriarchy rules, where women are left on their own and where sexual violence lurks around the corner. You don’t understand what I’m talking about? Just ask yourself, are you equally worried about me and my brother when we’re out at night? What is sexual violence, you are asking?
Because of all of these questions, I knew you would have, I decided to write you a letter on this topic. So let’s begin!
You believe that we are sometimes exaggerating? That catcalling is not always bad intentioned and that we should even take it as a compliment? Why should we? It is extremely assaulting and even scary when a stranger shows up and addresses us for no reason! Only for the sake of saying something, he finds it ok to degrade an unknown woman! Calling us, for example, ‘’babe’’ in the middle of the street is also considered to be sexual violence. Do you get, Mom, that we do not know how far those comments might go? Do you understand that we are afraid?
On the other hand, Mom, a strange man giving us a compliment on the street should not in any way influence the way we feel about ourselves. And I have a feeling that they think it should give us confidence.
Look, to answer your question, what does sexual violence mean… It includes unwanted touching, hugging, stroking, kissing, sexual exploitation, masturbating in public, watching someone in a private act, relentless pressure for dates, sexual behavior, rape. Yes, Mom, if a man invites you to have a cup of coffee few different times, if he does not give up even though you have said very seriously the very first time that you did not want to go out with him, well, Mom, that is also sexual harassment. What are you saying? That you are surprised? According to you, what is sexual violence? Just rape? Do you realize how many other things are also very hurtful and dangerous for us? We are human beings with limits! And those limits should be very clear once for all to everyone, both men and women.
Sexual violence statistics
Since you think that I am exaggerating, I will give you some sexual violence statistics! The most affected women are ages 18 to 34, but the younger ones are not spared. It is estimated that in the United States, every 73 seconds an American gets sexually assaulted. This means over 1180 people per day out of which large majority are women. In France it is estimated that around 800 000 women are victims of sexual assault every single year.
Can you imagine that 1 out of every 6 American women has been a victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime according to Rainn. Can you imagine, Mom? That is a lot!
Here are sexual violence statistics for what happens in France: “Researchers from The National Institute of Statistics and Economics Studies found in a 2013 study that 25% of women aged 18-29 reported being scared when they walked on the streets. They also discovered that 1 in 5 women have suffered from verbal harassment on the street in the past year, and 1 in 10 said they had been kissed or caressed against their consent.”
Also, Mom, when we ask ourselves what is sexual violence, we should also wonder what long lasting consequences it has on us. Listen only to these sexual violence statistics! 94% of women experience PTSD after the sexual violence happens, 30% 9 months after it happens. 33% of women who were raped contemplate suicide! Which means that they never recover from it. 13% actually attempt it. During their lifetime victims are more likely to use drugs. They also may experience problems in personal or professional relationships. They lose the ability to trust, often argue with schoolmates, family members or coworkers.
No woman is left in peace
Mom, the other day, I was listening to a podcast called Agelast. I have already sent you few very interesting episodes. Yes, it is in Serbian, yes. Well, I would like to talk to you about the one, where Tijana, a famous DJ, was a guest. She is internationally famous, she performs all over the world. I know you haven’t heard of her, but she is a rock star of DJing scene!
What stroke me in the interview was that even Tijana didn’t have peace when she went out. Discotheques are her stage, that’s where she knows how to move, who to talk to. She told a story about something recurrent that happens to her. When she goes out (now it seems like a lifetime ago, since we have not been out in ages), anyways, sometimes she wants to go out just for the sake of music, that is her profession, you understand, she just wants to listen to it, as if she was in a concert. A group of men would approach her and point out to her that she should dance, rejoice, that she should smile. Men give themselves the right to come and explain to you how you should feel and behave accordingly!
Why would anyone think they have the right to tell someone how to behave? It is not something that would be said to a guy. The expectations are always on girls and it is always boys that tell something to girls. What they do not understand is that we do not go out because we feel the urge to entertain them! You know that song, Mom, ”Girls just wanna have fun”, I have it now in my head. Yes, we want to have fun and in peace!
That is what I mean when I say that no girl is spared. Well, woman, Tijana is a woman. And, of course, they expect you to listen to them, to do what they want you to do. God forbid you tell them to get away and leave you alone! Why would I tell them that, you are asking, Mom? Well, because they endanger my personal space and ruin my moment when the last thing that I want is to deal with them. And if you tell them off, you are immediately aggressive, hysterical, you hate men. Inappropriate comments are flying towards you when you just want to enjoy the moment out in a club.
Being at peace and quiet in a public space is not an easy task for a woman, Mom. And if this situation doesn’t seem like God knows what, it’s because you don’t understand its seriousness.
Sexual violence that happens to us
What are you asking? Why does sexual violence happen? I am wondering that every single day! And it is quiet complicated to respond it in only few sentences. Have I ever had a situation where I was sexually harassed? Of course I did!
A year ago, in a crowded club here in Montpellier, France, someone approached me from the front, unexpectedly put his hand between my legs and disappeared. Should I think that I was lucky, because he didn’t do anything else to me? A stranger touched my intimate parts and left me astonished to contemplate what had just happened. That, Mom, is a pure definition of sexual violence.
I am not the only one from my friends that experienced the sexual assault. In the middle of overcrowded public bus, a man pulled out his erected penis and pushed it between legs of a friend of mine. It was a rush hour and there were so many people that she couldn’t move. She didn’t say anything out of shame. He stayed between her legs until she could get out on the next stop, having to deal with humiliation. She waited for another bus to come, hoping that another erected penis is not going to finish between her legs. And ask anyone, Mom. Everyone has a story about something that happened to them in public transportation. If this does not respond your question what is sexual violence, I really do not know what will!
Our voices are muffled, Mom, they are not heard. We remain silent before the madness of the situation in which we find ourselves, without asking for anything. Without caution, without indications, a hand, somebody’s penis or other part of a body of a complete stranger finds itself where it does not belong, somewhere on our bodies.
We do not know how to react, because nobody teaches us and on top of that, our surrounding does not expect that from us. We simply do not know what sexual violence is, we often do not recognize it as such and do not react accordingly. You tell us to run away, never to argue with the aggressor, or report to the police. We do not feel like we have the right to complain. We rather think that no one will believe us and will, instead, blame us for what happened! We perceive sexual assault on the streets as something that every woman goes through, something so frequent that is considered almost normal. If we make a fuss, we are seen as hysterical, incapable of behaving normally. It is better to remain silent and invisible and burry our emotions.
Sexual assault that never stops
Here is something else that happened to me in a club many years ago. A friend and I were just entering the club when a tall guy approached me from behind and grabbed my ass. I turned around and slapped him because ‘’Hey jerk, who gives you the right to grab my ass and how dare you!’’ What happened then? He twisted my arm! Calm down, Mom! Yes, it hurt, but the problem was not my arm, but him giving himself the right to do something like that. And then?
Anger welled up in me, the guy was huge, I knew that if I played the game, I wouldn’t win. In helplessness that overwhelmed me, I rushed to the security. Of course, I did! What else could I do, Mom? I had to react somehow to what is sexual violence and aggression! I had to do something without it costing me major physical injuries. In that moment, it was not only about me, it was about all women that were repeatedly in that kind of situation, that endured that kind of behavior on a daily basis with no consequence for the aggressor.
I only expected the security to listen to me and tell me, “Yeah right’’ or ‘’We cannot do anything about it.” To my great surprise, the guy from the security told me, “Show me who he is.”, which I did. He whispered something in the ear of the bully in question and few moments later his whole group was out. Oh, my God, Mom! I felt like a winner! That was a huge victory for a young, female student, that I was at the time, and for my feeling of security out there, in public spaces. Frustrated that I needed to depend on a man to finalize the story, my narrative, but still, I didn’t feel left alone and helpless. Unfortunately, I would say, that kind of reaction was a huge exception at that time. We were students who drank before going out because we only had money for one drink at a club. The aggressor was much older and he would have most certainly left a lot of money for numerous bottles of alcohol.
You are rolling your eyes to my story! You wish I had not reacted to the sexual violence I was experiencing. And I understand that you are afraid for me, but that is where the whole problem comes from. The aggressors are like dogs, they feel our fear and know that they can do whatever they want and that there will be no consequences. We are not expected to react because we are physically weaker.
And as I’m writing this letter to you, Mom, and thinking about all these personal experiences, a friend of mine called me to tell me that some guy tried to strangle her! Squeezed her neck, Mom!!! She had just left a concert hall in Paris city center, and a guy told her to come and touch him on his intimate parts. She responded, told him to stay away and not to address her again. And what did he do!? He grabbed her by the throat and started to strangle her! Yes, yes, she got away. Luckily, she wasn’t alone, but she has bruises on her neck now, she is frightened and the jerk is out on freedom, probably on the lookout for another victim.
How come that this does not occur to girls, to go around and grab men by the crotch or choke them? Seems like a completely crazy idea to you? To me too, Mom! The public space is sprayed with semen, that there is no place for progesterone.
Why does sexual violence happen
Do you know what annoys me most? When a sexual assault happens and people say that a girl asked for it because of the way she was dressed or behaved. They ask us where we were, what we did, why we were there and how short our skirt was. It’s not anybody’s problem where we were, let me tell you! Where was he and why did he try to be on or in somebody else!? The questions are for him, Mom, not for the victim!
This way of thinking puts all the blame on her in the moment when we have a moral and civic duty to listen to what the victim has to say, believe her and give her support. Instead, what are we doing? We are blaming her, asking her to reevaluate herself, her actions, the way she was dressed. As if the sexual assault itself was not enough for her to feel humiliated. We are putting all the intention on her, instead of asking questions in relations to the men that performed the act of what is sexual violence.
Less than 1 out of 10 victims files complaints, Mom. We have a very clear sexual violence statistic and we know that it is because the victim is not believed, because she is rather blamed. We need to change the narrative!
I am wondering, why is it always much easier to avoid questions that we need to ask the aggressor than it is to ask a woman, a victim and survivor? Why aren’t we there for them?
So let’s establish this once for all. Why does sexual violence happen? Not because of anything that the victim did, but because of the aggressor! It is never asked for!
It is very frustrating to feel completely helpless, and at the same time, happy because nothing more terrible has happened to us, grateful because the bully disappeared without too much drama and collateral damage. And because ultimately everything was invisible. He was not punished, we were ‘’only’’ touched. Today’s society gives us signals that we should not think or feel anything more, that we should forget, that we should not give legitimacy to our anger, feelings of helplessness and sadness. Because, you see, is not only an attack on our body, but also on our sense of security, on our self-confidence, on our sense of value, self-worth.
The security or better to say the lack of it shapes our decisions on every day basis. We need to think about which road we are going to take, we need to think twice about the public transportation at a certain hour, if it is too dangerous, reevaluate what we are going to wear, if there is going to be someone that can walk us home, etc. It is the whole logistics! We do not even think about it as something that takes a lot of our energy, time and nerves and that it should not be that way. We want to believe that the public space is not only theirs, but that it belongs to all of us equally, men and women!
Until the next letter.