With only a few months left of living in Hong Kong, I was grabbed by a stranger who ran past me on the sidewalk near my house. I turned and watched him run away, my feet unable to move. I screamed obscenities at him. I texted my friends. I called the police. I went to the station and told many people my story. I went to court but didn’t have to testify because the culprit pleaded guilty.
I hesitate to call it sexual assault, but he did violate me and my personal space. After the incident, I was shaken and pissed that this man had taken a piece of my dignity. I hated that he made me feel unsafe and unsure in my seemingly very safe Hong Kong bubble.
Afterwards, I was more cautious about where I went and how I got there. But in the five years since, I’m still fairly nonchalant about my safety. I’ve never once carried pepper spray, I leave my second floor windows open all the time, and I take public transportation/walk home whenever I can.
Last Saturday, my mom sent me an article about a woman who was sexually assaulted not five minutes from my house. She was the twelfth victim in a month in the neighborhood directly south of mine. That night I went on a very bad “date” where as soon as the guy sat down, he told me that he “forgot his roofies”. When I schooled him on how NOT funny rape jokes are, he asked if “it” had “ever happened to me.” I told him no. “Has it happened to someone you know?” Again, I told him no. “Then why do you care so much?”
“Excuse me, you POS, just because I have never been raped or don’t have friends that have told me if they have been raped, it doesn’t mean that I can’t have a stance on rape or on rape jokes.”
Okay, so I didn’t actually say this, but I sure do hope that my facial expression was clear. And some GIANT piece of me wishes I’d had the gumption to say it.
I didn’t feel unsafe on our “date” – we met in a neutral, public space and I never told him where I lived. Even after his text tirade that night that he hopes “I marry a guy who fills my perfect little need and then turns out to be gay and leaves me for a dude,” I felt like he was harmless now that I was never, ever going to see him again.
Yet, when I woke up to a text from him the following Thursday morning (“Hey u”) my heart clenched, I couldn’t eat, and my intestines writhed. This guy thought joking about rape was a good idea as a pick-up line. What if he thought rape was also funny? What if he was able to track me somehow? What if my luck has run out? I had a panic attack for a few hours that morning. And thanks to a busy work schedule, the anxiety subsided.
Tonight, I decided to try out a new yoga studio that’s a 15-minute walk from my house. I left my apartment with the sun still shining, but it was dark by the time I left the class. I had no reason to be scared – the streets were brightly lit, there was an endless stream of cars, and plenty of women and men were walking on the same sidewalk alone or with a friend. But, I kept looking over my shoulder. I’d just done a restorative yoga class and almost all of the calm and relaxation I had cultivated left me as my heart beat quickly.
I’m home safe and sound now, but I’m pissed. I’m pissed that a piece of my dignity got taken again. I’m pissed that my safe bubble has been invaded again. I’m pissed that I can’t walk in my own neighborhood without fear of being attacked. I’m pissed that I’m scared.
Do I think this guy is going to show up at my doorstep? Not really, no. But I have watched enough SVU (which, by the way, I am NEVER watching again) to know that anything can happen.
So as I told my Sassy Hong Kong readers half-a-decade ago, I’m going to continue to put my phone away while walking alone, I will not walk home alone in the dark, and I will always be aware of my surroundings. I can’t live my life in fear and constant caution, but I can be aware and safe. And I can talk about it. Hopefully my friends reading this, you, too, are a little more cautious after reading this post.
P.S. Most importantly, I vow now to never download Tinder again in my life.
P.P.S. Where can I buy pepper spray in Chicago?!