While I share a lot on this blog, I do hold a lot of things back. Vulnerability is a frightening thing for me to show, and I avoid it in most situations. This month is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and I wanted to share a story about this dress.
Since I’ve been wearing different clothes recently, I pulled this dress out of the corner of my closet. It’s one of my most comfortable pieces, but I haven’t worn it in three years. It’s been in a ball in the back corner of my closet since I moved back home from Cambodia.
Cambodia is really hot, most of the time. April is basically prime sweating season, so you’re inclined to wear a little less than normal. April 2016, some friends and I went out to celebrate a friend’s birthday. The night started off great. We ate, we laughed, we drank, we danced, we hugged, it was a brilliant time. I wore this dress because I felt really good in it. It also was the first time since childhood I wore something sleeveless and felt good about it.
We moved from one bar to the next, and that’s when things took a turn to not so fun. When we arrived at the rooftop bar, it was really crowded and something in me just wanted to go home. I thought it was maybe my old lady tendencies. I brushed it off. I wanted to have fun with my friends, and we were having a blast. We circled to a part of the roof with tables and chairs, and where some of our other friends were congregated.
This tall blonde man and I made eye contact and started chatting. He was from Switzerland and hated Americans. He said we were easy to make fun of, which I agreed with. (I also think it’s fairly easy to make fun of people, but whatever.) We kept talking and he became increasingly less interesting. My friend next to me asked a question, giving me the perfect opportunity to turn away from this conversation with boring Mr. Swiss.
Then it happened.
As I’m talking to my friend, I feel the strap of my dress and my bra pull to my elbow, nearly exposing all of my right breast to the roof of people. My brain turned to violence, and I grab the hand holding my straps and spin towards him. The dialogue that was exchanged would upset my parents and a few people I know that read this, so I’ll give you a G version. I asked what he planned on doing, and he said he wanted to see how far the tattoo went, that he had noticed on my shoulder. He offered to show me his, pulling up his shirt to reveal a collection of clip art that he had tattooed on him. I said that I wasn’t interested in showing him anything on my body. As I tried to turn around again, he went for the hem of my dress. His hands grazed my legs, up to my waistline, with my dress scrunching up too. Once he got passed my knee, I attempted to knee him in the face, as he was bent over. He again said that he just wanted to see. As calmly and clearly as I possibly could, I told him that if he touched me again that I would throw him off the roof, that I’m not just from America..I’m from the south and I’m not afraid for him to hurt. My friends clued in about what was going on, and I told them that he was trying to take my dress off. We moved to another side of the bar..I walked to the door and went home.
I don’t know a woman alive that doesn’t have a story similar to this. And this isn’t my only story of completed or attempted sexual assault. One could blame the dress, or exposing my shoulder, tempting him to do this. Many probably will. Some will ask why I was out late. How much I had drank. Why I lead him on by having a conversation with him. People won’t question his behaviors. Sexual Assault is so prominent in the media these days, yet we still have a really hard time having any discussion about it. We call people who have experienced sexual assault “soft targets”. We market “self defense” courses that aren’t trauma informed and place so much responsibility on the potential victim of assault, rather than the perpetrator. I’ve trained in muay thai for awhile, I am fairly athletic, and I’m not able to get away or “fight them off”. My brain may not tell my body to have that reaction. Sometimes I’ll fight, sometimes I’ll freeze. All of which are normal and valid responses.
It took a while for me to dig out this dress from my closet. I may never wear it in the way it was intended, having my shoulders out for all to see. I hope eventually that a community is created where we don’t blame the dress, and we address the behaviors that allow someone to believe that they are entitled to someone else’s body. Until then, I will wear this dress because it’s safe to again and I’m not going to let something like Mr. Swiss have any control over how I show my body.