I really thought I had said all I had to say on the subject of the dehumanizing aspects of sexual abuse last week. Or at least all I really wanted to say.

Then, last night happened.

It’s been ridiculously hot lately in Colorado.  A lot of fires have been going and temperatures have been soaring.  I don’t usually skimp on the jimjams because of personal comfort and a general desire to be warm (even in the summer), but the past few nights I have significantly reduced my bed wear so that I can get any sleep.  Considering I usually look something like a mummy going to bed, this has been very uncomfortable for me, but necessary to my ability to hit REM sleep.  In the never-ending war between personal comfort and personal health, personal health always wins.

Why do I feel the need to tell you this?

Because last night, a man was standing outside my window (which is level with the sidewalk) as I was awkwardly climbing onto my tall, shaky bed.  It’s never a graceful process, but last night was particularly bad.  I’m sure he got quite the view.  Why am I sure?  Because when I finally got semi-settled, I saw him staring intently into my room through a 1.5 inch gap in my blinds.  No, the blinds were not open – I have a broken slat that hangs weird, giving a TEENY and mostly uninteresting view of my bed.  This is not uncommon in my apartment complex.  Most people who are decent human beings would see this slat and not look or look away, especially if they saw something like a girl struggling to get into bed whilst inadequately dressed.  Because that is the right thing to do.

Is that what this man did?  I think you all can guess the answer by now.

Mortified and horrified that I had been turned into this pervert’s very own peep show, I snatched the sheet to my chin and gave him my very best glare.  Ask my family – they’ll tell you it’s legendary.  Rightly put off at getting caught being a sickening creep of a human being, he moved out of my line of sight, moving him away from his view.  I proceeded to snatch up my phone to tell my best friend what was happening (because that is ABSOLUTELY what you do when you feel powerless and angry).  In the time it took me to pull up my screen for text messaging, the man had moved back into his peeping position.

Now, there are absolutely mistakes.  They happen.  You look at the wrong time and see something you’re not meant to see and that’s that.  Sometimes you’re even caught looking at the wrong time.  It happens and I appreciate the difficult situation that is.

This was not a mistake.  The man’s actions in that brief thirty seconds of attention I gave to my phone make it patently clear that even if the first incident had been accidental – though I doubted it at the time since it took several seconds of glaring to get him to move away – he had NO INTEREST in respecting my right to privacy or ownership of my own body.  It was his to stare at and he’d be damned if my personal wishes stood in the way.  I felt violated, objectified, and dehumanized.  And I GLARED with all I had. He left.

So, I started reviewing his looks in my head and looking at the time stamps of my text messages to make sure I had a clear sense of events that I could then pass on to the front office of my complex and police, if necessary.  I’m afraid my impressions were too hasty to really have enough information for the police, but I knew my complex could tell security to haunt my building a little more frequently.  Something could be done and so I had to be satisfied with what I could do.

I spent about seventy-five minutes calming down, tweeting back and forth with my sister (bless her for staying up with me), so I could actually fall asleep.  Every little blink and flicker outside had me jumpy, but I assured myself I was being silly and no one was so stupid as to come back after so much time.  After all, I’d heard a door open and shut after the second incident and so he clearly had gone to his apartment.  Who would put forth the effort to sneak back after settling down late at night?

Almost exactly one hour and fifteen minutes after the first two incidents, I caught him walking past my window, looking over his shoulder and into my room again.  It was horrifying, despite the fact that I was covered.  This man CLEARLY had hoped I had just let it go or not put too much importance on the events from earlier and was looking for another show – possibly while I was sleeping and TOTALLY unaware instead of just peripherally so.  Again, I glared.  Again, he shied away – busily pretending to rummage in his car, but not putting anything in or taking anything out.  All he really did was make his lights flash by locking it, all the while staring in my room.  I sat on my bed, sheet up to my chin, and glared.  And tweeted about it again, partially to siphon off the RAGE I felt, partially to establish a record of what was happening.  (Twitter, I love you more than I can say, considering this is the second police-worthy incident you have helped me record in the space of eight days.)

Thank goodness for stupid creeps.  Making his car lights flash in an effort to look innocent definitively pin-pointed which car was his, giving me more information than he could have ever wanted me or any authority to have. >)

Needless to say, it took another two hours for me to calm down enough for my head to stop snapping towards my window reflexively to check for the pervert.  I went to bed, I got crap sleep, and, as soon as I was able, contacted the front office and gave them a description, the license plate number, and make and model of the car.  Security has been notified and I was going to stay over at my parents’ place tonight as it was, so I am secure in the knowledge that this cannot last long, whether through discovery or disappointment.

What I didn’t expect was how much those small moments last night would impact me today.  For anyone who doubts how lasting small, simple incidents like this can be – let this be a witness.

  • I have felt less than human all day.
  • I have been jumping at co-workers outside my window taking smoke breaks.
  • A customer called me “babe” in appreciation for my help, which is not uncommon, and I felt physically ill.
  • This entire day has been full of triggers that would normally not trigger me thanks to last night’s events making me hyper-sensitive.
  • I feel owned, like I have no right to who or what views my body, nor when.

I don’t expect these things to go away after one night, safe at my parents’ place.  I fully expect that I am going to be feeling like this for a while – especially if I keep seeing that stupid white sedan.  But do you know what I felt that surprised me the most?

Shame.

almost didn’t call the office this morning.  I almost let a sexual predator get away with it.  Why?  Because I knew, previous to last night, that there was a small gap in my blinds and I wondered if I deserved sympathy, since I had not gotten the broken slat replaced right away.  Never mind that I had other things with a higher priority on my mind.  Never mind that I have a right to privacy in my own home, even if there is a gap in the blinds, never mind that his actions were aggressive and predatory – I had let that one detail slide and I was afraid that my problems would be minimized because of it.

If any of you doubt the reality of rape culture, THIS is the product of its rhetoric.  That as an experienced and forthright victim who has had to come out of the shame over and over and over again, I ALMOST LET THIS ONE SLIDE.  I know, with a first hand knowledge, what it is to be victimized and how damaging it is.  I know how desperately I wish to spare any person that feeling.  And yet I considered what might be the collateral damage of other victims perhaps a reasonable cost – and I am not proud of those moments – if it meant that I was never again told that the abuse was my fault.

This is the culture we have established.  This is the culture we have raised.  And this, as I promised last week, is the culture I will speak out against until someone does something about it.  I WILL NOT HAVE IT.

Now, let me be perfectly clear: I will be FINE.  I’ve suffered much worse at the hands of far more insidious a personality than the man I encountered last night.  I have the experience and the tools and the support that ensures that I will be able to leave this behind in a relatively short amount of time with a relatively small amount of work.  Besides my sister, I’ve had several friends reach out and offer support (or punches) in response to last night.  And I consider myself fortunate that I don’t have to physically and mental heal at the same time.  A few hours of mental terror can do a world of hurt, but scars?  Those bring a whole new level to the hurt and shame and recovery.  I don’t have to deal with that this time.  I will be fine.

But what if it hadn’t been me?  What if it had been a person who had never gone through this before?  What if that person didn’t have the tools, as so many don’t, to soldier through that pervasive cultural shame?  What if they didn’t know it wasn’t their fault?  That possibility scares me.  I hope that this ends where it did last night.  That the man realizes what he’s done, and the wrongness of the attitude that allowed him to come back for more without conscience.  But I don’t know if it will and I hope, with all my heart, that by reporting him to the right people, I have saved someone from feeling how I feel.

But I’m just one person.

Please, friends and strangers alike, when you see fringe behavior like this – don’t let it slide.  Speak up.  Speak out.  Even if it seems trivial, I promise you IT. IS. NOT.  Letting this fringe behavior go unreported or punished because, while it is predatory and aggressive, it is not physically threatening is part of the problem.  It is what allows these attitudes to persist.  It is okay because PEOPLE GET AWAY WITH IT.  So please, don’t let them get away with it anymore.

I have done my part.  I trust my friends will do theirs.  But it is about time you, the prevailing culture, do yours.

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