Monday was an ordinary Monday. As usual, I left work on campus at 5:00 to walk home, carrying my Mace in one hand and my iPod in the other. As usual, I got home before 5:30, taking the alleyway because it’s a short cut. The only difference between this Monday and any other Monday is that the recent end of Daylight Savings made it rather darker than usual. Oh, and I was assaulted and very nearly raped.
I’m not being flippant. There literally was no difference between this Monday and any other Monday. This was a random act of violence toward a complete stranger. I didn’t know the man. I’d never seen him before. I wasn’t asking for it, I wasn’t doing anything out of my routine. I was just attacked in my own backyard–my turf, my home-base.
I fought back. I kicked, scratched, and bit whatever I could. I tried to use the Mace so conveniently clenched in my left hand, but that hand was pinned to the ground and I was wearing gloves so I couldn’t get the safety off. I eventually got my mouth free, screamed, and he fled. He must have realized I wasn’t worth the hassle, and to this cowardice I probably owe my life.
I’ve painted a brave face on this, but he is the true winner here. He got my iPod, whatever triumph is derived from harassing innocent victims, and he also got a darn good feel. The same cowardice that sped him back up the alley is the cowardice that made him think it is acceptable to take others’ rights by force.
I immediately called 911, the policemen responded promptly and efficiently filed a detailed report, but they probably won’t catch him. He left too soon, was too cautious, too sudden. I can get over it–I’ll be fine. But who’s to say he won’t try again? The chances are good that he will.
I always sympathized wholeheartedly with rape victims–victims of any kind, really. I felt their pain as deeply as I could, from an outsider’s perspective. It’s hard, however, to empathize with something that’s never happened to you.
Now, however, I empathize. I don’t claim to fully understand–mine was a only minor incident. I could just as easily have been found in a ditch three days later, my parents left to identify my swollen, mangled remains. Thankfully, I am left here to feel, on the smallest level, what it is like to have all you hold sacred torn from you.
Public opinion is divided on where the blame really lies in acts of violence. Did she somehow ask to be raped? Did he provoke his own lynching? Did they act out of self-defense? Well, if only she hadn’t been out so late. If only she hadn’t worn a mini-skirt. If only he had taken the long way home, then maybe he’d still be alive. If only they’d locked their doors. If only they’d had a watchdog. If only they had a designated driver. If only, if only, if only.
These “if-only”s kept me up til dawn, as I lay awake re-examining the scene from every angle, jumping at every creak in the house and imagining my attacker bursting into my room for another try. It was irrational, since he didn’t know me from Adam. He just saw a sudden chance to deprive another human of their dignity, and on a whim, he took it. I can just see his friends grinning and slapping him on the back for his exploits. Or maybe he has no friends. Maybe he’s homeless and a victim himself from younger days.
My friends and family have been wonderful and supportive, even in such a very small crisis. A theme of their advice, however, has been, “Don’t do that anymore! Use the buddy system! Don’t you have Mace?” Thank you, kind friends, for your advice. I really mean that. It shows love and concern, and a true desire to fix the problem. I’ve just demonstrated, though, that I was as reasonably cautious as I could be. Maybe the advice I need is, “Don’t take any sort of risk. Be constantly paranoid. Don’t leave the house, ever. ” Sure, if I had taken a different way home, this might not have happened. Or it might have happened to someone else instead of to me.
The truth is that the blame for violence lies with all of us. We are all victims of rape–because rape is just one more manifestation of violence. While it is one of the most brutal ones I can think of, this is the human condition. We get a rise out of belittling, hurting, and shaming others. We engage in theft, abuse, discrimination, murder, genocide…I can go on. Every culture, every nation, every single person uses violence against others at least once in their life. They justify it for a lot of reasons: maybe for political reasons, financial reasons, social reasons, religious reasons. As long as there are human beings on planet earth, there will be violence.
While my attacker happened to be of a different race and gender than myself, this is not really about race and gender. This is about human weakness and lack of empathy.
The good news is this: while we all have violence, we also have empathy. We all have loving-kindness and charity and the will to combat violence where we see it and help those who have been victims wherever we can. For every weak, cowardly, violent act there are dozens more good ones trying to overcome them. And that is why I will be able to sleep at night.
He took, but he also gave. He gave me the chance to forgive. He gave me the knowledge that I am strong enough to fight back. He gave me the gratitude for another day alive and unscathed. And, most importantly, he gave me the gift of empathy.