A Second Chance at a Fight I Never Asked For

I never said “Me too.”

I never used the hashtag. I never posted about it on Facebook. I never even retweeted.

Because I had never experienced sexual assault. Until two days ago.

When I say I experienced sexual assault, I want you to know that it wasn’t rape. And my God, how grateful I am for that. I am so lucky that what happened to me was mild. I know for a fact it isn’t for many.

What happened to me two days ago, though, was still assault. And even more shocking is that it wasn’t even 48 hours before it nearly happened again.

Let me explain.

Two days ago it was a Saturday at 5:30pm, otherwise known as dusk, otherwise known as my favorite time of day. It’s an hour when the day isn’t quite over and the night hasn’t quite started, so you feel like anything is possible with your evening.

A friend of mine and I had just gone for a bike ride — a long one, clocking in at 26 miles. I had rented a bike and live on the westside of Los Angeles. When I got about 15 minutes from the rental shop by my house, I decided my legs were ready to walk instead of ride.

Before I hopped off my bike, I had to pass a man walking on the street. It was a busy street called Centinela that stretches from North to South just East of Marina Del Rey. He let me pass him, and I was thankful.

“What a nice man,” I thought, “to let me pass like that.”

I walked the bike for a few moments and we reached an intersection. I had completely forgotten this man’s presence behind me as I was lost in my thoughts. I believe I was thinking about the plethora of water I was going to drink when I got home. Like I said, 26 miles.

When the light turned from red to green the first instance happened.

The man who had let me pass, the oh-so-nice-guy, came up behind me and grabbed my backside. Twice.  

And said — and I quote — “Damn shorty, you got a fat ass!”

Now, in theory, if this happened I would probably laugh at what he said to me.

Damn shorty? Fat ass? Are you kidding me right now?

But in the moment it wasn’t funny. Not even a little bit.

It was offensive. It was stunning. And mostly, it was scary.

I was completely caught off guard by a stranger who had just grabbed me on the side of the street.

Funny? Yeah, not so much.

And here’s the thing — I didn’t say a word. I didn’t yell. I didn’t scream. I didn’t call the cops. I didn’t even give him the finger.

Instead, my flight instincts kicked in. I jumped onto the bike and rode away onto a side street as fast as I could while he stood staring at me, acting like he had just paid me a compliment or something. He was waiting for a reaction, I presume.

I needed to get away from this man as fast as I possibly could.

In those moments after, I pedaled fast for fear he would decide to run after me. But he didn’t, and I was lucky.

I was mad. Really mad.

Once I felt safer, I got off the bike and called a friend and told her what happened. I was screaming. I said into the phone things like “How dare he?” and  “How dare anyone think they could violate someone’s space like that?”

“Screw him!” I yelled. “Screw him.”

Moments after I got back on the busy road, I heard a whistle coming from behind me. He was there. Following me.

I jumped on the bike again and raced to the rental shop. Luckily, it was close. I returned the bike and began to walk home, looking all directions to make sure he wasn’t still there. I called another friend about it and also to be on the phone with someone — just in case he did show up.

“Call the cops,” she said “You need to report him. McKenna, he assaulted you.”

And then I realized what I was feeling: “Me too.”

Again, I know this isn’t as severe as what happens to many, many women. And even men. But it still happened and it still wasn’t okay.

What began eating away at me, was not only the feeling of violation — but also a frustration in myself.

I did nothing.

This continued to eat away at me for the rest of the evening and into the following day.

It’s 2017. I’m supposed to be a feminist. A strong, powerful female. And yet, there I was, standing there in the street after being harassed by a man, and I did nothing. I persecuted myself: How could I have let him get away with it? What if he went on to assault other women?

Further, I was disappointed in my reaction as it pertained to men. Like I said, I was mad. And the following day it extended past the stranger who had grabbed me and into other men.

I didn’t want to be angry at them, but I found myself screaming on the inside the following day whenever one even so much as looked at me. “Leave me alone!” I wanted to say to them. As if it was their fault I was feeling this way, even though I knew very well it wasn’t and that they were perfectly innocent. But my emotions were getting the best of me.

I wondered how many other women walked around, unjustly angry at all men, because of one man who had done something terrible to them.

I continued to spiral like this until two days after my bike ride, when I was on a walk with my friend Jenna.

We were in Santa Monica, a subdued beach neighborhood best known for its little shops and healthy vibe. We began our morning walking along the beach and, since we were enjoying each other’s company so much, we decided to walk a little longer. It was an idyllic morning as we meandered over to Main Street, and I told her about what had happened to me after the bike ride.

“I think what I’m really upset about is, yes, what he did, but I wish I had done something. Anything.” I told Jenna.

“Next time you will. If it ever happens again, you’ll do something,” she said.

I wasn’t so sure, but I hoped she was right. Although I hoped it would just never happen to me again. But deep down I knew it probably would. The number of women who are assaulted on in more serious ways is massive in its own right, let alone those experiencing something less physically abusive, like what happened to me.

We wrapped up our walk and stood on the street corner, talking about other things: When we would see each other next, what we were doing later in the week, and so on.

Then, amidst our conversation, something crazy happened.

As we were saying our goodbyes, two older women approached the street corner and waited for the light to change. I noticed them and thought of how cute it was that the two older friends were out on a walk, just like Jenna and me.  

Then out of the corner of my eye I saw a man.

Honestly, I don’t know how I saw him — it all happened in a millisecond. But I did.

He lunged at Jenna, throwing the entire weight of his body into it. He was aiming for, you guessed it, her backside.

“NO!” I screamed and grabbed her as fast as I could and moved her out of the way just before he could touch her.

The older women saw it as well, and were outraged.

“You cannot do that!” one of them yelled at the man.  

“I’m calling the police!” yelled the other one.

Jenna and I stared at each other, completely and totally shocked. Not only was practically the same thing happening again, but these women were actually doing something about it — immediately.

Suddenly a man came running across the street to us. Older, in about his 50’s, he held a coffee in one hand and the leash of a small terrier in the other.

“I saw that! That is not okay!” he said. “I’m so sorry I wish I could have stopped him.”

Within seconds we had not one, not two, but three strangers up in arms who had sprung into action to help us.

Jenna and I got on the phone and talked to the police. I had grabbed her out of the way. I had yelled this time.

Later, I saw the man sitting on a curb with the police — he had been caught. I didn’t feel good that he was caught, or vindicated. I felt like I wished it hadn’t happened and honestly felt sorry for the man.

They say that one of the best ways to scare off an attacker is to express a negative reaction at a high volume. Scream at them. Yell. Be angry. In my mom’s words, say “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!” really, really loud.

I didn’t do that when it happened to me but if it happens a third time, I think I will.

After Jenna’s close call this morning, I’m reminded of an important silver lining as well. A reminder of the power of society. A reminder that for every abuser out there, there are even more good people ready to jump in, help and do the right thing. In Jenna’s case, there were four.

And I was one of them.

It was the second chance at a fight I never asked for.

 

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