I Wasn’t Raped, But I Was Still Violated

In Women by Caris Adel26 Comments

*trigger warning for abuse, victimization, assault, creeps*

Curled up in the seat, turned toward the windows, I wish for this to be over.  I sleep.  I wake up, and he knows.  I try and pretend, but to no avail.  He’s talking again, taking on a familiarity that he hasn’t earned.

‘Please, Jesus,’ I beg.  Please let this plane land.  Please just take me home.  I can see the lake, the one that looks like an ocean.  If I squint hard enough, I can pretend I can see my home across it.  Please, just let me be there.

Sometimes on clear nights, you can stand on the edge of the lake and look across and see the lights of Chicago.  I’ve seen it only once.

I tell him this and I don’t know why.  I love my lake and this man from the desert is impressed by it.  Is this my fault?  Is this what I get for trying to be nice, to be social, to hear other people’s stories?  Now I’m just trying to find anything to fill the space, to pass the time.

Dear Jesus, why won’t this plane GO any faster?

I’ve named my seatmate Creeper.  Because he is.  For 3.5 hours he’s invaded my personal space.  Ignored my ‘please don’t talk to me’ vibes that were very strong.  He even commented on how I was tuning him out, and God, I can’t be a jerk, right?

So I talk back.

It all started out so innocent.  I picked out my window seat.  He spotted the open seat, which creepers do.  He was a local man, talking talking right away.

We made small talk about our families.  About how we were both married and had kids.  *cue usual comment about how I don’t look old enough, but with a gross hit-on vibe*  He pointed out landmarks of Phoenix as we took off.  And after 30 minutes, I was done.  I made my small talk, was a nice person, but please, just let me have some peace and quiet.

I took pictures out the window to show the kids, which somehow made him feel he could keep up a steady stream of chatter and questions.  My walls went up and only sometimes did I give a curt, one-word answer.  If I sat straight in my seat, he would turn to look at me, lean in and talk to me.  So I sat sideways, facing the window.

I tried to read a book.  I could feel him reading over my shoulder, and then he asked about it.  He tried a couple times to get me to order a drink from the flight attendant.  He commented on my nerves on take off and landing.

When we finally hit the boring farmland of Kansas, I fell asleep.  I awoke to feeling his arm continually rubbing and bumping up against my side, my stomach.  (Which oddly, didn’t happen when I was awake.)  Maybe if an engine goes out, we’d have to make an emergency landing.  Please Jesus, just get me off this plane.

And I just sat there.  I didn’t want to make a scene.  Because if I had signaled the attendant, it would have been, ‘God, I’m just trying to make conversation.  A guy can’t talk to a woman at all now?  What are you, some kind of anti-social bitch who over-reacts at everything?’

And so I sat there, my book put away, my phone put down, me just curling up more and more to the window, focusing on the land.  Trying to gauge how far away we still were.  This feels like Missouri.  Good lord, how big is this country anyway?

He hit on me, and I sat there as frozen as the snow beneath us, trapped.  A man can sit and say unwelcome things, offensive things, and there’s no graceful way out for the woman.  Isn’t there a parachute that I can use to jump out of this hellhole?

It was my first time flying alone, and my first time feeling like an utterly helpless female.  Walking the streets of the big cities alone doesn’t make me too nervous.  When there are cat calls and comments on the sidewalk  they’re easily ignored.  Head down, just keep walking.  You know they call out to any female that walks by.  It’s random, anonymous, and doesn’t phase me.

But this.  This was torture.  This was personal.  I was trapped, and he was right there, constantly talking, hovering, leaning.  Tense back, sore stomach  and utter loss of control.  But I’ve been trained to be nice.  To be a gentle, mild, peaceable woman.  And that training kicked in, along with the fear of ‘what if I ignore him and make him mad?’

I pep-talked myself for hours.  “This is none of his business.”  “You don’t owe him a response.”  “This is none of his business.”  “You can ask him to stop.”  “This is none of his business.”

But knowing and doing are two different things.  What, was I going to ask the attendant to ask the whole full plane if someone wanted to change seats?  And have everyone look at me, think that I can’t handle a few hours of discomfort?

Because it’s on me to handle it, right?  It’s the woman’s job to suck it up and deal with it.  I know creeps count on women who shut up and just sit there.  And even after all of these months of learning about feminism, equality, rights, abuse, victimization – I still found myself incredibly vulnerable.  I knew the information and yet I still sat there, terrified and uncomfortable.  Side aching from the tension and the stress, and the unnatural position I was in.

And his breath smelled like Jack and Coke, and even as I write this, I can smell it, and I hate being such a sensory person.  I hate that this still makes me nauseous 3 days later and that I can’t just get over it.

I wasn’t raped, but I was violated.  This man acted like he belonged in my life, in my personal space.  He ignored my physical body language.  He ignored my lack of actual conversation.  He assumed that because he sat next to me, he had a right to know everything I was doing and feeling.  It isn’t just my body that is my own.  My life is my own.  Just because I am friendly for 5 minutes doesn’t mean you get free reign in my space.

If a woman is balling up against a window to be as far away from you as possible, you are doing something wrong.

His persistent insistence into my life ended up with him knowing I write, but I lied and blew it off as just silly ramblings of a mom.  He kept asking for me to tell him my website, which I didn’t.  Slow thinker that I am, I missed my chance to tell him that the address is www.fuckoff.com.

And then we lowered through the clouds, and he leaned over to take a picture, but I’m 95% sure he turned the camera at the last second and got a picture of me.  But finally, merciful God, we landed, and I had cell service.  I texted people like a crazy woman, so I had something to distract me from him.  A lifeline to actual people, even if they were helpless to do anything.

Then land.  Blessed airport terminal.  I ran to the bathroom to be safe from his eyes, but when I came out, he was still there, and he waved at me.  He waved at me as he stood next to his wife and children, who had been on the same flight.  omgwtfholyshit!

And so 3 days later, I am shocked to find myself a victim of such invasive, unwanted advances.  I’m shocked to realize that I didn’t do what I thought I could do.  I thought I would be able to stand up for myself, protect myself, advocate for my sense of self.

But old habits die hard.  Old feelings of what I should do, what the proper way for a woman to behave is, reared up and took over.  I thanked God in that horrible seat that there are women like Dianna, Sarah, Danielle, and Suzannah, clanging the gong about equality, abuse, victimization, and empowerment.  Because their voices are needed.  Because old lies die hard, and new truths take time and experience to be rooted.  

You can bet if I ever find myself in a situation like that again, I will have headphones on, intentionally ignoring any seatmates.  Even if it does make me rude, antisocial, or a bitch.

Now I know I’m too vulnerable not to.

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  • http://www.diannaeanderson.net/ Dianna

    Oh honey. I’m so sorry that happened. I know the freezing up feeling, the wondering “what should I do what CAN i do?” thoughts all too well. And I know how hard it is to even just tell the story, because of the inevitable justifications and defenses of a guy people don’t even know – “he was just make conversation, feminism makes you paranoid, blah blah blah.” But what matters here is that YOU felt unsafe, and there is no one in the world who can tell you that your gut instinct in that moment was wrong. Because no matter a dude’s intention (and this guy’s pointed ignorance of your discomfort tells me his intention wasn’t good), he has no right to make you feel uncomfortable and unsafe, especially when you’re trapped in the window seat on an airplane.

    Massive jedi hugs to you, Caris. I’m so sorry. :(

    • http://www.carisadel.com/ Caris Adel

      Thanks, Dianna. I think it was worse because I was so unprepared for it. Talking about it has definitely helped though.

  • http://www.leighkramer.com/ HopefulLeigh

    My heart was racing while reading this, Caris. I’m so sorry this happened. He had no right to do any of that, no matter what.

    • http://www.carisadel.com/ Caris Adel

      well good. At least it was written well, haha. I feel bad for his wife.

  • John

    No, no, no. Don’t put headphones on and just tune him out. Speak up. Loudly! As often and as loudly as necessary until the situation changes.
    Now I have no argument with the fact that you described him as a creeper. I wasn’t there, and I’m happy to take your word for it. And how you described his actions – particularly the rubbing while you were asleep – settles any doubts I may have.
    However…..I have known a few people who are simply “socially challenged.” I bet you have as well. People who somehow ignore or simply don’t see all social cues and all body language. And they try to make friends whether it’s wanted or not. It’s not really “sexually” oriented. It’s mostly just about getting attention.
    Basically, I’m thinking of Dakota, my autistic younger brother. who is 18. He acts this way very often, but it really isn’t sexual or predatory behaviour. He simply doesn’t “get it.”
    So what we have to do – those of us who are his caretakers – is we have to speak directly to him, make him look us in the eye, and tell him loudly and clearly what we want him to do or stop doing.
    Anyway – I would encourage you to speak up. Until you try it, you really can’t know what the response of the creep or the stewardess or whoever will be.

    • http://www.diannaeanderson.net/ Dianna

      I *strongly* suggest you read this post: http://captainawkward.com/2012/08/11/the-c-word/ There is zero reason for you to assume that this man is socially challenged, and zero place for you to place the burden for stopping the creepiness upon her. That’s not her job. His job is to NOT BE CREEPY.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

    So sorry you had to deal with this creeping, but i appreciate your sharing this. It really helps to hear your thought process and the expectations placed on women by society. I sort of know what they are, but seeing them in action is something completely different.

    • http://www.carisadel.com/ Caris Adel

      Thanks Ed. Right after I hit publish I thought that was the dumbest thing to do. This revealed an uncomfortable bias I had, too. I knew stuff like this – and worse – happens to people, but I thought it would never happen to me. It was uncomfortable and scary to realize I really am just as vulnerable as anyone else.

  • Marvia Davidson

    Caris, I don’t even know what to say. I am so sorry this happened to you. Prayin for you! I’m both flabbergasted and disgusted. You are a precious treasure. Thank you for bravely sharing this story so that more of us will speak when our space and person are in danger. God bring justice to this situation and peace to your heart and mind!

    • http://www.carisadel.com/ Caris Adel

      Thank you Marvia!!

  • http://www.kelleynikondeha.com/ Kelley Nikondeha

    Caris, so sorry this happened. How miserable to be trapped and feel so out of control. I confess, I’ve used the earphones more than once as a shield from unwanted attention, also a scarf to cover up from uninvited looks. But I know this is about more than airplane logistics and strategies. It’s about that sense of invasion and what it provokes in us. And sometimes it is hard to ‘be polite’ and stand up for yourself. I’m just so sorry this was the end of your west coast weekend. Sending my love, friend.

    • http://www.carisadel.com/ Caris Adel

      A lot of my reaction goes back to things I was raised with and my reactions to them. I thought I’d made a lot of progress, but apparently I still have a ways to go in standing up for myself!!

  • Anna

    This is beautifully written! I felt like I was there. Thanks for sharing this brave story.

    • http://www.carisadel.com/ Caris Adel

      Thanks Anna.

  • http://KatieAxelson.com/ Katie Axelson

    Oh, Caris, I’m so sorry you had to go through this! I fly alone once every few months and I make a point to have my book out before my seat buddy sits down, just in case. Only once in awhile do I talk to my seat buddy and the closest I’ve come to anything like this was the woman in the aisle seat breastfeeding her baby (but she did ask… and I didn’t think to offer to switch seats). I’m so sorry… but thanks for ranting about it publicly We’ve all had moments like this where we feel violated and helpless, even in public.

    • http://www.carisadel.com/ Caris Adel

      Oh yes, if I ever have to do anything like that again, I will definitely be prepared.

  • http://somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/ suzannah | the smitten word

    ugh, i am so sorry that you went through this, that you were trapped, feeling panicky, invaded, and unsafe. none of this is okay. so much love and peace to you.

    • http://www.carisadel.com/ Caris Adel

      Thanks Suzannah! I am glad that at least I know enough now to realize that it was ok for me to be so uncomfortable and feel invaded. Growing up, I just felt guilty for feeling that way, but now i know that it’s a healthy response to an unhealthy action.

  • elizabethesther

    Caris, this was just heartbreaking and I *so* feel for you. I replied on Twitter–in like a long-winded series of tweets! :) Blah. Sorry if those were disjointed. Here are my thoughts:

    1. The onus was definitely on the creeper to stop being creepy. What a sicko! Also: how clueless and lame!

    2. I would suggest, however, that there is a more empowering way to handle this than turning away or hunching against the window. Speak up. Speak loudly. On an airplane, you are NOT alone. :) If you say: “You are making me uncomfortable!” you will win the support of those around you.

    3. No one will ask you to defend yourself. You can just repeat it or say: “Please stop talking to me!” loudly.

    4. If he doesn’t stop, others will join in to help you and the dude will stop.

    5. Understand: I’m not saying it’s YOUR responsibility to control HIS behavior–clearly, he is responsible for being a boorish, predatory brute–but you CAN do something stronger and more proactive to take care of yourself. :)

    6. I have faced this SO much. It is SO icky! But I always feel BETTER when I handle it from a place of strength and FIGHTING BACK than just wishing it would go away. My go-to trick? An ICY stare followed by: EXCUSE ME???????? That usually stops it right there. :)

    Loved your honesty in sharing this experience. Thank you so much! We’re all in this together! Keep up the fight, ladies!

  • http://twitter.com/NatalieTrust Natalie Trust

    Thank you for sharing this experience. I feel awful that this happened to you.

  • http://twitter.com/greg_hahn Greg Hahn

    Ugh. That was really upsetting to read. Why are some guys like that? But at the risk of being “the guy trying to fix it”– I agree with Elizabeth Esther. When people can’t take a hint- it’s time to speak up. I know that feels so wrong, but the whole plane ride felt wrong…. to you but not to him. Next time he does that to a woman, I hope she makes it feel wrong for him.

  • Emily_Maynard

    Caris, I’m so sorry this happened. It was wrong and you’re not crazy. I’m thinking of you as you process this.

  • http://lovingfromtheinsideout.blogspot.com Connie

    Oh hun. :-( So sorry you experienced that. Thank you for bravely sharing this. Peace and blessings.

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  • http://twitter.com/WayofCats WayofCats

    What a terrible ordeal, I agree. But you must not be afraid to Unleash the Dragon, as I call it. I’ve dealt with such by looking right in their eyes, letting my own shoot fire, and getting all my pent up rage to come out in my voice as I tell them to BACK OFF.

    It’s the same technique Charles Grodin used on casting directors to get villain parts in Westerns when he was starting out in Hollywood :)

    But seriously, none of us should be afraid to stand up for our rights. That is how they get trampled. Practice on friends. Psych yourself up. Wish for the next jerk to just try it if they ignore polite requests… and then Unleash the Dragon!

    We all have one. We just need to use it for Good.

  • Cat

    I’ve never been to this blog before and I can’t even remember the chain I followed to get here, but I am so sorry that this happened. And angry. And I know the feeling well. Headphones didn’t help me; that time it turned into ALL body language, with him pressing tighter and tighter against me until I had to square my shoulders to keep from being squished against the wall of the streetcar.

    The only thing I found–eventually–that made any difference at all was creeping right back: smiling big, taking a deep draught from that well of rage from all those other times, and enthusiastically telling the offender what I do and all my thoughts about it in the most technical detail possible, being bubbly and overbearing and pedantic and scary all at once. It goes against how I’ve been socialized, how I think most women are socialized, and it hasn’t worked exactly the way I thought it would every single time, but I can do it more readily than I can ask for help, and it does feel nastily good to use their own weapons against them.

    On socially awkward people: I’ve dealt with them, too, and the vibe is different, different enough that I feel perfectly comfortable gently asking them to stop and giving them reasons. But I think creepers know exactly what they’re doing, they might even use someone’s body language as a kind of score card, and they get off on being able to exert that kind of power over another person.