Ruibal column: You don’t choose to be a victim
“Men are more dangerous than bears. Text me when you get home.”
It was 5 p.m. on a weekday.
I texted my friend that I had to do a circle around the block because a man had walked up behind me on my walk home, taking me by surprise. After an initial greeting of “Hey, how are ya?” I tried to walk slower for him to pass. But he slowed down too. A warning bell went off in my head. He asked where I was headed. “From work or to work? Where do you work? Live around here?” I chuckled, slowed even more and made an unnecessary right turn to lose him.
That same week, a middle-school-aged girl posted to the Roaring Fork Swap Facebook page that an older man sat right next to her on the bus and she felt uncomfortable. She was asking the page what she should do to not hurt the man’s feelings but also get out of the situation.
Another friend had told me that she stopped wearing dresses to work when she moved to the valley because men would always make unwarranted comments. It was just easier to avoid the situation.
Nationally, there’s been a whirlwind of allegations and revelations about sexual harassment in various industries. This surprised very few women and others who had taken part on the #MeToo campaign, highlighting the need for coverage and awareness.
When one of the aforementioned friends and I were discussing the latest allegation at a local bar, a man a few seats down proclaimed, “This generation needs to stop making themselves into victims. You can choose whether or not you’re a victim.”
Actually, by definition, being a victim of harassment or assault is not something you choose. But being a perpetrator certainly is.
And, to that young girl who posted in the swap page, you do not ever need to justify feeling uncomfortable, and you never have to put someone’s feelings before your own safety.
I took a women’s self-defense class (before there’s cries of sexism, yes, there was a men’s self-defense option, too) and a significant part of the class was spent getting comfortable using our voices in loud, direct tones. We would go around in a circle and simply practice shouting “No!” We would also practice walking, quickly turning, putting our hands up defensively and firmly saying “Stop following me.”
The instructor said it’s much better to laugh off an innocent close-walker than to be susceptible to a mugging or worse crime. And as for shouting “no,” there have been many instances where just acknowledging and shouting at an attacker can be enough to spook someone off.
But even if it’s not enough, even if the victim doesn’t utter a single word, even if the victim is wearing a dress, even if the victim had too much to drink, even if the victim walked home alone at night, even if the victim is pressured by her boss, even if the victim is told “this is just how it is,” even if all that is true — it is not their fault.
Sallee Ann is engagement editor for the Post Independent. She also learned in her class how to throw a mean hook, so don’t mess. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org