When I was a preschooler, someone I trusted watched sexually explicit content in front of me. That person later pulled a blanket off of me and asked me to name my genitals. When I was 14, he touched my boobs whenever he got the chance.
He was pretty sly about it though. He’d put his arm around my shoulders, and would move his hand ever so slightly so that people wouldn’t notice that he was, indeed, touching my boobs.
Eventually I grew too tall for him to pull that off, but when he couldn’t violate me physically, he decided to just watch me change instead. I didn’t know that until the day I glanced at a mirror while I was changing and we made eye contact.
You’d think that that would be enough violation of my privacy and my body already, but it hasn’t ended with him.
Countless men have copped a feel while pressed up against me in the crowded trains of Metro Manila. Most of them watch to see my reaction, and then laugh when I’d glare or move away.
A PE classmate pretended to trip during a touch rugby class. He latched onto me as if for balance, but next thing I knew he had his arms around me and his hands were wandering. It was a struggle to shove him off me. His friend saw it and called him out, only to laugh with him about it.
On a bust trip back to our hometown, a childhood friend slipped his hand up my shirt when he thought I was sleeping. I ran away from him the first chance I got, and years later when our paths cross, he’s the one who acts upset.
On a weekend when most of my dorm mates had returned to their hometowns, leaving the dorm practically empty, one of the few other remaining dorm mates broke into my room. This was around the time I usually took a nap on Saturdays, so he thought I wouldn’t be staring right back at him when the door swung open.
I didn’t think much of it until one of his room mates pulled me aside to tell me that during an inebriated moment, he had told them he had plans to use a brand new condom on me. Then after making that announcement, he remarked, “and maybe she’ll even like it.”
I moved dorm, the school got wind of it, and he was expelled. But it took almost an entire school year and a growing list of other unrelated infractions for them to make a case. If he wasn’t a delinquent, I would have probably had to cross him in the halls every day.
Fast forward a few years and I had a fight with a person I was dating. I was angry and he was apologising. He was “so sorry” he shoved his hands down my pants and wouldn’t stop even when I said no and told him it wasn’t what I wanted.
Except for penile penetration I’ve been along the entire spectrum of sexual assault, and when someone makes a crass joke about rape or any other form of violence against women, it gives me vivid flashbacks of all these experiences I’d really rather forget.
And I don’t know what’s the worst: knowing that those people think their actions weren’t so wrong, knowing that they move in completely different social circles but think the same way anyway, or hearing other women tell me that maybe there was something I did or didn’t do that made them treat me that way.
Which begs the question, why is this way of thinking so prevalent it’s considered normal?
The answer dawned on me when a certain Philippine politician made a joke about wanting to have been the first in line to to gang rape a woman (loose paraphrasing, but you can read all about it here.)
So many people have defended him saying it was nothing but a bad joke, and that people like me were just being too sensitive.
That’s when I realised people have become so used to hearing jokes of this kind, they’ve become desensitised to how it shouldn’t be funny. This awful sense of humour has become so ingrained in our society that it’s watered down the severity of sexual assault in all forms and has blurred boundaries.
This has left an entire culture wondering why a woman gets upset when she’s felt up because it’s supposed to be funny. Having a guy say he wants to pin you down and fuck you is supposed to be hilarious! Take it as a compliment because they don’t talk like that about everyone!
Until everyone realises that sexual assault and rape should never be made light of, there will always be people who will have their privacy and right to their own bodies violated. Until everyone realises that jokes can warp people’s perspective of things, all the things that have happened to me will undoubtably keep happening to other people.