One of my #MeToo stories, the time a man caught me off-guard

Hopefully that helps you understand what I mean when I say, I’m terrified at this moment.

A brown bear walking toward the camera
“karhu_kyrmyniska” by Antti Peltonen, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I worked as an advertising sales representative, selling radio and billboard advertisements.

One of my clients during this time was a male who owned several businesses in the area. He was known for not paying his bills, which meant I had to hound him a lot to get the money.

The business owner had a reputation for liking young women; his girlfriend, who ran one of his businesses, was easily 15 years younger than him, and very beautiful. There were the usual jokes about him, as people tried to explain why she was with him. “Well he does have big hands,” being the most common.

But while I knew he liked younger women, I didn’t think he was a threat to me. I was around 30 years his junior. And, as someone who regularly worked with small businesses that were ran out of back rooms or houses, I took precautions to ensure that I was never alone with anyone for my safety.

One day, he’d gotten behind on his bills, so I showed up to his office to get a payment. There were other people around, as his office was within one of this businesses, so when he said “Come into my office and I’ll write you a check” I thought nothing of it. Looking back on it, I think I was also really focused on getting that check, since it meant getting my commission and he’d lied before about sending in payments.

We went into his office and he sat down and wrote out the check and gave it to me. And then, everything changed in an instant; he stood up very quickly, faced me, and put one hand one each of my shoulders.  This happened so fast, it couldn’t have been more than a few seconds from sitting down to grabbing me.

At this point in the story, I have to pause to emphasize something that I think it’s difficult to understand about these types of stories. And that’s the fear I felt in that moment.

Most people would describe me as small or tiny. I’m a decent height at 5ft 5in, but I’m so thin that most clothing stores don’t carry sizes small enough for me to wear. The man who had his hands on my shoulders in this moment was large, over 6 feet tall, and a trim, but large build.  His hands were indeed large, which meant they wrapped around my shoulders and most of my collar bone. He easily outweighed me by 100 pounds and was much stronger.

Analogies are dicey, but I’d like to try one to help explain the fear I felt at that moment, due to the size and strength difference: Imagine you are hiking in the woods and you round a corner and see a large bear. The bear sees you, and all of a sudden starts walking toward you. You have no idea if it’s just curious or if it means you harm, but you are very aware that that bear could tear you to shreds or kill you. That’s the level of fear I felt at this moment.

Now layer on the potential of rape, which a lot of women describe as having your soul ripped out of you.

Hopefully that helps you understand what I mean when I say, I’m terrified at this moment.

So I gasp, and manage to squeak out “What are you doing?” and put my hands up.  He leans in and I freeze.

Here I have to pause the story again to talk about freezing in fear. At this point in my life, I’d had one year of wrestling training and a few years of martial arts training, so I had some skills beyond the average woman to fight back. And, I have a strong personality, I don’t think anyone would describe me as meek. But yet I froze and was taken completely by surprise. We hear about “fight or flight” but in reality, it’s “fight, flight, or freeze.” This wasn’t a reaction I chose, it just happened. I think part of it was I was so shocked at the sudden change in behavior and personality.

He leaned in and I managed to turn my head just enough so he could only kiss me on the cheek. He said something to the effect of “That’s all I wanted to do,” which I don’t believe for a second. The next part of the story is a blur for me. I just remember leaving his office as quickly as I could.

I immediately drove back to my office and went into one of my managers’ office to tell him about it.

And here I have to put some of the ownership on me; what happened was not ok and I’m not blaming myself, rather I’m also not blaming my manager for his reaction and give him some grace because of how I reported it to him. Any of my close friends would tell you that I have a terrible habit of downplaying my own feelings, especially when I need help or am hurt. I also have a weird reaction of laughing when I’m scared or uncomfortable.

So I walked into this manager’s office, laughing, and said “[name] just tried to kiss me!” and told him the story, but without telling him how scared I was and downplaying the whole thing.  I did manage to tell him I didn’t want to go back.

The manager reassigned the account on the spot….to another woman. I tried to protest and say it should be given to a man, but again, I’m not really conveying what happened well.

I did manage to say to the other woman not to be alone with him but her response was something like “Don’t worry about me, I can handle myself” which shamed me into silence because I felt like she was implying that I should have been able to handle the situation better (for the record, I don’t think she meant that).  I remember watching her walk out of the office after that, feeling like she was heading into danger and I couldn’t do anything to stop it.

Later that night, I told my boyfriend the story, but again downplaying it. His reaction was something like “Well, you are very pretty,'” and that’s all he said about it. I felt helpless at this moment. I didn’t know how to convey nor could I admit the level of fear that I felt. I wanted a hug, I wanted to hear affirmation, “I’m so sorry that happened to you, it shouldn’t have. It’s not your fault.”

I wish I could go back and express to my boyfriend and my manager the fear I felt in that moment and ask for more. I can’t, but I can convey it in this post, which hopefully will help others in similar situations do the same and shed some light on the fear element for those who hear these types of stories.

The last thing I’d like to convey about this story is the title, this is one of my #MeToo stories. Not the only one.

Women as allies is a powerful tool to help prevent sexual assault

A few years ago, I found myself in a mostly deserted pub in Northern Houston, killing time with a few friends before an event. A young couple walked in and sat at the bar and, after a while, the young woman got up and went to the restroom.

And that’s when I saw it happen; the man that she was at the bar with called the bartender over while she was gone and he had the bartender pour another shot of alcohol into the woman’s drink.

I causally got up and walked to the restroom, where I found the young woman. After telling her what I saw, I finished by saying, “I think you need to come with us.”  And she responded with something like “Oh no, he’s just a friend, I’m fine.” “Did you ask him to put another shot in your drink?” I asked. “No, but I’m sure it’s fine,” she responded.

My friend Amanda had been listening to the conversation, and finally lost patience. “I don’t think you understand what my friend is trying to tell you. You are in a potential date rape situation. He’s trying to get you drunk without you knowing it. My friend here is trying to protect you,” she said to the woman. Still the woman persisted that all was fine.  Finally, we gave up and let her go. She and the male she came in with left the bar shortly after that.

Was letting the woman go the right thing to do? To this day, I’m not sure. I personally do a lot of contact sports and have been often pulled aside from someone being concerned for my welfare, so I hope that this situation was something similar, but I’m not fully convinced either. And, a former bartender friend pointed out later, I could have also turned the bartender for an ethics violation, a good lesson in what else to do in the future.

As I listen to #MeToo stories today from the restaurant industry as well as the stories of women warning other women about “creepy men,” I was reminded of the story above. And I realized there is a power we women have in this battle against sexual assault, we can share information, look out for one another, support one another, and pursue action against men who harm us, if not for ourselves, to protect other women.

I’m not insinuating that women in general are to blame nor is changing our actions going to solve the issue, I think in-group pressure (men fighting against and stopping the behavior of the abusive men) is the long-term solution, but until then, the more we can view each other as allies vs. competition, stand-up for one another, and share information with one another, the better our chances of staying safe.

Safe drinking tips:

  • Never, ever accept a drink you didn’t personally see opened or made.
  • Go to the restroom between drinks or take your drink to the restroom with you. Never leave it alone.
  • Always keep an eye on your drink, and even a hand if you can. If you get distracted, don’t drink the drink.
  • If you think it’ll “look odd” not to be drinking, ask the bartender quietly for a “mocktail” or simply ask for a club soda with lime.
  • If someone is pressuring you to drink something you don’t want to, and you feel a “no” is a poor option, get clumsy and accidentally knock it over. Then don’t be around that person anymore.
  • Only drink a little bit while out, drink slowly and rotate between water and alcohol.
  • Eat before and during drinking alcohol.
  • More great tips from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)