People often tell victims of street harassment, public groping, and other forms of sexual violence to suck it up, learn how to accept compliments, or react in whatever ways rape apologists see fit. But this epidemic is more than a bunch of people who need to learn how to take a compliment, a joke, or some deranged blend of the two. And it turns out, predators don't like the taste of their own medicine.
I started lashing out at the people who groped me in public by groping them back. According to my experience, attackers don't like having their unsolicited "compliments" returned. In fact, it scared them off every time I've done it.
After being sexually assaulted multiple times by my senior year of college, I was finally starting to see progress in my health after suffering from PTSD for years. Most of the attacks left me with injuries, and I was fed up with the mere thought of ever dealing with rape-y people ever again. One night, I mentioned to my friends how I thought it might be interesting to see what would happen if I grabbed gropers' butts back. And for some reason, I couldn't get the idea out of my head.
I decided I would try it if I ever found myself in the position to take that risk and go for the groper. It was only a month before the opportunity presented itself. As I tagged closely behind my friends at a nearby bar, I felt a hand clasp around my butt cheek. I turned around to see an older man; I could see him deliberately fix his eyes on the bar TV, hoping I didn't see him withdrawing his hand (I totally did). That's when I seized the big moment: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a butt cheek for a butt cheek.
I smirked and made eye contact as I reached my arm around his waist and grabbed his butt. His eyes became wide as his jaw fell in shock. He spent the rest of the night in a seat sandwiched between two men who appeared to be strangers. The few times I did cross paths with him to get more beer, he moved out of my way, not the other way around. It was an interesting feeling after always being the person who had felt the need to flee from predators.
I thought his was a unique reaction until I did it the next two times someone pulled this on me. Each time, the predator was visibly shocked and afraid after I subjected him to his own behavior. I overheard one guy recounting the incident to his group of friends for sympathy, only to hear one of the guys say, "Dude, how can you blame her?"
After a while, I became perplexed by my odd ability to defend myself against predators by returning their assaults with grabs and spanks. It was as if these men didn't appreciate being treated the same way. How strange.
I had no idea what was in store for me at one of the most popular punk events on Long Island, but I knew I was in for a good show when I found myself covered in sweat, saliva, and beer early in the afternoon. Because it was hot out, I took off my shirt, leaving me in a bra, a skirt, torn-to-hell fishnets, and combat boots. I hooked up with a couple of other women there without getting harassed or gawked at by anyone. I'm in my element when I'm seeing one of my favorite bands play at a familiar venue — it was hard for me not to feel comfortable.
Needless to say, familiarity and fun lulled me into a false sense of security.
It happened so quickly. Not long after I'd put my shirt back on, a guy came up to me and at first started talking about how great the bands were. Then he called me "beautiful." Before I knew it, I saw — and felt — his hand eclipsing the Dead Kennedys logo on my shirt.
"I love tits," the stranger said as the expression on his face remained casual, as though he had just given me a high-five.
He didn't even seem to register the cringeworthy thing he was doing: groping a woman because — why? He had seen her in a bra earlier? He saw me being consensually intimate with other people? Here he was, being totally nonchalant about touching someone without their permission.
This guy clearly wasn't from around my area. If he were, he might have known that he'd chosen the wrong person to victimize. He didn't know what to expect when someone grabs my butt or breasts without consent, but most other people around here do. And because I was in what I felt was a safe environment, I decided to teach him a valuable lesson.
My expression also remained unwavering as I instinctively reached out my hands and placed them on his nipples, giving him a gentle squeeze like I would've done to the breasts of someone I was fond of. But before he had the chance to register what I was doing, I titty-twistered him.
"Ow!" he yelled. "Why did you do that?! I didn't give you a titty-twister."
"No," I replied, "but you did just walk up to a girl and grab her breast without her consent."
"Oh, I'm sorry. Was I being creepy?"
I couldn't contain my laughter in the face of his pathetic "honesty."
"You just started caring about being creepy now?" I exclaimed. "After you grabbed my tit? After I titty-twistered you? That should've entered your head a long time ago."
Afterward, I spent the rest of my night chilling with my friends and partially freaking out over the daring deed I had just committed.
I ultimately stopped doing this because the thought of it began triggering me. Now that I'm further along in my recovery, I feel weird about the idea of behaving toward another person in a way that I, myself, find unsavory. I understand that they laid their hands on me first, and that's what prompted me to do react, and I'm glad I quenched my curiosity and was able to see for myself how they reacted when I requited their "affection." But I also understand that I'm lucky to have made it out of all these experiences without being further victimized.
Every time I went all Grope-Back Mountain on grabbers, I was in places filled with familiar faces who would've gladly whipped out their dukes to defend me, including bartenders and staff members. I never groped predators back when I was otherwise defenseless and not in good company. I also have a big frame that makes me look more intimidating than I actually am. In other words, don't walk away from reading this with the idea that you should do what I did.
Nonetheless, these experiences helped me see predators for the cowards they actually are. They couldn't stand the heat in their own kitchens. They had the nerve to be shocked when they tasted their own cooking and hated it. If these men were actually trying to pay me any kind of compliment, they would've considered how they'd like to be treated before treating me in a disrespectful way. It only further confirmed for me that this kind of behavior is about power and violence, not flattery.
Top photo by Richard North via Flickr Creative Commons
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Ghia Vitale is a writer from Long Island, NY and an assistant editor at Quail Bell Magazine. Her work has also appeared in Luna Luna, The Horror Zine, xoJane, The Establishment, Ravishly, Together.Guide, Everyday Feminism, and more. She enjoys writing poetry and articles about polyamory, relationships, feminism, sexuality, and occultism. You can like/follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.