Recently, I was groped on the subway staircase. A man stumbled up to me and put his entire palm on my skirt, right above my pelvic bone. I turned after him and yelled, “Are you f**king kidding me?” (eloquent, I know) and off we both went, me struggling not to pass out from my stress reaction and him, I don’t know, likely not thinking about it ever again.
But here’s what I’ve been thinking about: It didn’t end there for me. On the train, I dissociated, nearly missed my stop, and could barely stand up I was so dizzy. When I came home, I tore off my skirt and cried so hard I freaked out my roommate. The next couple of days I felt fuzzy. I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t do my work. I scheduled an emergency session with my therapist to get some professional support, and even considered taking a car to and from her office because I just didn’t want to deal with the proverbial scene of the crime. And I’m likely not done re-experiencing this incident, as it gets shelved within the pantheon of other assaults my body has endured at the hands of cisgender males who think they can do whatever they want with my person.
All of these reactions are completely normal by the way. Dissociation, which includes feelings of floating or dizziness, is one of the primary ways people deal with a traumatic event — contrary to the over-simplified “fight or flight” model most of us have been taught, we actually all freeze first, and then there’s a number of options. These do include fight and flight but also habitual response (whatever we’ve been trained by society to do), dissociation, and immobility. All these decisions are made in our non-thinking brain — we aren’t “driving," so to speak. Trauma also messes with our brains after the fact, and becoming forgetful or having trouble concentrating after a traumatic event are both common reactions. Avoiding the place where the incident occurred, or even anything or anyone that reminds us of what happened, is also common.
Needless to say, this groping incident really messed up my life for a few days. And so I got to thinking…people in power like money. And I lost a fair amount of money while dealing with this event. I wasn’t literally robbed, but I have come away literally poorer. So I decided to do a cost analysis on all the unforeseen monetary losses I dealt with as a direct result of this stranger’s single action.
First off, when I got home, I took my skirt off because that’s where he touched me, and I couldn’t bear to put it back on — even washed. I’m not usually very New Age-feel-y, but I felt like it had gotten imbued with negative energy, so I didn’t want to give it away either. Therefore, I threw it away, and lost my $38 item. Then I emailed my therapist to tell her what had happened, and she gave me an extra slot for an emergency session. Luckily with my insurance, this only cost me my $20 copay. We’re at $58, and I’m just getting started.
Then things get complicated in terms of how to quantify them. I took a klonopin to get myself out of panic attack mode. I have a legal prescription for this drug: It cost me $10 with my insurance, and the meeting with the psychiatrist to get it cost $50. The package came with 60 pills, so with some imperfect math, let’s say that the total cost of the pills was inclusive of the prescription and appointment cost ($60) so the pill itself cost $1. Not terrible.
The biggest cost came from loss of productivity. The next two days, I tried to work, but couldn’t. My brain just wouldn’t move. I kept shutting down emotionally and needing to take breaks before I’d even started. As a freelance grant writer, I bill at $90/hour and was planning to work four hours the next day and six the day after that, for a total of $360 and $540, respectively. I strongly considered taking a car service to my therapy session, since I didn’t want to deal with the subway so soon in case it triggered me and I couldn’t get to my session. This would have cost at least $25 each way (an additional $50 or more). As it was, it took me an extra hour each way on the subway, and that plus the 45 minutes of therapy took up nearly three hours of otherwise billable writing time. Had I been able to write anything, of course.
In total, in the two days after the groping incident, I was out a total of $959 — and had I taken a car to therapy, I would have been out over $1,000. In just two days.
So what do I do with this information? At minimum, it is a missing piece in the broad discussion of the glass ceiling. The National Center for Victims of Crime estimates that 19% of women will experience rape and 44% will experience sexual violence in their lifetime, compared with 2% and 23% of men, respectively. These numbers differ pretty broadly across report sites, with the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence reporting that one in four women (25%) will experience sexual assault and one in six women (17%) attempted or completed rape, with these figures for men coming to one in six (17%) for sexual assault and one in thirty three (3%) for rape. Reports show that these figures are even more horrifying for transgender people, 50% to 66% of whom experience sexual assault in their lifetimes.
There is a clear gender disparity in sexual assault victims, and this disparity contributes not only to emotional, social, and physical outcomes for those who experience sexual violence, but also monetary loss. The National Center for Victims of Crime provides a cost analysis of rape and estimates it at $122,461 for each victim, and $3.1 trillion total. They cite loss of work productivity as the highest cost, at 52% of the total costs. This means that more women are losing out on money because they literally cannot. And I don’t mean that in the way teens are using that phrasing these days. Medical costs (which includes therapy) come second at 32%.
In closing, let me talk directly to the men in power, the ones who make the vast majority of the decisions about my body these days. Meet me at camera two, all you (mostly white) baby boomer cisgender men in ill-fitting suits, and listen up. You’re the ones who legislate about my body without asking my input, and some of you are also the also ones who think you can just reach out and touch that same body whenever you want. I know you care about money, so pay very close attention when I tell you: I lose productivity when you assault me. I can’t believe I’m even having to say this to another human being, but if you want me as a productive member of your capitalist society, as a baseline you have to protect my body.
Top photo via Pexels
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Emma Kaywin is a sexual health writer and activist based in Brooklyn. When she's not writing, she spends her days working towards a doctorate in health education so she can smash sex-related stigma and teach the world that communication is the best lubrication. Follow her on Facebook.