Sixteen years ago, I was at a party, a wedding reception, where a man sexually assaulted a number of women in the room.
Specifically, he came up behind them and squeezed them on the bottom, then moved away before they could react.
One of the women told me what had happened, and then I discovered a number of them talking quietly to one another about it. They were all grossed out. No one was traumatized or wanted call the police and press charges that I recall.
At the time I wasn’t sure what to do. I would have liked to think that if I had witnessed the behavior I would have socked the guy in the jaw, but who knows? I hadn’t realized how such creeps rely on social expectations as a shield. Who wants to ruin somebody’s wedding day by calling the cops on a guest?
At the same time, I felt obliged to do something. I wanted to do something.
I wanted to let the creep know I knew what he had done, and that I had my eye on him. I wanted to send him a warning, and perhaps to give him a taste of the humiliation he had imposed on those women.
So I did to him what he did to them. I came up behind him and squeezed him on the bottom on my way to the drinks table. Then on my way back I did it again.
I recall the women being pleased and amused with this response. I kept my eye on him for the rest of the reception, and he kept his hands to himself after that.
At the time I was pretty pleased with myself and felt like I had responded appropriately, maybe even kind of heroically.
Some time later, though, I learned that the guy had been arrested after groping a woman in a mall. And of course then I realized that not calling the police had allowed him assault at least one other woman, and possibly others.
I guess it was possible he might have taken my warning squeezes as a hint to turn over a new leaf. That would have been a happy ending for him. (And his wife. He was married, at least at the time. I’ve heard nothing of him since.)
What should I have done? Maybe not just unilaterally call the cops, but at least I could have tried to persuade the women to agree to file complaints against him (and then called the cops).
I share this because although I knew it at the time, I appreciate more fully today that men get away with mistreating women in part because they’re allowed to get away with it. Because others, including other men, don’t do enough to stop them.
Women who suffer indignities, small or great, may be unsure how to respond, or may not be listened to or taken seriously if they do speak up. Fear of not being believed, or of other consequences, may silence them.
In general, people don’t always respond as effectively as they might because they aren’t prepared, because they lack adequate insight, because they never thought about such situations and what they ought to do.
I share this story in the hope that it will encourage people to think about it, to understand better, to be prepared.
Be prepared, in a situation in any way, shape or form like Billy Bush’s in 2005, do better than he did. Be prepared, in a situation in any way, shape or form like mine 16 years ago, to do better than I did.