I Was Almost Raped, but Don't Blame What I Was Wearing at the Time
If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
I was almost raped.
And I didn’t talk about this for over a decade, at least not with many people. Not until a local police station in the Philippines posted on Facebook calling upon “gherlz” not to wear skimpy clothes to avoid sexual harassment. I was disgusted and in disbelief. All repressed memories of the times I was sexually harassed in the streets came crashing down like a tsunami.
I was drowning in anxiety, in anger and in fear — fear of the society I live in; fear of the institutions that are supposed to “serve and protect” its people; fear that I, and many other victims, will forever be silenced because people around us make us believe that it is our fault.
I was almost raped, and I never sought help. I never even told my parents.
He was a tricycle driver; I was a college student. It was raining hard that night, dark and cold. But it was only around 6 or 7 p.m. It wasn’t even late and I was the only passenger left. He stopped three streets away from mine, in a dark corner with no streetlights at all. It was raining hard. I asked him why; he told me he was getting drenched from the rain, but he had a rain cover so I was confused. He went to the passenger side and sat in front of me, close enough that I could feel his wet, cold shirt on my arms. I became stiff in fear. I was starting to succumb in panic when I came to my senses and pushed him. “I’ll walk from here,” I said. Then I jumped out, removed my black pumps, embraced my school tote, and ran away from him, not looking back.
I ran in the streets on a stormy night, barefoot. I ran and ran until I saw a computer shop. I knocked, screaming for help, but they shut their door down. I could still remember how the person shook her head while telling me she could not help. I was cold, soaking wet and afraid. I ran again, still barefoot, until I reached our house. My dad found me, breathless and drenched. He asked me what happened, and guess what, I didn’t tell him that… I was almost raped while I was in my school uniform.
Yes, I was in my school uniform when someone tried to sexually assault me. Someone tried to harass me while I was in my school uniform. Read that again, as many times as you can, until you get the same chills that I get every time I remember the man who masturbated in front of me in public transport on my way to school, the taxi driver who almost took me to a motel if not for my quick reflexes to press SOS on my phone for my dad to call, the man who kept on brushing his elbows on my breast while in a cramped UV Express, and the catcallers I had to avoid every single day of my life.
I was catcalled, I was harassed, I was almost raped, but I kept quiet.
“What were you wearing that day?”
“Why were you wearing that?”
“You’re wearing that so expect them to notice.”
“That’s a compliment, lighten up!”
These were the same remarks I heard and kept on hearing every time I try to open up. And these were also the reason why I chose to keep silent. I thought, it’s hopeless. I thought, no one would listen, no one would believe me. I thought, it’s my fault. It’s my fault because I was wearing my uniform and it caused the man to jerk off. It’s my uniform’s fault that the tricycle driver thought he could have sex with me.
But then, I realized: no, my school uniform didn’t have a huge sign that says, “yes! Go Ahead!” Because, no, that’s not what consent is; that’s not how it works.
Whatever I choose to wear does not give anyone, especially a man, the right to harass, touch or catcall me. My clothes are not an open invitation to anyone’s perversion. And to those who try to justify this mindset with their religious beliefs and “moral” principles, let me leave you with this:
I respect myself enough to know what looks good on me, until perverts and sexual predators took that liberty away because I thought I always had to check whether my shorts are “too short” or my top is “too low.”
I value my worth enough as a woman, until society told me I needed to sacrifice opportunities and suppress my freedom of expression so as not to trigger a potential sexual abuser — because apparently, I needed to do more to “earn” that respect.
I know what I deserve as a human being, until institutions I expected to protect me dismissed my right to be heard because apparently, it’s my fault that a man was turned on.
I was almost raped, and it’s not because of my school uniform.
Victim blaming and shaming are results of rape culture ingrained in our society because the patriarchy wants us to believe that it is normal to “feel” whatever predators want to feel towards a subject, mostly women.
Rape culture is as dangerous as rape itself. When you blame and shame the victim because of what they wear or how they act, you are stripping them off of their freedom of expression. Catcalling, on the other hand, is not and will never be a good way of expressing oneself. It doesn’t make us feel good; it makes us uncomfortable. Catcalls are unsolicited and they make us feel unsafe.
Let me reiterate that the way we dress is not and will never be equivalent to our consent.
Sexual assault victims were not harassed or abused because they have a vagina and he has “needs.” They were raped because he’s a rapist.
A version of this article was published on Medium.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash