Sunday, November 13, 2011

Shame, Honor, and my Sexual Abuse

So, sadly enough, my next post fits right into the month’s theme of sexual abuse awareness.

Yesterday, while standing at the bus stop, I was sexually harassed.

It was the middle of the day, on a busy street and I’m standing at a bus with a very stern looking old woman, when a bright pink car pulls up to the bus stop with a young man in it. I assume the man is waiting for someone and proceed to zone out and stare into space for the next few minutes. For some reason I came to and looked around and finally noticed what the young man was doing in his car…I probably don’t need to say it do I? You’ve already figured it out….but in case you haven’t, he was masturbating. I was shocked and disturbed and so walked a few steps to the right, at which point he moved his car to keep pace with me (which freaked me out more than anything else, honestly), so I turned around and headed back to the old woman, running through the options in my head.

1. Confront him and tell him to go fuck himself (oh wait, he’s already doing that).... no, that might be what he wants and I won’t give him that satisfaction.

2. Call the cops…no, my Korean is limited and even if it were better, I probably still wouldn’t have the language to communicate what was going on. Besides that, they probably wouldn’t do anything.

3. Tell the old Korean lady who, in typical bossy old lady Korean fashion, might just start yelling at him.

By the time I’m standing near her though, the guy has driven off, which on reflection was probably best, since I hadn’t realized that in order to have the old lady yell at him, she’d first have to know what was going on and I would have hated to point it out to her.

Anyway, the episode over, I took a deep breath, hailed a cab (which mercifully had one of the only two female cab drivers in the city), went on a hike with my friend and had a great time.

Now, I’m disturbed by what happened, I can’t deny that; yesterday and today I’ve been a little…skittish around men, but I’m an adult and this is, unfortunately, not the first time that something like this has happened to me, so I will get it over it.

The thing that is worrying me is some thoughts I’ve had the past few days. For instance, while getting dressed to go out with some friends last night and then again this morning, the thought popped into my head, “don’t wear that, it’s too provocative, that outfit might cause another incident”. Um, no it won’t, because first off, leggings, oversized sweaters and furry snow boots are not really “provocative” and two, I was going on a hike with a friend when it happened: I was wearing old sweats, tennis shoes and a fleece jacket, hardly risqué attire.

I am a feminist; I know better. It was not my fault and no matter what I was wearing, I was not responsible for what happened. It’s truly problematic that the idea of female promiscuity as a cause for sexual abuse is so pervasive that it’s in my psyche: it’s managing to undercut everything I’ve learned in the past few years. It’s truly horrific to think of how such an idea as being “fashionably responsible” might affect a victim of sexual abuse, particularly molestation or rape.

Another thing that has become problematic is paranoia. I’m sort of mildly paranoid on my own (I think I also have light case of hypochondria) and yesterday’s incident has not helped it. I’ve definitely thought a lot about my safety the past two days. In South Korea, everyone notices the foreigners; I have NO DOUBT that there are many people one my street that, if asked, could point you straight to my apartment. Should that guy choose to look a little harder for me, he could probably find me. This freaks me out a little. So I’ve decided that I’ll try and make myself scarce on my street for the next few weeks, in the hopes that the man doesn’t make yesterdays activity a habit. This is probably a smart choice on my part, but while I was walking to my apartment from the taxi today, and feeling a little skittish, I had a thought, a good one I think.

This is my street. I live here. It’s at the base of the mountains and there are lots of trees and Mr. Donut Hotdog street vendor knows me and gives me free Tukboki sometimes. I like my street and I have every right to feel comfortable on it. I shouldn’t have to bolt from my bus or taxi to my front door just so I don’t get harassed. I have the right to roam my streets and feel comfortable doing so. Therefore, I’ve decided that paranoia will not win out; I will try and be safe, but I will walk my streets with confidence, just like I think every woman has the right to do.

For shame, creepy man in the pink car, trying to scare me off my own street. For shame Korean government, not taking a stricter stance towards sexual harassment and abuse. Had I called the police, they would not have done much, and it stands to reason: Why would the police do anything about it here? In South Korea, if a man rapes a woman, but offers her money afterword, he is charged with a lesser crime. Of course my minor sexual harassment wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

I was not raped, but I was violated in a way: for shame that we live in a world where sexual abuse still happens so freely and with such few consequences.

But that’s over, because I’m taking back my street.

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