The softest touch can cause the greatest pain. This is something all women know.
In 6th grade, a boy named Vince sat behind me in social studies. Most days, he would lean forward during the lesson and touch the back of my neck or rub my shoulders.
I told him to stop. I slapped his hands away. Then I complained to the teacher, Mr. Hardy, who half-heartedly scolded the boy. But after a few complaints, Mr. Hardy told me I would have to just deal with the situation myself. “He’s not hurting you,” he said.
After several months of tolerating Vince’s sticky hands on my skin, I threatened him with a sharpened pencil. “Touch me again and I’ll stab you,” I said.
He laughed. Rightfully so. He was a very large boy who dwarfed every other student in class. I was the smallest girl. So he touched me again. And I plunged the pointy piece of graphite into his hand.
Of course, I got detention. I was almost suspended. But Vince never touched me again. I considered that a win.
However, I’ve always stayed angry at Mr. Hardy. Why did he refuse to help me? Was he just too lazy? Did he think I was lying? Was he afraid of Vince’s size? (Mr. Hardy wasn’t that much taller than me at 11 years old.)
Over time, I’ve come to believe that Mr. Hardy actually felt bad for Vince. He was a social outcast, a boy with no friends. He hadn’t mastered personal hygiene and couldn’t really connect with other kids. In his eyes, punishing Vince for trying to interact with a girl probably seemed unnecessarily cruel. Especially since, in his opinion, my safety wasn’t in danger. “He’s not hurting you,” he’d said.
But the softest touch can cause the greatest pain. This is something all women know.
Most men, on the other hand, are oblivious. Or they simply don’t care. Rather than protect women from abusers, they prefer to defend the men who just can’t seem to keep their hands to themselves.
Look at the judge in Alaska who recently let a kidnapper off with no jail time, even though he strangled his victim until she was unconscious and then masturbated on her. After one year on house arrest, Judge Michael Corey told the felon he got “one pass,” even though he originally faced between five and 99 years in prison.
“This can never happen again,” Judge Corey said.
But what about the woman it ALREADY happened to? The victim, described by The Alaska Star as a 25-year-old Native woman, will have to live with this horror for the rest of her life. She was abducted from a gas station and nearly murdered—so I doubt she’ll be getting back to life as usual any time soon.
But she’s alive. He didn’t actually kill her. According to the detective’s report, he just “needed her to believe she was going to die so that he could be sexually fulfilled.”
Oh, is that all?
Matt Lauer just needed unsuspecting girls to look at his penis. Bill Cosby just needed to grope unconscious women. Brock Turner just needed to get laid.
When you look at it this way, you start to see why so many men rush to the defense of these abusers. As Senator Steve King from Iowa said in defense of accused abuser and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, “Is there any man in this room that wouldn’t be subjected to such an allegation?”
Of course, he meant a “false” allegation. But you can almost hear the subtext: Is there a man in this room who hasn’t indecently exposed himself to a woman or two? Who hasn’t gotten a little excited and pinned a woman down? That’s just how these things go.
I don’t know what it’s going to take for our society to teach men that there will be consequences if they sexually assault a woman. I do know one thing though: Stabbing works.
Tegan Jones is a freelance writer and editor based in New Orleans, Louisiana. She gets fired up about gender equality, environmental justice and The Resistance. Follow her on Twitter @60AngryInches.