Yesterday, while sitting at my desk at work, one of my male co-workers noticed that I had opened and was presumably reading a “Crime Alert.” I work for a University that sends alerts whenever crimes occur on or near campus, and luckily, we don’t get them all that often. Lately, however, there have been many reports of sexual assault. These assaults are all linked to the same suspect, but he hasn’t been identified or caught yet. He sees a girl walking alone, pulls her out of sight and attacks her. Most of the women have gotten away before he can complete his objective, but at least one has been raped, and all have been traumatized. It is scary and awful. I hate thinking about the fact that there is a serial assaultist on the loose. Most women hate it too, I imagine. Now, when my male co-worker saw this crime alert on my desktop he was surprised – surprised that I hadn’t immediately deleted, surprised more that I cared enough to read it.
*The following is a non-exact, but fairly accurate account of our conversation.
He said, “Why are you reading that?”
I said, “Because it’s scary and I want to know what’s going on…”
He replied with something along the lines of: “What’s the big deal? He’s a serial gropest.”
Then my mind turned red, and I clenched my chair hard, saying, “WHAT?”
“Why is it scary? He’s a groper.”
“It’s scary for women. You’re not going to be attacked by him because you’re a man. But it’s scary.”
“You’re right, I’m not a woman…”
“Yeah, so you can’t understand.”
“I guess not.”
I shook my head and made some kind of face at this point. “It’s just scary. Okay?”
He said, “What? He’s only groping them. Ooo, scary.” (Sarcasm on the end there, FYI.)
This is the part where my voice got a little higher, “What do you mean, ‘Only groping?’ As if that makes it okay? For the record, he has raped at least one of the girls and just because the reports use the word ‘grope’ doesn’t mean it’s your same definition. Either way, it’s still assault and it’s still a traumatic violation!”
This is the part where he laughed (which made me feel weird), then he calmly said, “But he could do so much more. It’s just groping.”
I think I might have raised my voice a little more here. “Are you kidding? It’s fine because they got away? He’s pulling these girls into dark alleys! They’re just getting away.”
“Yeah, so he’s weak.”
“WHAT? That doesn’t make it okay.”
He said, “I’m just saying, he’s only groping them… ”
Then a brave and very wise co-worker recommended, “Just stop talking. You’re digging yourself a hole. Just stop talking.”
Then he stopped talking.
This is not an attack on the co-worker because I know what he means, or at least what he was trying to mean to say. His point is if no one gets killed, everything will be alright. In a way, I get it. These girls are alive and will live on, but he’s missing the point that a violation like that will forever change your life, your feeling of security and your view of those around you. What if you were walking home when a stranger attacked you? Regardless of what that person did physically, you would not feel safe in the same way for some time. Maybe it’s just that men cannot imagine the fear women have about this kind of thing. Men and boys do get attacked though; it’s not just a women’s issue. Rape andsexual assault of any kind are severely damaging and should not be played off because no one died. Maybe no one died, but something might have. That something might be a sense of security. It could be a person’s self-worth, or their ability to love – others and themselves. Sexual violence can change a person’s life. It can shape how the world is seen and how relationships are dealt with for a person. Let’s not pretend it’s fine if no one dies; people still get hurt, damaged and perhaps, irrecoverably changed.
As for the Ann Arbor attacks, the suspect is still at large. Please exercise caution and please, PLEASE do not walk alone at night. Visit the University of Michigan’s Police Site here and please also take a look at the suspect’s composite here (pdf file).
It’s a big deal. Let’s treat it that way.
Update: msnbc.com reports that the FBI is now a part of the search for the suspect or suspects involved in these attacks. Annarbor.com additionally states that there have been a total of six attacks, two of which were rapes, since July 15th.