I Was Groped at the Footy and Realised How Far We’ve Come — But How Far We’ve Got to Go
At the Essendon AFL game against Port Adelaide last weekend, halfway through the second quarter, I went to grab some beers for my friends and me. I repeated the obligatory “sorry, excuse me, thank you” as I shuffled past fellow patrons, hands full, making my back to my seat.
When I passed a group of three men, one of them put both his hands around my waist and squeezed. I didn’t say anything; I just kept moving.
Back at my seat, I sandwiched myself between my friends in red and black scarves. One of them immediately asked if something was wrong.
“It wasn’t a big deal,” I said, telling them what happened, but dismissing the behaviour because one, in the grand scheme of sexual abuse and harassment that women encounter every day, it felt pretty minor (I don’t believe this now, but it’s harder to take it seriously when it’s happening to you). Two, I didn’t want to appear to be crying wolf and overreacting – which leads to three. Previously, those around me haven’t been aware of how upsetting it is to be grabbed by a stranger. It’s never really been significant, especially prior to the #metoo movement, and I didn’t want to seem overly sensitive or emotional.
The incident reminded me of when, in high school, a boy in my year level grabbed my chest with both hands and squeezed hard on my breasts to a round of cheers and laughter from my peers. It physically hurt and made me feel violated and small, but everyone was laughing, so I figured it wasn’t serious – what had happened was a joke. No matter how awful it made me feel.
But now, 10 years later, a stranger grabbed me without my consent and those around me didn’t skip a beat in seeing it as violation. They offered to move seats, suggested alternate paths to take next time, and asked with genuine concern how I was feeling.
Though, this wasn’t how everyone reacted.
At half time, I texted my friend what happened and he responded in a single sentence saying how gross that guy was, then preceded to tell me in three times the amount of text how the game of monopoly he was playing with his friends was going. Later, when I told him I wished he’d asked how I was feeling, he said he thought it wouldn’t have affected me.
I was disappointed by this blasé response, but not surprised. After all, it’s also what I initially told myself: It’s fine! I’m fine.
And this is why, often, more minor incidents of assault don’t get shared – even with friends or family.
The #metoo movement has provided a gateway through which sexual harassment and assault is being better recognised, called out and publicly perceived as wildly unacceptable. And the tide is turning on acknowledging incidents like the one I experienced. My friends at the game with me proved that.
Even so, I still walked through a row at the football and got groped by a stranger. My body was still touched without consent.
For two seconds of my day, a man I did not know held onto me as though he was entitled to. For two seconds of my day, my body didn’t feel like my own. For two seconds of my day, I had hands on my person I did not want, ask for or agree to.
It made me feel small, powerless and frustrated. When I woke up the following day, I also felt overwhelmingly exhausted.
When I walk home at night, I am still on high alert. I still overhear rape jokes at pubs and bars, I still get to told smile more in the office, I am still being touched without consent by strangers in crowded public places and I’m still having to explain to some of my friends why all of this upsets me.
When it comes to recognising predatory behaviour for what it is, sure, we have come a long way. But there is still a long way to go.
Cover by Viktor Talashuk.