Where do I go from here with this close encounter of the non-consensual kind?
October 5, 2010 6:44 PM   Subscribe

I have a problem with one of the students I tutor, but I'm not sure if he realized he crossed the line.

So, I told this international student that I would help him with his English as a favor to him. I tutor ESL through the college but every once in a while I do these kinds of volunteer gigs because I just like to help out. Right now I have three students that I'm helping out on the side...

However, this guy seemed to take my offer as a come-on. We went through our first session with no problems. But then we decided to get coffee afterwards. This isn't unusual, I have coffee with a lot of students that I tutor. I said that I needed to stop by my place first and feed my cat, which he took to mean, "I want to have sex with you." I'm not sure why because I stopped by my place, and um... fed my cat. But in the process of tossing the empty tin in the trash, he grabbed me from behind, pressed me against him, and started kissing my neck.

It took me a second to recover, but I told him he could let go of me at any time. He didn't. So I grabbed hold of his hands (just as they were starting to roam) and forcibly removed them from my body, saying, "This is not why I brought you here."

He stepped away (no apology) and we left. Now, I'm a strong woman, and this didn't phase me much. I mean... he stopped, right? I shrugged it off and moved on. I'd suffered from much worse and this guy doesn't seem to mean any harm. I still had coffee with him and the world moved on. But I got to thinking about it...

What if he pulls something like that again with someone more fragile? I'm not sure if there was some kind of cultural misunderstanding or if he's just a sleaze, but I'd like some insight as to where to go from here. Should I report him to his department? Should I personally tell him that what he did could get him expelled? Should I just ignore the whole thing? I'm not sure how to proceed here and could use a little guidance.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I hope you've stopped the extra tutoring and told him why, that behaviour is completely unacceptable.
posted by Flitcraft at 6:48 PM on October 5, 2010 [18 favorites]

Yuck, Sounds gross. Also sounds like you were assaulted. Right? A person with their hands on you who isn't letting go after you tell them to is assaulting you.

I'd stop chalking it up to cultural differences or whatever; this jerk crossed a line, period.

I would tell someone in his department what happened, let them deal with it, and keep away from him.
posted by dzaz at 6:49 PM on October 5, 2010

"I'm not sure if there was some kind of cultural misunderstanding or if he's just a sleaze"

I'm not condoning how aggressive he was, it sounds like he really did cross the line, but I would have read the "signals" you unintentionally sent in the same way.
posted by 517 at 6:56 PM on October 5, 2010 [11 favorites]

I'd say it was a cultural misunderstanding, based on my experience with some people from other countries. Doesn't make it right, but some people are just brought up under a backwards (but pervasive) society. For them masculinity and chauvinism are intertwined, and they may be perfectly great people in any other context. Of course there are many variables in play, so this might not be your situation. To me, though, it seems like the kind of well-intentioned misandry I've encountered before.

If this is the case, the only solution is crystal clear communication. Explain to him, in no uncertain terms, why that kind of behavior is unacceptable. Tell him that it's always unacceptable too, not just in this one isolated case. Don't be mean, but be informative and don't beat around the bush. Tell him why it's unacceptable, and stress that this cultural lesson is the most important part of his ESL education.

When clearing up cross-cultural faux pas, you can never assume the other person gets it. You have to state the obvious, and then confirm that the message was received and understood. Good luck!
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 7:03 PM on October 5, 2010 [8 favorites]

OP : no more tutoring this guy. For your own peace of mind, tell him why.

Make him aware that if he contacts you again you will be notifying campus police and or police in your city/town.

I wish it weren't the job of victims to protect future hypothetical victims from future hypothetical crimes. This is one suggestion about sexual abuse survival that gets me most bent out of shape.

If you do want to follow amthos advice, perhaps encourage his department to have a talk with all students about keeping their dicks in pants/hands to selves? Then the dept doesn't have to single him out.

And if you want to address the issue of 'shouldn't do that to other American women either' put it in the light that it's not safe for him if he behaves this way - police, woman is more tough than you were, etc.

Also. If this continues to bother you, please take advantage of any services your campus offers. However you react/your feelings change in the next few days/weeks will probably be normal. Don't feel obligated to be cool because this was minor, but also don't feel weird if you breeze past this. And remember, you are strong, and inteligent. You made the best decision you could with the information you had. This is not your fault.
posted by bilabial at 7:10 PM on October 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

I am echoing 517. What he did when he got to your apartment and you told him to stop was absolutely wrong, maybe even criminal. But I could see how a student from the same culture could misinterpret the decision to get coffee and the stop by your apartment. I am a woman, btw. It might not be a cultural misunderstanding.

If I were you, I would ask my supervisor, the tutor program facilitator, to speak to him.

BUT, if you feel you have been assaulted, speak to a counselor on campus or call a hotline.
posted by vincele at 7:11 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm also chiming in that it may be a cultural thing.

I don't know where he is from, but I can attest that some men in some other cultures have a sense that

1. American (European?) women are loose
2. Invitations like this are a rare opportunity to get some

I would tell him, "Yo, you're in America (or wherever) now. This is completely not acceptable. I am no longer going to tutor you, but I want you to know that you should not do this."
posted by k8t at 7:15 PM on October 5, 2010

It's not unusual for some of the students to bond closely with someone who is helping them out. This can be good. Sometimes it results in crush-y behavior, which can be mostly ignored, and sometimes that crush-y behavior comes delivered by someone with some poor boundaries.

I had this with one of the teens I tutored. It didn't start out with such an overt act, more a series of escalations from odd to eventually fairly uncomfortable, with my interior monologue going from an "hunh ... strange" to "did that just happen" to finally "oh, yeah, that's some bad news there." I eventually had to face up to the fact that, even if I was providing a service and she did genuinely need the help, there were few ways that the situation would end well, then terminated the relationship.

So, be super-clear that this is Not Okay. You don't know if this is just a mis-interpretation, a cultural variance, or someone who knew he was driving over the boundaries, but if he does attempt to explain himself in terms of "where I come from," you can say, "That doesn't work that way here." The tone somewhere between firm, breezy, and impersonal is a good way to get the message about behavior across without making it About Him. I would not necessarily go to the department.

For what it is worth, I did end up contacting the young lady's therapist, after some repeated behavior that was bordering on outrageous after I had given the "Yeah, that's not cool with me" speech, to strongly suggest that sexuality and boundaries would be a hot priority item for exploration with her client.
posted by adipocere at 7:25 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, he made an aggressive pass at you, yes, but ultimately stopped once you made it clear that you were not interested in things progressing. So I'm not sure I'd say he did anything wrong, just bullheaded and hardly a gentleman.

If I were you, I'd sit down and talk with and explain why you think it was wrong. I'd also mention it to my boss. He may be harmless, but if he isn't, it's best that there be a paper trail. Should he persist in any way, shape or form, I think you need to be extremely forceful in your reaction. You should probably break off tutoring him, just so he can really get the message that you are not interested.
posted by nomadicink at 7:29 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure how to proceed here and could use a little guidance.

Sorry, I just want to quickly jump back in and directly answer this question:

Don't deal with this guy-- it's above your pay grade, if you're paid for your generous tutoring services at all. Let someone else handle the problem. I said the tutor program head, I really think that is the proper person. His department doesn't need to know he did this. The tutor program head can then decide whether to escalate the issue to the international students department.

The main point is that it's not your job to educate him in the ways of American social norms. Let someone else do that. Don't deal with him any more. Take care of yourself.

If you're planning a career in education or in tutoring students, it's always a good idea to keep the boundaries between professional and casual encounters pretty sharp, especially when you're close in age to the people you've got that kind of professional relationship with. Jerks exist, unfortunately, and even with non-jerks, confusion happens.
posted by vincele at 7:31 PM on October 5, 2010

Did you tell him to let go of you, or did you tell him "he could let go (of you) at any time?" I could see those having pretty different meanings to someone who's still learning English.
posted by contraption at 7:33 PM on October 5, 2010 [17 favorites]

I teach at the university level, and the schools now frown on instructors even having coffee with students, as other students may view it a favoritism. We are told in no uncertain terms that our jobs are on the line if we do not adhere to school policy, even if the relationship is consensual. So I keep a very strict professional distance from my students, even after they are no longer enrolled in my classes.

Regarding how the student treated you, if a student did that to me, I would refer them to another instructor.
posted by effluvia at 7:39 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with everyone else that it's probably best to stop tutoring this guy. If only because it will obviously be super awkward from here on out. Or because maybe that will send a message of some kind.

On the other hand, I can easily see this being a cultural miscommunication, or even just a youthful miscommunication (I'm guessing this is an undergrad?), or maybe a gender miscommunication. I'm not sure I'd assume that this dude is a creepy rapist who is going to hurt other women. Just that your professional/collegial relationship has been permanently sullied.
posted by Sara C. at 7:41 PM on October 5, 2010

Well, he made an aggressive pass at you, yes, but ultimately stopped once you made it clear that you were not interested in things progressing.

I think the people talking about assaults and victims and illegality and such are going overboard. There's a difference between "feel free to stop any time" and "stop it!". It sounds like the guy stopped when it was made clear he should stop. He may be a sleaze but that's not the same as being a perpetrator of sexual assaults.

You should avoid tutoring him or going out with him to get coffee. That's about all the situation seems to call for.
posted by Justinian at 7:47 PM on October 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

I am not condoning this guy's behavior, but honestly if I was him I think I would have read your signals the same way. The first thing that went through my mind was, "A cup of coffee takes, like, a half an hour, right? Why the urgency to feed the cat?" And if I was a guy and had that thought, the next logical conclusion is, "Hmm, maybe she's into me." Again, not condoning his behavior, but from his point of view he was likely reacting to perceived signals from you. He stopped when you clearly told him to stop. I wouldn't immediately conclude that he's going to do this to women regularly; I am more likely to think that this was a miscommunication.
posted by amro at 8:25 PM on October 5, 2010 [11 favorites]

I am actually surprised at the number of people who thought that seemed like a legitimate come on especially after he watched her feed the cat. I would have thought that was fairly obvious that "feed the cat" == "feed the cat." Huh. Is it just because they went by her house at all? I have to stop by my house after work every once in awhile to take my dog out if we're going out for drinks afterward, and it never even crossed my mind that acquaintances of the opposite gender would ever take it as a come on. It's not like "let's get food together" or "take a bottle of wine back to my place."

I don't think he sounds necessarily dangerous, though. It sounds like an honest misunderstanding, but I find the lack of "excuse me" or apology to be a reason to have someone (the most innocuous person possible who still has authority over him) talk to him about inappropriate behavior and the definition of "assault" in the American legal system. (I don't think he assaulted you, just to be clear.) And stop tutoring him.
posted by wending my way at 9:55 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

A word about cultural misunderstandings. It works both ways. I was drunk at a party in Europe and unknowingly tried to make out with some guy's girlfriend and was politely stopped. I remember the guy saying "You Americans! Shoot first, ask questions later!" My point is, don't make excuses for this guy just because he's from another country. A cultural misunderstanding? God that is so fucking made-up and lame.

You know if you don't say something, he's bound to make another move or perhaps speak to you rudely or in a sexual innuendo way. What are you going to do then, talk about cultural differences over coffee? No, it's not your fucking job to break it down for this kid. Report him to the department and asked to be removed as his tutor. If for some reason you have sympathy for the him, ask that the matter be handled discretely. Like flying out his mom out just so that she can smack him upside the head with a frying pan.
posted by phaedon at 11:22 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I have to say, a woman inviting a man into her home might be interpreted as a very clear signal in some cultures. I think a cultural talk might be in order, where you can kindly and firmly inform him of norms of his present environment, because as you suggest, he could harass someone who would suffer more than you did.

However, I would also just practically advise you to be more cautious in the future. Inviting a man you barely know into your home is just generally ill-advised. Especially if he doesn't share your cultural understanding.
posted by namesarehard at 11:25 PM on October 5, 2010 [7 favorites]

I am actually surprised at the number of people who thought that seemed like a legitimate come on especially after he watched her feed the cat.

Couldn't agree more. This is like they met in a bar and she's made up an excuse to stop by her place on their way to another bar. She's his tutor, they were going out for coffee and she really did feed her cat. (as to why she had to - IME animals can tell the time and some will get anxious/upset if they're usually fed at the same time each day and that time is missed)

This kinda reminds me of a guy that used to live in my street - he was obsessed with my sister for years, he sent her love letters - which she ignored and finally culminated with him declaring his love for her in person as she was walking from the bus-stop to our house after school. As far as we were concerned she'd done nothing to provoke this obsession - years later I found out what it was. One founder's day (we all got to go home after the service - about midday) he'd been locked out of his house and my mum let him in ours and my sister had offered him a cup of tea and a sandwich. That was it, that was really the only contact they'd ever had. He later developed an obsession with me because we (him, me and some other friends) were playing a silly fortune telling game with playing cards and a friend asked if I would go out with this guy - the cards said yes and shortly after that the love letters started. After I rebuffed him violently (I slammed the window closed on his arm) he moved on to my sister's best friend - who knows what she'd done to deserve it.
posted by missmagenta at 12:07 AM on October 6, 2010

Just wanted to point out that if you do report this up some chain of command, it could very quickly spiral out of control, simply because most institutions must have a zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual harassment.

It was your first session with him. He might not have known that your habit of getting coffee with your students is a common thing. You invited him up, and when he made an advance, your comment was a passive/aggressive way of stopping him. — If someone is making sexual advances, be forceful and curt. — Stop. No. Move away from him, immediately. — When you were clearer with him ... he stopped. You then still went out with him for coffee? There are more unclear signals in that than a formal report to the department warrants.

As others have recommended, don't tutor him again. Write him a short e-mail explaining why. If you feel that he's truly going to be a danger, talk to his international studies advisor. But don't initiate a formal reporting process on it. And it's up to you how you want to tutor, but I'd suggest not going out for coffee one-on-one with your students. If it's an important part of the lesson, have a few of your students meet you for coffee, and have a casual conversation with them as a group.
posted by Alt F4 at 3:44 AM on October 6, 2010 [6 favorites]

I have to agree with the others who have said this could easily have been interpreted as a come on. Getting coffee, after she volunteered to give extra help to the student "as a favor" was as far as it should have gone. This is regardless of cultural issues. Bringing a student back to the apartment at such an early stage of the teacher/student relationship in my opinion is crossing the boundary. These are just the unintentional signals that we know about via the OP, who knows what other signals might have been sent without her being aware of it. I am not excusing him the aggressive behavior, but I don't think this guy is a predator or will be a risk to others. I would pass him off to another instructor and chalk it up as an awkward misunderstanding.
posted by the foreground at 4:33 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some people feel that "feeding the cat" should in NO way be interpreted as a come-on... by our [North American?] cultural standards.

The thing is, OP, you're not working with people from your [North American] culture. If you're going to continue to work with international students, then it is well worth your time to familiarize yourself with where they're coming from. Young men from some particular countries may have no frame of reference for what a casual friendship with a woman looks like, simply because they might not exist in their home country.

FWIW I have a group of buddies who teach ESL here in Canada. Women in their late 20s work with men from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, and more. They run film nights so that everyone can sit in the same room and LAUGH about the very different [cultural] expectations movies can portray. When you're working with these men, whether you like it or not, you are also teaching them about interacting with North American women. So putting the expectation on them to act like "normal" North American males is unreasonable, IMO.

I also would have interpreted your invitation to the house as a setup for casual sex. In a short time you made the interaction increasingly personal and physically private to a stranger. Just watch that progression with future students.

In the future try being more direct, and don't invite them into your personal life (home) until you have an established rapport with them. Be more direct with them. Avoid ambiguity in your communication, e.g. "this needs to stop, this is NOT okay," instead of, "you can let go of me." And quite frankly, enjoy the learning experience. You will learn a LOT about men in general, which is a good thing :)
posted by human ecologist at 5:27 AM on October 6, 2010 [7 favorites]

Also, IME, even young men tend to have more respect for a North American woman with clear boundaries for respectful behavior. It makes figuring out a new country easier for them if they consistently know how to talk to you, and what you expectations are. Let them see you as their tutor and professional colleague; let them see other women as potential romantic learning experiences, if need be.
posted by human ecologist at 5:32 AM on October 6, 2010

An American male POV here - if a girl tutoring me went for coffee afterwards, I would begin to wonder if this was coffee, or "coffee". And if she gave a reason why we had to go by her place, I would wonder about that, too. Not everyone flirts with the same romantic cliches, but we all do try to make pretenses to spend more time around romantic/sexual interests.

None of this means that it's OK to grope you, but in his defence, he obeyed your second, firmer, clearer signal that he should stop.

He misunderstood, and tried a macho come-on. Movies, books, and common conversation inform we males that women sometimes really like a strong come-on from the guys they're interested in. It can be a dangerous line to negotiate, of course, but at least he stopped when you clarified.

I'd bet he's embarassed, and doesn't bother you again. If he does - even a little bit, he's a creep; report him.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:37 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

dzaz: "Also sounds like you were assaulted. Right? A person with their hands on you who isn't letting go after you tell them to is assaulting you."

The quote from the OP was: "I told him he could let go of me at any time." As an English tutor, I'm sure she knows the difference between "Please let go of me now." and "You can let go of me at any time." The story as told is not assault.

As for how to react, I definitely think you should stop tutoring this person, and if he asks why, tell him it is because of his inappropriate behavior. It will be a good cultural lesson for him.
posted by Grither at 5:47 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

23skidoo raised an important issue that's cultural as well. Apologies across cultures carry very different cultural baggage. You might find it interesting to compare meaning across the range.
posted by effluvia at 7:36 AM on October 6, 2010

Mod note: From the OP:
I just wanted to make a couple of things clear because there seem to be couple of misunderstandings.

The student and I are both graduate students and around the same age (later 30's). He's from a Latin country and while this was our first tutoring session, it wasn't the first time we'd met. Hence, the coffee.

Also, there's a chair just inside my door which I pointed to and told him to have a seat because I, "wouldn't take long" while feeding the cat. I didn't put that in the original post because I didn't think it was a necessary detail. But I see now that my sparse description of what happened can be seen as miscommunication.

Seriously, I'm not upset about the situation. I just don't want him to try it on someone else and get expelled/ deported for being a creep who misreads signals. Also, if he's always that aggressive in his flirting he could honestly traumatize someone who's not as tough as I am. That's why I asked for advice.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 7:48 AM on October 6, 2010

It's possible that he had no idea that there was anything to apologize for. "You can let go of me at any time" literally means "I'm going to let you decide when to stop touching me". He may have just thought you changed your mind when you told him "This is not why I brought you here".

And sarcasm doesn't really translate well.
posted by gjc at 7:52 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

i'm with all of the people who said that it may have been a cultural misunderstanding. it seems plausible...in our culture here, a woman can take the initiative and ask a student out for coffee AND say that she needs to feed her cat and that's ok. In other cultures this would be as entirely inappropriate or a 'hint hint, nudge nudge;). I can even see this scenario confusing the average american guy.

if you want to be clear that this is inappropriate, refer him to someone else otherwise, you might end up with another cultural misunderstanding.
posted by UltraD at 8:14 AM on October 6, 2010

I think you inadvertently led him on, then confused him more, then he got the idea and stopped. I don't think you should worry about it happening to others, that is your sense of righteous revenge wanting something bad to happen to him because you were embarrassed and scared. Let it be and don't tutor him anymore, and be more professional and learn about other cultures. In some cultures the offer of coffee or tea out is a definite come-on. An easy way to stay professional is to not do things 1:1, take on small groups or even just two people, and take them all/both out to coffee.
posted by meepmeow at 9:31 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am actually surprised at the number of people who thought that seemed like a legitimate come on especially after he watched her feed the cat. I would have thought that was fairly obvious that "feed the cat" == "feed the cat."

To you, 'do you want to have coffee' can mean a date, or coming inside for a bit of slap and tickle. 'Powder my nose' is another example. I can see why someone for whom English is not their first language might somehow think this was an odd idiom rather than literally feeding the cat. This does not mean OP led him on.
posted by mippy at 9:59 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Young men from some particular countries may have no frame of reference for what a casual friendship with a woman looks like, simply because they might not exist in their home country.

This is an excellent point.
posted by k8t at 10:28 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a native English speaker, depending on some specifics, I might have interpreted the situation in the same way your student did. What's more, as a native English speaker, in the moment I may very well have not known how to interpret "you can stop at any time." I might even interpret it as the opposite message you intended. Filter that passive-sarcastic-vague instruction through any kind of language barrier and I bet this guy had no idea what was going on.

Explain to him why what happened was inappropriate, answer whatever questions I'm sure he has, and feel out whether he's a creep you need to stop tutoring or a naive foreigner that was attracted to you and confused. Also, if there's a next time, foreigner or not, skip "stop if you feel like it" and go directly to "no."
posted by cmoj at 10:39 AM on October 6, 2010

I think the disturbing part of the interaction is that he grabbed you from behind. Cultural differences probably played a part, but I think it's completely inappropriate to grab someone from behind, no matter what the culture.

I don't think you did anything wrong by inviting him up. Excusing his behavior because of cultural differences is unfair and seems to put the blame onto you.

To me, it's OK that he might have mistaken inviting him to your apartment as meaning something more. However, the way he behaved is simply not appropriate. It would be more understandable if he had come up to you and tried to kiss you face to face. Then, you could have realized what was happening and stopped it before he even touched you. He did not give you this chance though.

If you think he's a good guy, then you might want to emphasize that it is not OK to grab someone from behind. Lots of people hate to be grabbed from behind even by their spouses, let alone a stranger.
posted by parakeetdog at 1:12 PM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

« Older Anxiety about a fetish   |   I don't completely remember the last networking... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.