Handling being hit on 101
February 21, 2015 10:46 PM   Subscribe

I am a butch genderqueer trauma survivor with severe PTSD. I just moved away from abusive family and living on my own for the first time in a decade. I was feeling very positive and safe until a drunk guy groped me and tried to come into my apartment. Can you teach me how to handle that as I have no experience dealing with random gropes due to how I look and my response was wrong in every way?

Men don't sexually harass me in the streets. Men don't flirt with me. I am usually more afraid random drunk guy will notice half way through the conversation I have breasts and get angry. I am usually more afraid of being bashed for being gay.

I know I am 39 and lucky and naive and I should know basic ways to handle this but I don't. Please don't be too tough love in your approach. This doesn't happen to me. I have been raped twice and am a survivor of childhood abuse but not this random street thing and it is freaking me out majorally. It is triggering my PTSD and making my apartment feel unsafe.

I know I did all the wrong things. I was fiddling with a bag of dog poop and my apartment keys and walking up to the door of my building. I have to go up an alley to do that. I wasn't looking. He was drunk waiting at the door. (My building has no buzzer).

He asked my dog's name and she ran to get petted by a stranger. I chatted briefly. I didn't want to climb the stairs to enter cause I didn't want to let him in the building so I walked to the dumpster to unlock it and put away the poop. He stood talking to me. Asking questions.

My name. My age. If I smoked pot (did I have any pot). If I was single. I answered his questions.

He asked me where I lived and I told him (my apartment is next to the lobby and I just pointed). I am so stupid. I froze. I didn't want to make him mad. I didn't want it to escalate into anger. He said a few sexual things and I laughed. I feel dirty and stupid for that but I was anxious. He asked me if I lived alone and I answered yes for craps sake!

I finally had to go in and I asked him who he was visiting and he said his friend upstairs. I know vaguely who my neighbors are. I let him in. My neighbor came down stairs but told him to wait while he took his garbage out so now drunk guy is behind me in front of my apartment door.

He said he wanted to see how my place was decorated and I just ignored him and unlocked the door and he grabbed my ass and made a comment about coming inside and I laughed and said no and shut and locked the door in his face.

Obviously I did so much wrong. I feel like a failure and it is triggering my PTSD and the achievements I felt about moving away from abusive family and being able to handle walking at night with my dog (something my therapist and I were concerned about) is gone. I don't feel safe anymore but I know that's the PTSD. I know that it is stupid and minor and I should have handled it better. Gee, don't tell strangers where you live is basic safety 101... But I don't know how to counteract my freeze reaction and fear of making men angry.

Add to it a friend being drunk at my apartment warming and hitting heavily on me when he has never done that in our entire friendship and me reacting by getting quiet and shy and I am feeling very vulnerable.

I wanted to tell the guy to back off but the idea of it possibly angering my neighbor who has to walk by my door every day and living in a tiny building as the crazy woman who flips over "nothing" felt scarier. So what should I do next time to counter act the default freeze/polite response? How do I handle the sexual comments?

The groping was a rarity for me but the sexual comments increased since I moved into this neighborhood and I have a sheltered experience with such things and living amongst people that would openly do that. My abusers were "polite" on the streets.

Feeding into the problem is my dog is cute and friendly and wants to greet everyone and is quiet so doesn't alert me to people. Is there something I can train her to do to stop wanting to be friends with everyone?

Basically I guess, what is street safety 101 when you have severe freeze response from extensive trauma? And how do I make my place feel safe enough to walk my dog at night again?

I told a friend and she was just yeah you are on this side of town now and didn't get my upset. So also was it justifiable to be upset over such a simple short grope? My metre for this stuff is really twisted due to my upbringing so I really am naive about such things.

Right now, I want to never leave and feel like a bad survivor for doing basic self protection wrong. I would talk about it in therapy but am currently on hold while waiting to go to inpatient treatment for trauma.
posted by kanata to Human Relations (33 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, hon. Please be gentle with yourself. I won't name your experience. But you are completely justified in feeling as you do and it is all the more difficult when you have a trauma history.

I've had very good results from doing EMDR. I thought it was "woo" and my therapist had to wait many months before I would even try it - I otherwise trusted her but I thought the explanation of EMDR sounded wack. But it's been the most helpful intervention I've had for complex trauma - better than CBT or anything else I've tries.

I'm not a counsellor. But I wonder if you could start small with your dog. Just take her for a walk on your floor for a few days. Then maybe down to the lobby. Then outside to the front steps. A bit more every time till you build your tolerance. It's exposure therapy.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:59 PM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

You sound really overwhelmed right now. What was done to you was awful, and I think your reaction is totally understandable. It's not your fault, and it was wrong.

Given that you're waiting for inpatient treatment, I think it's worth thinking about the possibility that your trauma is bigger than what a forum like this one might be helpful for. Folks here will surely have advice, some useful some not, but I think the intensive support you are already seeking may be more useful.

Having said that, I have two main reactions/ideas:

1. Reinforce to yourself this is not your fault. You are not to blame for someone touching you inappropriately. You didn't cause it, you didn't do it. It was wrong of him - not of you. I would suggest you don't repeat to yourself that you did whatever wrong, as that probably won't be helpful to you.

2. With that in mind, we live in a world where as you know, people do the wrong thing, so focusing some of your work around building your boundaries would probably be helpful. A key moment that in future you could work toward doing differently seems like this one: ...My name. My age. If I smoked pot (did I have any pot). If I was single. I answered his questions.

To me this is one place you could focus on changing in future. I'd suggest interpreting intrusive questions as a sign that the person is someone you should not talk to anymore. Hope this doesn't sound annoying to spell it out this explicitly, but I think it's helpful to actually break down what your thoughts are in the moment, and then chose how to respond to those thoughts. So when you feel, "This person is making me uncomfortable with their intrusive questions.", then you have that moment of choice, where you got afraid that if you don't cooperate, things could get worse for you (as they did in your previous life trauma). So you're trying to take care of yourself by being cooperative. (Recognize you DO want to take care of yourself - you're not "messing up")

But now you are in a different situation, and you have a choice to make in that moment. And cognitively you can recognize that cooperating with a stranger who is asking intrusive questions is probably not going to keep you safe from that person.

So when you get a feeling of discomfort, recognize that feeling is your Self protecting you and saying, "Get away from this person." Or say they're complimenting your dog. That's fine. But for whatever reason you get a feeling of discomfort about that person. You are not obligated to keep talking to them. Your emotions are there to tell you to get away. Just as physical sensations, like heat, tell you a message, like you're about to light your hand on fire, emotional sensations have a protective role too. So respect and listen to them.

On a practical level, one suggestion for intrusive questions I think I first heard here was, if you're uncomfortable walking away or ignoring or telling the guy to fuck off, then answer each question with your own: "What's your name?" with, "What's your name?". Don't answer, just ask. Just one strategy I have occasionally used if I want to buy time while I'm, for example, walking away and going into my building or whatever.

One suggestion for practicing making limits with strangers is a martial arts or self defense class. Many self defense classes focus on verbal self defense and awareness of your surroundings - a lot of time is spent practicing yelling "NO". This kind of thing might help you feel confident and get practice responding in new ways to scary situations.

Anyway, again, you've described some really intense experiences that predate this one, but I hope you can find a way to get from this experience that it was not your fault, and also that it's an opportunity to strengthen your boundary-making skills.
posted by latkes at 11:18 PM on February 21, 2015 [9 favorites]

Please don't be hard on yourself for any part of your response to this creep. It was totally normal. Lots of intelligent people respond in the same way.

The Gift of Fear gets recommended a lot here, and maybe you've heard of it or read it. If I recall, it has some really good predefined scripts and actions for when you find yourself in that kind of situation. If you were to practice these, maybe that would help you through the freeze. That's what emergency drills are all about: burning in an automatic response for when your brain panics. (And I hope that reinforces the fact that brain freeze is such a natural human response to danger that we do emergency drills.)

It is absolutely reasonable to be upset about the whole encounter. The creep was throwing up all sorts of danger flags. I'm sorry I don't have an answer for how to feel safe again. I know it will take time.
posted by moira at 11:29 PM on February 21, 2015

First of all, congratulations on how far you've come. That's huge.

I'm pretty sure everything you just described (including needing pointers) is very very common life experience. You're not "dumb." Everyone who handles this type threat well learned from scary experiences like this. Life experience.

Next time you won't even consider answering drunk weirdo guy's questions. You'll see that trouble and avoid it.

I'll leave it to others to break it down for you. I just wanted to confirm this is a pretty common life learning lesson, and you're not stupid.
posted by jbenben at 11:43 PM on February 21, 2015

I just want to say I read your question and I don't think anything you did was as "dumb" as you're saying. You're second-guessing some things, and that's absolutely understandable that you would be thinking hard about what you could have done differently. But it sounds like what you did was totally a normal reaction - you minimized, you were polite (these things are hard not to do, even when they are dangerous; sometimes not doing them is more dangerous; the perfect path is not clear generally even in hindsight). And when push came to shove you closed your door on the guy and removed yourself from the situation - that's arguably much better than having the 'perfect retort' which you say to him while still holding the door open.

I don't know what you do to feel less freaked out the next time someone is drunk and intrusive (which this guy was before he ever touched you), or to feel safer going outside without freaking out about someone possibly being drunk and intrusive. But at the least, I can tell you your handling of the situation was not "wrong in every way".
posted by Lady Li at 12:02 AM on February 22, 2015 [7 favorites]

Whatever you did has had the result that you are now in your apartment with a locked door between you and the arsehole who groped you.

The only thing that matters right now is that what you did has got you to where you are, which is inside your apartment and safe. You have absolutely no way of knowing whether, had you done something different, things would have worked out better or worse or the same.

feel like a bad survivor for doing basic self protection wrong

The only important measure of your survival skills is your survival.

Please be gentle with yourself over this. Getting violated by some drunken entitled shitbag feels quite bad enough without having to suffer being beaten up for it as well.
posted by flabdablet at 12:15 AM on February 22, 2015 [14 favorites]

You are beating yourself up a lot for doing it "wrong," but this was one right way to do it. Placating a drunk man is often one way to make yourself safe. It's nice to think of oneself as some kind of kickass kung fu avenging angel who takes no shit, but really, sometimes laughing at someone's gross joke, or just keeping moving after someone grabs your ass, keeps you safer than doing a huge takedown.

I don't know how you could have done it much differently, except that I would suggest some lying (i.e. "no, I live with my boyfriend"), but I've told those lies and still gotten groped so it doesn't always work.

If I were in your shoes I would take a women's self-defense class (if you feel OK about being in a women's class). The one I took many many years ago was all about how to talk to people and hold yourself and just a bit about physically kicking ass. But it made me feel a lot more secure on both fronts. And then I would try to be more gentle with myself.

I'm sorry this guy acted this way. You're doing a good job. Just keep moving forward.
posted by feets at 12:32 AM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

When I read that, all I could think was that what you did was something that plenty of people do — they answer questions, they're polite, etc. He was being an asshole by taking advantage of that. Other people being assholes is not your fault.

Turning it into "smart" and "dumb" is a way that people frequently align terrible things happening with their desire to live in a just world. Sometimes it's appropriate, but in a huge number of cases — including this one — it's really not and only functions as a way to allow assholes to inflict themselves on people with too often too little consequence. It's your brain trying to make sense of something that doesn't fit a pattern of a fair and just world but it's really hard for us as people to consciously interrupt the assumption that it's a fair and just world — this wasn't fair that it happened to you.

Something else that's important to recognize is that a) this already happened, so thinking about what you would have done differently can often for me end up being a bit of psychic scab-picking, and you might find it helpful to just distract yourself when you get caught in those loops, and b) for all of your "bad" decisions, you've made it through this encounter so far — there's no point in second-guessing your gut. Maybe you rightly read the situation after all.

As for how to not freeze in situations, the biggest advantage that self defense classes of pretty much any stripe give you is that you don't freeze because you've practiced doing something over and over again so you just do it. There's a lot of fucked up conditioning that you've likely had aimed at you from a lot of places for a long time — expecting yourself to surmount that without actively unlearning it is unfair your yourself.
posted by klangklangston at 1:52 AM on February 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

Yes, be gentle with yourself. You're not dumb and you're not to blame. I think you'll be more careful in the future, and, once he got out of line, you did the right thing by hastening inside and locking the door.

Most importantly, it is not your fault and you are not to blame in any way for the shitty behavior of other people.

I hope you are free from shit like this, and congrats on moving out on your own. Hugs, hugs, hugs.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 1:56 AM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh no, I'm so sorry this happened to you! As everyone else has said, this is not your fault at all, not one bit. He was the one who was doing something wrong. Also, lots of others have said this but I'll say it too, this--"He said he wanted to see how my place was decorated and I just ignored him and unlocked the door and he grabbed my ass and made a comment about coming inside and I laughed and said no and shut and locked the door in his face"--was exactly the right thing to do, because you were firm and you got yourself away from him and safe in your own apartment.


was it justifiable to be upset over such a simple short grope? My metre for this stuff is really twisted due to my upbringing so I really am naive about such things.

Yes, you are entirely in the right. 100% not OK for him to have done that.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:06 AM on February 22, 2015

I am neither butch nor gender queer but you just described me at 17. I think the abuse you suffered and figuring out your identity may have pegged you back a few (of no fault of your own) on the what to do with strange creepy men. If you're a woman or identified as one since 18 and lived in a city you would have developed this.

I know that it's tempting to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and think that every experience could turn into a connection, friend or otherwise. Unfortunately, you have to accept the fact that you sometimes have to be a complete BITCH.

If someone is asking to get into your apartment building don't let them in, if you feel the need to be pretend nice ask them what apartment their friend lives in and say when you go in you will knock on their door (don't). always refer to policies, it makes things easier (I'm sorry the building policy is that no one is allowed in unless signed in at the desk by their guest) lying is helpful in these situations.

If someone is inside, mention a roommate. If someone is getting inappropriate pretend to get a call from a friend who needs you now. My go to if someone starts to creep me out too much is to just shout "Chlamydia" as loud as I can. It spooks people but isn't the same as screaming help!

You will mature a little every day and you will learn how to feel less guilty about not giving people a chance. Try doing more social things where you can meet strangers who instead of loitering outside your building are doing trivia night at the pub. It's fine to give people a chance but you're right to protect yourself. Be safe.

Finally, don't train your dog to attack. Take it to the local dog park or dog classes and meet some nice people like yourself.
posted by boobjob at 2:31 AM on February 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

I don't think that there's ever really a perfect way to respond to that kind of behaviour. We can't control how the other person is going to respond to our reactions. If we're too polite, will the guy think that he can keep pushing? If we're too blunt with our no, will he react badly?

Like others have already said, don't be so hard on yourself about how you handled it. You did the best that you could. What this guy did to you is not flirting, it's sexual harassment and assault. I'm sorry that your friend wasn't supportive. You are 100% justified in being upset about what this guy did to you.

I think that something like a self-defence course or a martial art could be really helpful in building confidence and assertiveness. You will likely feel safer knowing that if it came down to it, you could fight back. I would try to find a class that was explicitly queer-friendly and feminist.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 2:38 AM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

was it justifiable to be upset over such a simple short grope?

Absolutely. I would be livid. I don't know what your neighbour is like but he is the other person at fault here for inviting this guy into the building. Your landlord could ban the drunk guy from ever coming back but it's totally understandable if you don't report it to him out of fear of retaliation. Just something to keep in mind though, if the neighbour has him over again.
posted by fshgrl at 2:59 AM on February 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm so sorry that happened to you! That sounds really tough and scary. So I just want to underscore that this wasn't your fault, and that beating yourself up for how you did or didn't protect yourself is a very normal thing to do, especially for someone who's had such a history of trauma, but it is something to try to curtail. You, especially, deserve your own kindness and the benefit of your own doubt. You were in a difficult position - you didn't want to tick off your neighbor (who is culpable for not protecting you from his drunken guest), you don't have a lot of experience, you're new to your neighborhood and your building.

And, yes, I would be furious if a stranger touched my ass after asking me intrusive questions - but I don't guarantee my fury would make me any better able to manage the situation.

Going forward - I think you just need to work on saying no and removing yourself from interactions when you're uncomfortable (or even before you start to get uncomfortable), starting in less loaded situations. You are ahead of the game already because you know you have a freeze response, so you know your first reaction. Honestly (and sadly), that's more than a lot of women know about themselves in a crisis. Your friendly dog is going to provide opportunities to talk to, and thus to stop talking to strangers. Maybe take advantage of that to rehearse a few ways to get out of conversations when the other person isn't triggering you and frightening you half to death?
posted by gingerest at 3:50 AM on February 22, 2015

Oh, honey, please try to STOP BEATING YOURSELF UP!! This guy was an asshole jerk creep, and he's the one who deserves a good kick from my size 13 heels, not you!

I'm going to link to a comment I made a while ago, when another person was tearing herself apart over how she responded to some monstrous guy assaulting her. I hope you'll read it, and I hope it will convince you that this kind of bullshit self-loathing is all too common after an assault, and it's pure bullshit. I don't know where it comes from, but it's total bullshit and you so do not deserve to suffer like that. You've been through too much already!

You are allowed to be upset. I sure would be! You responded the way you did because you were f-ing terrified, because this guy was being terrifying.

Do whatever you can to protect yourself and feel/be safe. Maybe take a self-defense class, avoid walking around that neighborhood alone at night, maybe get some mace, etc. But save your rage for the creeps who deserve it.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:53 AM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm not gonna read the other responses because I am already so upset, so apologies if this is a repeat suggestion: if you are ever assaulted by a drunk guy again, kick the mofo in his crotch.

In fourth grade, my friend's mother taught my friend and I how to kick boys/men in the crotch if they ever touched us without our permission. Groping without permission is assault. You were assaulted. You would have been well within your rights to disable him by a swift kick to the nuts. There are cases where you shouldn't do this (the guy having a weapon *might* be one), but drunk guy? Already in your apartment? Kick the mofo as hard as you can, get inside your apt and call the cops.

At this point, maybe a self-defense class would be in order and would make you feel safer.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 6:31 AM on February 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

First of all, it's very easy to know what to do in hindsight. Don't fault yourself with not knowing how to act in a strange situation.

Secondly, this guy wasn't 'hitting on you.' There wasn't anything friendly or nice about his approach. He was a creeper. Creepers don't deserve social niceties or the benefit of the doubt. You didn't know this before today. Now you do.

No one has the right to touch you, there's no such thing as a simple short grope. Any unwanted touching is a violation of your person and you have EVERY right to be furious about it.

If you feel up to it, you can speak to your neighbor, "Look, your friend got really out of line last night. In addition to being an obnoxious drunk, he had the gall to grope me. I didn't want to make a BFD about it last night, but I would appreciate it if you could either, let your own asshole friends into the building, or just keep them out all together."

So, we've established that this guy was all kinds of out of line, how do you handle it in the future?

1. If you see someone hanging around your stoop and you don't want to let them into the building, don't. Say, "I don't know you, I'm not letting you in." Be ready to call the cops and be ready to scream and make all kinds of noise.

2. Friendly dog. Train her to sit or heel at your command. If she makes towards someone who seems sketchy to you, rather than inviting interaction, tell her, "Princess. Heel!"

3. If a rando on the street starts asking you questions, that person isn't concerned about making you feel uncomfortable, or pushing boundaries, so don't feel obligated to treat the encounter as if it's all okay. You don't have to be hostile if that doesn't work for you. Again a stock phrase that you've practiced and feel comfortable with should do. "I don't know you, you're making me uncomfortable, leave me alone."

4. If someone is trying to gain entrance into your building and you don't want them to, figure out a safe place in your neighborhood where you can go. A bodega, a gas station, a bar and turn around and go there.

5. If you're being hassled, don't be afraid to ask others for help. The way you do this is to look a passerby directly in the eyes and say, "Can you help me? This person is hassling me and I don't feel safe."

6. Don't walk your dog late at night if you don't want to. Get an indoor dog potty. Shift her walks to morning and early evening.

7. Make a fuss. If you feel threatened, you don't have to be justified, or anything, if you're uncomfortable and the person is not backing off, act up. Scream, yell, say, "I don't know you, leave me alone!" Say it over and over again. In most cases the person will back off and run in the other direction.

I had to learn these things, no one is innately born knowing how to handle these situations. The good news is that you're a survivor. You came out of this very unpleasant situation safely. You've learned a few things.

The most important thing is that you don't owe anyone anything, especially benefit of the doubt. You don't have to be nice if you don't want to be.

I would recommend that in addition to therapy that you take some training in self-defense. Krav Maga or Tai Kwon Do. Not to fight off attackers, but to help you feel strong and confident.

Good luck to you!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:48 AM on February 22, 2015 [14 favorites]

Oh my god, what an asshole. I'm so sorry.

I so, so know the feeling that comes with playing along because you're afraid that the person you're dealing with will make things worse if they get angry. And yeah, I often feel ashamed afterwards, even after incidents that are fairly minor. It was good to see feets point out that this is one right way to handle these situations.

Assholes are assholes at least in part because they are not hindered by the normal boundaries of manners and the social contract and how you shouldn't grab the ass of someone who is just trying to be polite. It's really hard to play by the rules of etiquette AND have a good defense against assholes at the same time.

My out, when I'm uncomfortable, is either to pretend I have to leave right then (Gotta run, bye!), and / or that I have a phone call that I have to take - and I need to walk away or drive off as I take the phone call.
posted by bunderful at 8:16 AM on February 22, 2015

I'm sorry you went through (and are going through) this. Other commenters have already offered great advice. I will add that for me "What's your name?" is a red flag question. If a man says "what's your name?" to me in a setting other than like, a party, or a bar, where I have gone specifically to socialize, I just keep walking. If a random stranger on the street asks your name, it's because he thinks he's going to fuck you. There are clearly many other warning signs and red flags, but as soon as a stranger approaches you and utters those three words, interaction over.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 8:37 AM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

How horrible. Having a fear reaction after that incident is absolutely reasonable. You need time to learn from the fear so that you can process it.

I don't have a lot to offer, so I wanted to give you some stock phrases to memorize in case you find yourself verbally frozen in an unsafe situation like the first part of your conversation with a man.
"You're friendly to ask (if he asks your name, etc), but I'm done talking now. Have a nice day."
"You seem friendly but I'm done talking now. Have a nice day."

Repeat the phrase as necessary, no more than twice.

I've found that the rote phrase "have a nice day" often elicits a pre-programmed "oh you too"-type response from most people so they just kind of let it go. But If you've gotten to a point where you've repeated that twice, you definitively KNOW that your interlocutor is being aggressive and you need to take evasive measures.
posted by samthemander at 9:16 AM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I know I may be re-stating things that have already been covered, but I did want to add to the pile of advice by pointing out that this is not being "hit on" in any sense. This was an attack.
posted by odinsdream at 9:40 AM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

I know that it is stupid and minor and I should have handled it better.

It's not minor and you're not stupid. Being groped isn't minor. You would have been justified in calling the police. A friend of mine was groped on the subway and she called the police. They took it very seriously and found and arrested the guy.

I think you reacted in the same way many people would react, including me. I know all the "rules" for dealing with strange people, but I have still gone against those rules. My default is to treat other people civilly and assume other people will act similarly towards me. When someone else is being a creeper, it's difficult to disengage with my civility so I keep acting civilly to uncivil people.

Try to be kind to yourself today. You didn't do anything wrong. Your reaction to the events sounds normal. Even people without PTSD would feel very upset about what just happened. Go easy on yourself.
posted by parakeetdog at 10:11 AM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Men like this are predators. When you are dealing with a predator, you can do everything "right" and still get crapped on. It's what they do.

Having said that, there are still areas you can work on that can skew the odds in the favor of not getting crapped on, or at least less so. I find that a good mental model is thinking of it as similar to a bear encounter: If you go towards the bear, you provoke it. If you run away, you incite its chase instinct. It's a hard problem to solve because the most obvious responses just make things worse. But there are responses that can reduce the odds of being mauled by a bear, such as backing away slowly without turning your back.

Asking questions.

My name. My age. If I smoked pot (did I have any pot). If I was single. I answered his questions

When men do this to me, I try really, really hard to respond but not give them the info they want. I try to respond in a way that seems conversational and not openly bitchy or rejecting, but doesn't play into their hands. I try to respond in a way they do not expect. I try to avoid the "obvious answers" of "yes" or "no." Saying "Yes, I am single" reads to them as "Yes, I am available." Or "No, I am not single" -- well, that doesn't necessarily deter them. I try to answer in a way that might be described as tangential. I try to make the answers somewhat orthogonal to the framing the man is giving me. It is my way of backing away slowly rather than moving towards the bear or running away.

I would have tried to avoid giving him my name without outright saying "Nope, not telling you." Maybe pretended to not hear or stared like I didn't quite understand. My age? "Old enough to be your mother" or "How old do you think I look?" or some other conversational non-answer. I would have truthfully answered about the pot: "No, I don't smoke pot. In fact, I am allergic to the stuff. Second hand smoke makes me break out in hives. So, nope, I don't have any. Sorry." When he got to "are you single?" I would have said something like "I am not in need of a boyfriend" or "I am unavailable." The fact that I am currently single is not actually relevant info. He is asking that to determine if I am available and the answer to that is no, I am not available (at least not to YOUR SORRY ASS, thanks).

So a question like "are you single" is really digging for info in an attempt to frame you as available. So answer it in a manner that frames you as unavailable without feeling some need to get into your personal details.

Women often are polite in hopes of not provoking such men. Which is a decent assumption, up to a point, but completely wrong in certain circumstances. When a man is clearly behaving in a predatory fashion such that you can either be victimized or be "rude" to him, it is better to be "rude" to him sooner rather than later. Because no good will come of interacting with him, so making it confrontational sooner will keep the stakes smaller. You might get called a "Bitch" to your face, but if you don't reply to that and let him get his small satisfaction from the verbal assault, the odds go up that it won't escalate further.

It also helps to watch your body language. Limit eye contact without looking away such that you can't keep track of him. Try to not smile. Try to not laugh, if possible. Try to have either neutral or closed body language instead of open body language -- in other words, do things like cross your arms or stand with them by your side. Do not use gestures that imply "open arms"/hugs welcome.

Regardless of how you handled it and whether or not you could have handled it more effectively:

1) You are entitled to feel bad about this. It is shitty behavior. It is normal and natural to have negative feelings about such experiences. Do not beat yourself up about that.
2) It is HIS FAULT. He is a predator. If it hadn't been you, it would have been someone else.

Congratulate yourself for the things you got right and that it didn't go worse. TAKE CREDIT for that part of it. Deal with your feelings -- journal or talk it out with someone or just try to analyze what it is bringing up from your past and so on. That can have value.
posted by Michele in California at 2:21 PM on February 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

Handling being hit on 101

I will add that you were not 'being hit on.' Being groped by a drunken stranger is not the same as someone asking you for a date. These two things are not alike.
posted by Michele in California at 2:26 PM on February 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

If this had happened to me I would be beside myself because of how much worse it could have been. It would feel like a narrow escape. The grope is bad enough - that is assault - but its context makes it feel like it could easily have been prelude to something truly terrible.

Baby yourself. This was horribly scary. And you did as well as anyone could have.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:00 PM on February 22, 2015

I am sorry you were treated this way. Drunk or not, the guy is a dink .. the kind of dink that real men regard as less than human.

I think you did OK. The end result was getting that door between him and you. Is your neighbor at all approachable? If so, maybe talk to him about the incident, let him know what an asshole the guy was ...
posted by dwbrant at 6:19 AM on February 23, 2015

If someone touched me like that, I would freak the fuck out. I don't consider that a small incident at all. Nobody touches my body without my explicit permission. In fact, people don't even get to talk to me without my permission and I that goes for randos on the street who want to know my name or just "ask a quick question." I didn't give them permission to talk to me, you know?

I just want to add or reinforce here that your safety and well-being are the most important.

Important enough to break many small rules we have in society if you're feeling threatened. See someone standing at your door you don't know? Walk around the block again in hopes he'll have moved on. If he's still there, go to your car, or a store, or a different entrance. Worried about properly disposing of the bag of dog poop? Nope, it's not important - just put it down and walk away. Same goes for anything else you have in your hands that is a distraction. Worried about being polite to a random person who is talking to you? Nope, do not engage at all and get away.

Creeps like this depend on the fact that other people, particularly women people, will be much nicer and rule-following and perhaps confused in situations like this than they are. We have to be prepared to not follow the rules they think will hamper us.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:28 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the tips and support... It helps to know that it isn't "hitting on" and reassurance that I am not a freak for not finding it flattering. I have been trying to be gentle with myself but it is spinning me still in PTSD territory and I am angry that someone can take away my feelings of safety in my own place so easily.

I didn't walk my dog last night but it is hard since it is winter and dark so early. I am anxious about being in my place alone at night but I imagine that will settle in a few days hopefully. I live in a tiny redneck town and now in the rough area so I don't think I will be able to find a queer friendly defense course but I will look into something just for the confidence level.

Thanks for bearing with my questions about what is appropriate and healthy when it comes to boundaries and my body and emotional reactions to things. A screwed up family upbringing and abuse have me having to learn a lot and I constantly doubt if my reactions to things are healthy.
posted by kanata at 11:16 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

The human body produces a LOT of weird endorphins and chemicals when placed in this type of flight or fight situation. Freezing is REALLY common as a response to a predator (because it worked for some of our ancestors) I honestly think you did better than a lot of people would have. I fully agree that this was assault, the guy was a huge creep, and you did a good job in trusting your instincts.

Abusive families DON'T prepare you for the real world, or how to be healthy. They want you to be dependent on them so they can continue the abuse, sadly. We are all proud of you for being out on your own. Basically, nobody has the right to touch you unless you want them to.

If there is a college or university near you, they likely have martial arts and or self defense classes. Each gym or workout place will have a different vibe- many are accepting while many are not. But if you find a gym you like, ask around for a trainer who will work with you on a martial art. I'm a decently large, decently muscled guy used to (friendly) fights... and I still carry mace
posted by Jacen at 2:43 PM on February 23, 2015

I have been thinking about your follow-up remarks. I think you freeze-up when faced with someone like this because abused people are often given the message that defending themselves is Bad Behavior and are often punished for trying to defend themselves. It is also part of why you feel so very very bad about the whole thing: It just brings up this horrible stuff where you don't want to go through this and can't stop it. That's why it is triggering your PTSD.

First, defending yourself is NOT bad behavior. The people putting you in a position where you need to defend yourself are the ones engaging in bad behavior. Adopt this mantra: Defending myself is NOT bad behavior. Repeat until your subconscious believes it. (This may take weeks or months or even years. Just keep at it.)

Second, take some precautions to increase your actual physical security. That is not paranoid or neurotic. You feel paranoid because you feel that defending yourself is not reasonable behavior. It is completely reasonable behavior. A couple of minor things that might help: Put a chair in front of the door at night and keep a radio or TV on to talk programs in the evening. People hearing voices in your apartment won't immediately know that it is the radio or TV and it will cast doubt on whether or not you are alone. There is safety in numbers and there is also some safety in the appearance of numbers. Those are small, practical steps you can take to improve your actual security and improving your actual security will help you feel better faster than anything else will.

Last, I have seen articles that indicate that using "creative visualization" to practice things in the absence of actual practice has been shown to improve actual performance. So remember how this started and think through other ways you might have responded. As a therapeutic exercise, let yourself go through the responses you would like to give but that would actually not be effective -- such as telling him to his face that he is an asshole. Then try to practice responses effective responses like "Why do you want to know?" and "I am not obligated to answer that." and "That's none of your business." instead of answering his questions.

Just as abusive people try to train their victims to be cooperative -- to be an easy mark -- predators try to size up just how cooperative you will be. The primary point of not giving a man the answers he wants -- your name, your age, your relationship status -- is to signal that you are NOT cooperative. You should be uncooperative every step of the way when dealing with a predator. You want them to know you are NOT an easy mark. You want to signal as politely as possible that you will be a pain in the ass to deal with every single step of the way. Most predatory men will give up and move on once you make this clear. It will be a distasteful experience to face, but it puts you in much, much less actual danger than politely cooperating with their attempts to extract information from you.
posted by Michele in California at 10:58 AM on February 24, 2015

I think you should give your past self some credit for that reflex to try and "make nice" and treat this guy like his questions were reasonable. Both physically deterring the stranger and verbally deterring the stranger require you to avoid a lot of strategies that usually make you safer, which is why it's hard not to be honest and friendly (I've reflexively told strangers my real name too). Being nice is something we do all the time, at school and work and with our friends and family, and a lot of the time it's a really effective way to stop people from hurting us and share control over the situation.

One time I had a scary neighbor who came into my house accusing us of having stolen a piece of lawn equipment he left in his yard. My roommate made nice with him, acted like it was normal for him to barge into a stranger's house and demand to search the building, and commiserated with him about how his thing had been stolen; that took much more bravery than what I did, which was wedge a chair under my door and sit around holding a baseball bat (cowardly, but not disproportionate to the level of anger the scary neighbor was displaying before my roommate talked him down). Guys like the guy you encountered won't act angry when they approach you, but talking them down can still be a way of keeping control of the situation -- the situation with the scary neighbor stayed horrifying-yet-manageable because my baseball bat stayed out of sight. Usually even creeps like it better when they feel like everybody's following the script of a civil encounter. Abandoning the script can make the situation unpredictable and reveal the natural badness of people who stand around looking for people to hurt; deflecting strategies like people have shared upthread (e.g. giving non sequiturs as answers) can allow you to leverage the civil-encounter script without abandoning it.

I'd imagine the majority of interactions with creepy/evil people are ones where the person-being-creeped-upon feels like they gave too much ground and didn't do enough to put him off/did "all the wrong things," because that's the zone that creeps are by definition trying to put you in -- they want you to be thinking, "well I wasn't tough enough to take responsibility for the unknown quantity of what he would do if I told him to fuck off and kicked him in the kneecap, so it makes sense that that happened," when they're the one doing things that don't make sense. It can be a soul-crushing feeling and it's absolutely his fault, not yours. Please take care, OP.
posted by Stukos at 4:06 PM on February 24, 2015

I ended up reporting this to my apartment managers casually when they asked if everything was good there. They flipped and said it was the final straw against the upstairs guy as he had been warned and talked to about drunk friends and parties and he got evicted. Thanks to people here for giving me the courage to speak up. My next door neighbor who is the only other one I really know in the building said it was good as she had been reporting him for drunken behavior too and knew he was on his final legs.

My apartment managers also put in better lighting so that I don't get surprised on my stairs in the dark and apologized that they hadn't thought of that cause they didn't think of me needing to walk my dog at weird hours where I would be struggling with leashes and keys in the dark.

Thanks truly for validating my experience and for the tips. It kind of felt really good to report someone hurting me for once and have action taken.
posted by kanata at 11:27 PM on March 11, 2015 [8 favorites]

What a great outcome! Good for you for taking action. Your apartment managers really seem to want to do the right thing, which is great!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:20 AM on March 12, 2015

« Older Help my SF itinerary   |   Bluetooth headset with replaceable batteries? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.