the creeps

26 November 2007

We arrived late for our movie, and the lights already were down. We were new at going by ourselves and didn’t know the etiquette. Afraid of disturbing others, we slunk into back-row seats at our local movie house.

Once our eyes adjusted, we noticed a man one row in front of us. He wore a beige Members Only jacket and had dark, shiny hair, possibly combed over. He might have been in his forties.

We probably wouldn’t have been aware of him, except that he turned around and started whispering to us. I don’t remember what he said, except that it was vaguely sexual.

He gave us the creeps.

We didn’t know what to do. Nobody ever warned us about inappropriate attention from grown men, or what to do about it. We weren’t assertive. We were 12.

We decided to leave, and went to the worn red lobby to ponder what to do. Our parents were unreachable. We didn’t think it made sense to tell the popcorn seller, and didn’t know what to say anyway.

So we sat, expecting to wait out the whole movie in the lobby. A few minutes later — probably just long enough for him to decide that we’d be back already if we’d just headed to the bathroom — the guy walked out and gave us an easy farewell. We went back in and watched the show, and met my parents out front afterwards.

Once I saw rage sparkle in my dad’s eyes I understood that our actions were understated and wrongheaded. My dad’s actions — driving us around town trying to find the guy — were overstated and wrongheaded. I still didn’t know the proper response.

That wasn’t the last sexual assault my friend and I experienced. A couple of years later, she survived a rape attempt. A coworker attacked her at her school bus stop, slashing her throat with a box knife as she fought him off. In high school, I sat frozen in a passenger seat as a college lifeguard I’d recently met pulled off the road on the way back from our first (and only) date and maneuvered to lie on top of me.

Not until college did anyone offer tips for dealing with predatory behavior, and then it was only to advise repeatedly what I came to call the “don’t-rape-me walk”: hold your head high and look passing pedestrians in the eye.

As the parent of a daughter, I’m responsible for preparing her for the possibility of violence, including sexual assault. It’s not easy to think about, but avoiding it puts her in greater danger.

Gavin De Becker’s book Protecting the Gift addresses what dangers our children might encounter, dispelling worry in favor of preparedness.

Though De Becker advises that one of the most powerful words a girl can learn is “No,” I would have been prepared to deal appropriately with that guy in the theatre (and the creeps who came after) if I could have said “yes” more than once in response to his Test of Twelve, a tool that helps evaluate a child’s readiness to be out alone. I want my daughter to be able to say no to the creeps, and yes to every question on that test.

2 Responses to “the creeps”

  1. 1 Carrie
    November 27th, 2007 at 8:43 am

    This one is next up on my parenting list. I’m a little scared to read it though.

  2. 2 Rachel
    February 15th, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    I was scared to read it too, but after being #16 in the list of holds at the library, when it finally got to be my turn I figured I better just do it. Plus, I only had the book for 2 weeks so I couldn’t procrastinate on it any more.

    Yes, there are a few disturbing stories in the book. They still play in my mind now and then. But knowing what red flags to keep an eye out for, what questions to ask schools/sitters, etc., and mostly just knowing that my intuition is usually right so I don’t need to weigh it against the facts – these aspects of the book have overall helped me feel more at ease about raising kids in our society. Despite a few disturbing stories, I feel more empowered and relaxed. If that doesn’t make much sense, read the book and you’ll see what I mean.

    Thanks, Jenni, for bringing this up and for the recommendation!