“We HAVE TO stop blaming victims”

I’m not sure that I feel 100% comfortable sharing this experience on the internet, but the more I have thought about it the more I think it is important for someone else to hear. Recently, I spent the day in San Francisco with my mom. We discussed our outfit choice before we came (because, girls), and decided to wear dresses because we wanted to look a little polished for the evening when we went to see Hamilton. I put on a green, lacy dress that hit about mid-thigh, and we headed out for a day on the town.

As we were headed out of the mall in Union Square, I felt a man very close behind me right as we were walking through the doors. Instinctively, I grabbed for my purse to swing it to the front of my body, thinking he was maybe trying to pick-pocket me. I felt very uncomfortable with him being so close, but was thinking “hey, it’s the city, maybe he’s just in a rush” and certainly did not feel comfortable enough to tell him to back away. At this time, my mom turned around to look at him because this guy was really close to me and sees him pull his camera phone out from underneath my dress. This all happened in about 2 seconds time. She tells me what happened, absolutely dumbfounded, and then went on to tell him what she thought about him. I will spare you her words for the sake of common decency. Let’s just say she really loves me and is not afraid to speak her mind! 😉

After the violation, I did not know what to think. Fear was definitely flowing through me (notice even after I knew what he had done I had no confidence to go and speak to him). I was quite happy that I always wear shorts under my dresses (hello, wind) because I knew that man did not get what he came looking for. I was also quite happy my thighs rub together as I walk! Who’da thought that would have ever been a body feature I was thankful for! Lol.

Joking aside, as I have continued to think about it for the past day, feelings of shame have washed over me. That’s right – I feel ashamed that a man purposely stuck his phone under my dress without my consent or knowledge and photographed me. This is a situation I was helpless to prevent. I did nothing to provoke it. And I feel guilty that my body was used by this man as an object of lust. Notice earlier I described my dress to you because of the feeling of needing to justify that what I had on was appropriate, that I wasn’t out there “asking for it.” NO ONE asks to be sexually violated, yet I still feel ashamed because we live in a culture that promotes victim-blaming. “Yeah, I get what you’re saying Mandy, but are you sure your dress wasn’t a little too short?” Yes. Yes I am sure. My dress was not too short as to warrant a man to stick a camera under it to try and achieve whatever perverted upskirt photo he had in mind.

This is an issue in our culture. The fact that I, a Christian woman that seeks to honor Christ in all that she does, does not feel comfortable to speak out about her experience of sexual harassment for fear of being blamed by her fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We HAVE TO stop blaming victims, accepting the voyeuristic and lustful behavior of men and placing the responsibility of controlling that behavior on women’s clothing choices. I do believe modesty is a beautiful thing to practice (and ya’ know what? I think I DO dress modestly!), but I certainly do not think it is the God-ordained solution to sexual sin. We have to promote a culture of safety for our women – not just safety from the threat of lustful eyes, but also safety to speak out when something unsettling happens.

I have no idea how many times this has happened to me before. I would have NEVER known had my mom not turned back at the exact moment he pulled back his camera. This thought makes me feel 1. disgusted and 2. terrified. I know I don’t feel comfortable wearing dresses to the city anymore. I know I will turn sideways on escalators and be a little more vocal when I feel my personal space is being invaded by a stranger. If you take away anything from this, I hope it is that we live in a culture that is often difficult to navigate for women. A culture that tells us to be beautiful, but make sure you are not too beautiful. Be sexy, but cover up. Speak up, but don’t talk about your harassment.

I know many women have had experiences much worse than this, but I wanted to shed some light on what it feels like to be turned into a sexual object even as you are striving after Christ. It feels dirty, it feels gross, it feels unsavory. Ladies, do not be silenced by the fear of judgement. If we do not speak up, the problem will not stop. And for those who have not experienced sexual harassment, please don’t judge your fellow women and call them overdramatic feminists. It is truly a feeling you cannot fully grasp until it has happened to you. Listen empathetically and carry the torch with us. Men, watch out for your sisters in Christ. Listen to their stories, believe them when they say they were violated, and strive for their purity as much as they are striving for it themselves. In all things, let us honor Christ together, standing up for the victim and the underdog as Christ would himself.