Last week, a man decided it was okay to grab my butt in public. In broad daylight. In front of my five-year-old twin boys. We were standing on a street in Toronto, waiting for the light to change, when I felt a very intimate—very intentional—caress.
I was stunned. I looked down at my kids, fresh from the playground, their faces slightly sticky from jumbo Freezies. My hands were weighed down with their coats and backpacks full of drawings and half-uneaten lunches. My single, blinding thought was, “This stranger can’t do this to us.”
I began to chase him, with my kids clinging to me. I yelled at him to stop, dropped the “F” bomb several times, called him nasty names and generally used language I’d reprimand my children for.
Perhaps the worst part was that this person, with his big dark glasses, didn’t acknowledge me at all. He took something he wanted and never once looked at me as a person. He didn’t even break his stride as I chased him.
When I caught up, I hit him with my kids’ backpacks as hard as I could, and shouted: “Why did you think you could touch me?”
I noticed two women standing on the street, staring at me, choosing not to get involved or help. Their indifference made me feel like I was an unhinged person causing a public scene for no good reason.
So, I took my children home.
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My five-year-old looked up at me with wide brown eyes: “That was scary, mommy.” I told him, ‘That man did something very bad and touched me.” The other piped up: “Yeah, he even crossed the street when he wasn’t supposed to. Very bad man!”
I posted on social media, looking for an outlet for my outrage and a way to gauge my reaction. Had I put my children at risk by chasing this man? Why didn’t I get any solidarity from the two women who witnessed the entire thing?
I received overwhelming support from both men and women for standing up to my assaulter. A few comments stood out and made me teary with gratitude: “This story is imprinted in my memory, next time someone asks how to raise a feminist son…” and “I want men like that to fear being chased, yelled at and pummeled.” Women I knew and loved reached out to share similar experiences of times when they were touched in public and couldn’t react. They told me they were proud of me, and felt like I was standing up for all women.
The incident forced me to confront some of my own assumptions: Sexual assault doesn’t just happen late at night to women on their way back from a bar. It also happens during the day to harried working moms out with their children.
I’ve told my kids to show compassion to a fellow kindergartener who lashed out at them, and not to be violent. But a middle-aged predator shouldn’t be given the same respect. Maybe in parenting it’s okay to teach your kids to confront darkness with equal ferocity.
When the police came to take my statement, one of my sons climbed into my lap and demanded that the officer catch him and put him in jail for a million weeks. Even at five he wants to make sure I’m protected.
At bedtime, with my boys snuggled next to me in their pajamas, I asked what they thought when they saw that person touch me. They replied with confident little voices that he was just a bad guy.
I plan on future conversations with my sons about consent, and how as boys they can be both allies and feminists, and I’ll draw on this story of assault as an example. But for now, this can simply be a tale of good versus bad, and they can be comforted by the fact that their mommy stood up and said, “No!”