How To Handle Molestation: A Personal Encounter

Girl apprehensive

(Image: Vadim Pacev)

Have you ever been molested before? I have, and today’s article is about how to handle molestations.

My Molestation Encounter

Last week (Jan 2012), I was on Amtrak (the railway network in the US), going from New York City to Los Angeles. It was a three-day train ride (Jan 5-8), with a transit in Chicago.

Not all the passengers were going from NYC to LA. There were multiple stopovers, where passengers would depart, and new passengers who would get onboard. This meant I was sitting with different people throughout the ride. I was in the coach cabin, with an aisle and two seats on each aisle.

On the first night, there was someone seated beside me, so I slept on my seat. While the seat itself was fairly spacious, could recline a fair bit and came with plenty of legroom, it was not as comfortable as sleeping on an actual bed. I made the best out of the space given, curling up in my seat, while the person beside me did the same too.

On the second night, after transiting in Chicago, it turned out there was no one seated beside me for the night. So I occupied both seats and used them as a bed. It was as comfortable as it could get without a bed, so all was good.

On the third night, the seat beside me got taken up again. I thought “Oh well, bummer” and simply prepared myself for another night of less-comfortable sleep.

It would turn out that was the least of my problems, for the person seating beside me turned out to be a disgusting creep who wanted to molest me.

Having My Rights Violated

It first started off benign, where he extended beyond the boundary of his seat, taking up a part of my seat. The cabin seats were separate with a small divider between each seat, so it was quite obvious when the spatial boundary was crossed.

Thinking he was asleep and it was a careless mistake, I squeezed towards the other end of my seat, so there would be a comfortable distance between me and him.

Following my movement, the guy adjusted himself and went back within the spatial boundary of his seat. He even asked me if he had laid on my jacket (he did — his hand had rested on my jacket when he crossed the boundary of his seat), of which I said no, out of courtesy. However, he knew otherwise, because he apologized for it anyway and told me to tell him if it happened again. Everything was good.

But after a few minutes, the same thing happened again. He crossed the line separating his and my seats, and occupied a part of my seat again.

I thought perhaps he needed more space, but it didn’t make sense because he was of normal build (he was not huge nor obese), and the seat definitely provided him with more than enough space, as it did for me.

I felt stifled, but didn’t do/say anything because everyone else was sleeping in the cabin, and I didn’t want to wake anyone up (it was dead quiet).

In reaction to this, I squeezed into the other end of my seat again, so I could keep him at a safe distance.

It was peaceful for 10-15 minutes. The guy laid still the whole time, so I thought he was asleep. “Perhaps it was just an honest mistake on his part”, I thought. I tried to fall asleep.

But all of a sudden, I felt something touching my right thigh — repeatedly. Looking down, imagine my bewilderment when I saw the guy stroking my thigh with his hand — *through* the two thick coats separating us! He was using his coat as his blanket, and I was using my coat as my blanket. I couldn’t see his hand since it was under his coat, but it was obvious that (a) it was a deliberate action (b) it was his hand.

I was shocked. The situation was so audacious that I thought it must have been an honest mistake. Here was a guy in his early 20s, who seemed well groomed and well mannered, and in no way looked like a malicious individual, trying to have his way with me. I thought to myself: “Are you kidding me? What made him think he could do this and get away with it?”

Note that we were complete strangers to each other, and had not spoken at all prior to this, save for 1-2 word exchanges (“Sure; Thank you; You’re welcome”) where I helped plug in his charger into power socket beside my seat. He boarded the train at about 9pm, just an hour before night time. I was not, in any way, interested in him, and had definitely not done anything which would remotely suggest that.

Not knowing what to do, I laid still to see what was going to happen next. The guy continued stroking my thigh for about 30-45 seconds, after which -hear this- he started to lift *MY* coat, to reach out for my thigh!! (Thank god I was wearing pants!)

At this point, it was *clearly* a deliberate act. In my mind, I thought, What the f***?” Not wanting to create a commotion but not intending for the offending act to continue, I quickly moved my legs away from his offensive hand.

The guy didn’t relent, however. He persisted with his touching with each shift I made. Each time, he would stroke my thigh for a short while, before trying to lift up my coat with his fingers. This happened at least five times, before I finally thought enough was enough. I wasn’t about to spend the night beside this sex pervert — god knows what he would do to me while I was asleep.

So at 1am (two hours after it first started, at about 11pm), I moved myself to the train lounge, where I slept there — safely — for the night.

Understanding My Resistances

Girl alone

(Image: Vadim Pacev)

Throughout the encounter, it did not cross my mind to report him to the train attendant. When I questioned myself why, the following answers came up:

  • Because I didn’t want to embarrass him for committing such an offensive act.
  • Because I felt bad for him (for stooping to such a lowly action) and I didn’t want to make his life worse than it already was. If he was charged with an offence, it may ruin his life.
  • Because if I called him out on it, it would attract attention to both of us and create a commotion around us, which I didn’t want to be a part of.
  • Because I didn’t want to disturb the other people in the cabin, who were sleeping or trying to sleep.
  • Because I felt there was no hard evidence I had against him, other than what I felt/saw, which he could easily disclaim.
  • Because maybe I was imagining the whole thing and he wasn’t trying to take advantage of me. (Definitely not true.)
  • Because I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to believe he was a decent human being with no ill-intentions.

How many of you guys and girls, who have been molested before, can relate to the above? How many of you have been sexually violated before, and never spoke up for yourself because of one reason or another?

This wouldn’t be the first time this happened to me too. There have been other times in the past when I was molested, but did not call out on the offender because of the exact same reasons. For example, when I was in university, and some guy molested me by brushing really hard against my hips — and running away after that (I didn’t even get to see his face). When I was on the subway this one time, and this guy tried to touch my breasts while pretending he needed more space. When I was jogging in the park one night a year ago, and this kid molested me by grabbing my butt from behind — twice, and ran away with his friends after that.

Molestation in Our Society Today

Sexual abuse, also referred to as molestation, is the forcing of undesired sexual behavior by one person upon another. When that force is immediate, of short duration, or infrequent, it is called sexual assault. The term […] covers any behavior by any adult towards a child to stimulate either the adult or child sexually” (Wikipedia)

While my encounter was disturbing, I’m sure many girls (and even guys) today have been molested at least once in their life — with far worse encounters than mine.

Do you know that one out of every three women worldwide is physically, sexually or otherwise abused during her lifetime with rates reaching 70 percent in some countries? (Source: Women Thrive) While females tend to be the gender more prone to sexual abuse, I’m sure there are victims among males too, especially kids.

And the thing that’s sadder than this? That like mine, many of these abuse cases don’t get reported. In fact, the offenders usually get away scot-free, because the victims feel too traumatized to pursue the perpetrator. They opt for the quiet route, where they hide the offence and suffer in silence.

There are many types of molestation. From Wikipedia’s page on molestation, below is a list of actions considered sexual abuse (not limited to this):

  • Non-consensual, forced physical sexual behavior (rape and sexual assault)
  • Unwanted touching, either of a child or an adult
  • Sexual kissing, fondling, exposure of genitalia, and voyeurism, exhibitionism and up to sexual assault
  • Exposing a child to pornography
  • Saying sexually suggestive statements towards a child (child molestation)
  • Also applies to non-consensual verbal sexual demands towards an adult
  • The use of a position of trust to compel otherwise unwanted sexual activity without physical force (or can lead to attempted rape or sexual assault)
  • Incest (see also sexual deviancy)
  • Certain forms of sexual harassment

Has any of the above happened to you before?

How To Handle Molestation: Helping You Help Yourself and Others

Girl with an apprehensive smile

(Image: Vadim Pacev)

After the episode, I thought that what I experienced got to be something many girls (and guys) face every day. Being molested or even abused, but not knowing what to do about it.

Molesting and sexual abuse is not unlike bullying. It’s worse in some ways because sexual violation can cause deeper trauma than we may realize. I decided to write this article to help us stand up against these perpetrators, as it is clearly an unacceptable phenomenon.

I now present to you this guide to help you deal with sexual offenders. You will find the resurfacing of some tips from How To Handle Bullying Guide. That’s because molestation is a form of bullying. It’s an abuse of rights, thereby inflicting harm on others. God knows how many girls/guys suffer in silence today about such violations.

It’s time to call out such perpetrators and put a stop to this. Let us commit to each other to follow the steps in this guide the next time we become prey to these offenders. Let us promise to call out these people if we ever witness such violations committed to others.

If you are a parent, please show this to your daughters. If you are a sibling to sisters, please share this with your sisters. If you are a husband or boy/girlfriend, please share this with your wife/girlfriend. If you have female friends, please pass this link on to them. Even if you have sons/brothers/boyfriends/guy friends, please share this with them too, because hey — guys can be victims to sexual perpetrators too.

1. Know your rights

Many sexually abused victims keep quiet because (1) they see the event as shameful, even though they are the victim, (2) they feel they have nothing (no evidence) against the offender (3) they don’t want to cause trouble (for others), (4) they don’t want to ruin the offender’s life, and (5) they feel it’s somehow their fault that this happened.

Unfortunately, this is what the offender preys on — your kindness, your fear, your insecurity, your self-doubt. And that’s why they dare to commit these sexual demeanors, because they know with people like you, they can get away with them.

If you share similar perceptions as I did, here’s a wake up call:

  1. Shameful act. There is nothing shameful about being the victim to such offences. The people who should be ashamed are these offenders. They are the ones inflicting pain on others. You are merely someone who happened to be caught in the crossfire.
  2. Lack of evidence. It can be hard to find evidence in molestation cases, because it’s about one person’s testimony over another’s. Rather than wait till you have concrete evidence (which may be never), report it already. You don’t have to wait for evidence to report a crime. The fact that you feel uncomfortable means there is already an issue. No one should make you feel uncomfortable under any circumstance.
  3. Not wanting to cause trouble. You’re not causing any trouble for others. Think about this way: Say you’re in the public, and someone calls you for help to handle a molester. Will you think he/she is causing you trouble? Will you ask him/her to go away because he/she is being disruptive to public order? I didn’t think so either. Likewise, you aren’t causing trouble to others as well. You’re helping the public by calling out sex offenders.
  4. Not wanting to ruin the person’s life. Sorry to say, but the offender should have thought of this before he/she did whatever he/she did. So yes in that his/her future is probably tarnished on some level, but he/she should have seen it coming when he/she made the decision to harass you — despite knowing it is against the law. It’s now your turn to make your decision and protect yourself and the society (see next point) from such people.
  5. Thinking it’s your fault. How is it your fault if someone wants to sexually violate you? That’s crazy talk. It is not your fault. It is the result of the workings of a sexually twisted individual. Stop blaming yourself for that which has nothing to do with you.

2. Recognize your responsibility to future (potential) victims

Beyond standing up for yourself, recognize YOU have a responsibility to others to call out this offender on his/her offence and put him in his/her place.

While you may be molested by this person as an one-off encounter, the problem extends beyond that. Molestation isn’t just between you and the molester. It’s between the offender and the society at large. You have an obligation to the society to put him/her in place, as part of keeping the world a safer place for others.

By letting the perpetrator go scot-free, there may well be many more victims after you. Many sex offenders start off with a small, petty offence. The molester will think that it’s okay for him/her to do this, that he/she can get away with whatever he/she is doing, and molest more people after you. Not only that, he/she may become bolder the next time with his/her actions — well leading to sexual harassment, sexual assault, or perhaps even rape.

Don’t make yourself responsible for the cultivation of a serial sexual predator in the society. Report him/her right away.

3. Take immediate action

If you feel you’re being molested, take action right away. Don’t wait until the person does something else, because that might be one step too late. Contact the authorities (#4), ask someone for help (#5), relocate yourself (#6), use your self-defense weapons (#7).

4. Seek the help of an authority

Call the police department

(Image: Joe Lares)

Who are the immediate authorities you can contact? Seek their help. If you’re on the train, call the train attendants. If you’re on the flight, call for the air steward/stewardess. If you’re on the bus, get the bus driver. If you’re in school, inform the teachers, principal and counselors. All other places — call the police. Always have the contact of the local police department saved in your phone.

When contacting the authority, let him/her know that the person molested / tried to molest you. Detail the situation clearly, from start to end. Do not let the molester intimidate you; Do not let him/her speak over you too. Remember, this is your right (see #1).

5. Seek the help of someone near you

Traveling has helped me discover a lot of good samaritans in our world today. While some people may be caught up in themselves, and some people may well refuse to step in even when you need their help, there are people who will gladly render assistance when you need it.

Seek the help of someone near you. Say: “Excuse me, can you help me please? I’m being sexually harassed by someone.” Most people will intervene at this point and help you out. If the person doesn’t want to help for whatever reason, don’t panic. Approach someone else till you find one.

How the person can help depends on the situation itself, but it can range from contacting the authorities on your behalf, intercepting the molester in his/her actions, keeping the molester in his/her place until the authorities arrive, etc.

6. Relocate yourself

Right when you feel something is amiss, protect yourself right away by relocating yourself and keeping a safe distance between you and the person.

In my situation, I relocated to the lounge, so the molester could not reach me. Not the best solution because I paid for my train ticket and should not have to move in the first place, but it was better than staying there and risking being touched. In retrospect I should have called out the offender as part of my responsibility to others (see #2), but it’s now over, so it’ll have to be something I’ll do the next time (should there be a next time).

Staying put is equivalent to telling the offender that (1) you are okay with what he/she is doing, and that he/she should continue his/her action OR (2) he/she can continue what he/she is doing, since you are not resisting. Either way, it results in continuation of the offensive act. This is definitely NOT what you want.

If you are on the bus/train/plane, go for the aisle seat, which allows you to get away immediately in times of need. Going for the window seat means you get locked in. Believe it or not, I was actually in the window seat during the molestation encounter. It may well have been a coincidence (i.e. I’m not sure if the offender tried to touch me because I was at the window seat — I do not think so), but the fact was it would have been easier for me to escape if I was sitting in the aisle seat).

7. Use self-defense weapons

As per Tip #9 of How To Handle Bullying, I recommend getting self-defense weapons, only because we are dealing with people of extreme low consciousness who have no concept of personal space and individual rights. Use it in cases where you feel you’re in danger.

A standard will be to arm yourself with a machine gun pepper spray. Spraying it in the person’s face will disarm him/her immediately and give you an opening to escape. From Wikipedia:

Pepper spray is an inflammatory agent. It causes immediate closing of the eyes, difficulty breathing, runny nose, and coughing. The duration of its effects depends on the strength of the spray but the average full effect lasts around thirty to forty-five minutes, with diminished effects lasting for hours.

Here’s how pepper sprays look:

Pepper sprays

(Pepper sprays from Amazon: 3-in-1 Pepper Spray and Police Strength Pepper Spray)

You can get them pretty cheaply at Amazon (within certain states in US*):

  1. Compact Pepper Spray with Key Ring ($7.25 USD) – 25 shots, can be used as key chain
  2. Jogger Pepper Spray with Hand Strap ($8.50 USD) – 35 shots, can be strapped on hand for walking/jogging

*Just in case some readers are not aware, pepper sprays are illegal in DC, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York or Wisconsin. It’s also stated on the Amazon page that it cannot be shipped to those places.

8. Take preventive actions

Prevention is always better than cure. Here are some tips to follow to prevent being caught in such situations:

  • Watch your dressing. It’s okay to dress up if you want, but always have a jacket to cover yourself up. If you’re commuting across quiet, dangerous places, tone down your dressing. Show less skin and go for dull, darker colors. There’s no need to attract attention to yourself.
  • Avoid quiet, danger-prone areas. Whether you are going out or going jogging, avoid dark areas, quiet parks,  dark alleys, short cuts that no one takes, etc. — regardless of how safe you think it may be. You never know if there is anyone laying in ambush there.
  • Get home before it’s too late. What’s “too late” is dependent on the neighborhood you live. You should get back before the roads and walkways quieten down for the day. Otherwise, have someone escort you home.
  • Travel in the company of others. If you’re traveling, it’s best to do so with others, ideally groups.
  • Let others know of your whereabouts. If traveling with others is not an option (like in my case), then always let someone know your whereabouts. Make new friends/acquaintances in the region, and keep them updated on where you are going / where you will be. This way, they can watch out for you.

If you ever encounter a molester or someone who tries to sexually abuse you, please DO NOT suffer in silence. Please apply the tips above, especially tip #4 on seeking the help of authorities. You are NOT alone in this and you should not feel like you’re the cause of the offence, when you are clearly the victim of an insufferable crime. If you feel you’re ever in a fix, reach out to a friend, family member, or local helpline. Let someone know what you’re going through and seek help; there are people who will be ready to help and who want to help.