I wish I could remember that day as the day my family and I had a great lunch at a rooftop restaurant. I wish I could remember it as the day it was before I went to the bathroom to change into my practice clothes. The walls of the stall were this reddish color and the ceiling especially low with a small, hollow, rectangular shaped hole, similar to that of a wall air vent. As I began to undress, I couldn’t help but think of the great day I was having, the beautiful sunset I’d watched, the smiles I’d seen on my grandparents’ faces, it was a good day. In a moment, however, that satisfaction dissipated. Amidst changing, my head bent back and I found myself looking up at the ceiling. I was pulled back to reality. I couldn’t fathom what I’d just seen. Eyes. Man. My heart skipped a beat and I felt disconnected from my body. Looking up into what was once a hollow wall air vent, I saw a man watching me undress.
All that was visible were his eyes which were a brownish black shade, desperate, and a pair I can never forget. He stared me down, viewing my body as an object waiting to be seen and felt, an item made for his pleasure. I felt violated, unsafe and scared beyond words. Trying to comprehend what was happening, I managed to look into his eyes and gather up the courage to yell “What are you doing?!” Hearing my voice, his eyes quickly disappeared and I froze in complete shock that my voice hadn't cracked, that it hadn’t displayed my true weakness and fear. I don’t even remember what I put on before I ran out in utter fear. I knew that the fact that I saw him put me in danger, more danger than before. He was right above me, he was close, he knew his way around, and I was no match to a full grown man, I thought I was going to get raped. I remember how my hand shivered incessantly as I tried to unlock the bathroom stall, praying and hoping that his face isn’t what I see outside. Upon opening the stall door, I saw a woman staring at me worriedly, she’d heard me yelling. As my eyes met hers, the strong and fearless face I was attempting to hold shattered and I broke out in tears. She kept asking what happened as I struggled to articulate what I'd just seen in between breaths.
By the time I got to my family inside the restaurant, my eyes were red and puffy and the entire restaurant was watching the girl who ran into the restaurant in tears. My family was enraged when they found out what that man had done, especially my cousin’s father. His daughter had changed countless times in that stall for her swim practice and we had entered the sports club with his card. He insisted on gathering up every man that worked at the restaurant and tested them all as suspects. The rest of my night was spent talking to the sports club managers whom wouldn’t believe my story until I took them to the bathroom to show them the wall air vent that I was watched through. We figured out that a neighboring storage room had been altered by someone and a few steps had been added. Once climbed, those steps gave you a clear look over the last stall of the women’s bathroom. The men stood one by one on the steps as I stood in the stall attempting to identify HIM. After identifying him I felt a mix of anger and guilt. A huge part of me wanted to go up to him and throw a punch, making him feel the pain and fear I’d felt that day. Another part of me felt guilty, what if it wasn’t him that had done it? What if I was destroying an innocent’s life? Did he have kids? Why did he do it?This all happened at a restaurant in a sports club. The same one that my cousin and hundreds of other girls swim and hang out in on a daily basis. My body still shivers at the thought of his eyes and I only wish I could articulate what was going through my head. All I know is that I hate feeling weak, and that’s all I felt, weak, helpless, and fragile. I felt as though someone had stripped me of my freedom, my control over my own body, and it was a feeling I resented profoundly.
At the time, I felt fear like never before but I had no idea why. Reflecting on the experience today, I know that it was not what he’d seen that left me in tears, rather the fear of rape. I opened the stall that day thinking this is the day, this is the second a man would force himself on me. That mere notion had brought about fear I’d never felt before, and fear that I’d never wish upon anyone. I couldn’t even begin to fathom the horrors that survivors have to live every day and the strength that they possess. I couldn’t sleep that night as every time I closed my eyes, his eyes would appear, and I couldn’t bring myself to use any bathroom outside my home for a long time. Up until this day, I must look up at the ceiling everywhere I enter. When added to my other experiences, that was the last push I needed to be suspicious of everything around me. So dear harasser, I hope you now know that the cost of your pleasure is comfort. You rob girls’ of their right to be comfortable with their own bodies and you teach them to fear their surroundings. I hope you know that be it by whistling or by harassing, you not only are contributing to, but also forming a destructive society.
If you are a victim of harassment, I’m sorry you had to go through that, and although it is in no way your fault, here are a few ways to try and prevent similar experiences:
- Check the mirrors (place you finger on the mirror and make sure there’s space between your finger and the reflection, otherwise it might be a two way mirror and there might be a person on the other side of the glass)
- Check the ceilings for holes or cameras that shouldn’t be there
- Check the walls for any holes
- If any windows are present, make sure that you shut themMost importantly, if you go through any form of sexual harassment talk and open up to others, it will lift the weight off your shoulders