An Unwanted Experience

**Not suitable for young readers due to sensitive subject matter. Parental guidance strongly suggested!!**

Four years ago to the date, I may have been the victim of unwanted sexual touch while standing behind a crowd control barricade at a Hollywood movie premiere. The reason I state “may have been” is because I was then, and still am, a virgin – unaware of certain intimacies. The ramifications of that one moment in time reveal themselves bit by bit, in the quietest of days, until tears fall, shame sets in, and I get pissed off!

On a beautiful LA day in April of 2016, I decided to take advantage of my proximity to red carpet event locations. I arrived at Hollywood & Highland early, grabbed some lunch, and found a spot along the barricaded sidewalk to see the excitement unfold. I watched in awe as crews worked to complete the setup, press corps assembled cameras, and security guards made sure no one tried to jump the barricade. I felt at home in a way I couldn’t describe – alive and full of joy. My artistic spirit bounced within as the sun shone and the excitement began!

5 April 2016 – Hollywood, CA

As the number of limos dropping off attendees increased, so too did the crowd behind me. It started to get a bit packed and people were squished together. Then, I noticed a sensation directly behind me – someone, something pressed up against my rear. I moved my position but the pressure stopped only momentarily, then continued. I told myself that it’s just that the crowd is so tight and someone’s phone is rubbing up against me. But what I actually believed and felt was far more troublesome – the guy directly behind me is rubbing his privates against my backside. I tried to push back, show that I was uncomfortable but I couldn’t be certain of what I thought was happening because I’ve never had that sensation before. I was a nearly 40-year-old virgin; I didn’t know what it felt like to have a man’s arousal pressed against me. I began to wonder if by pushing back against the pressure I was arousing him more instead of showing my discomfort, so I froze in place – uncertain what to do to make it stop.

Eventually he walked away, and I instantly thought that he got what he needed from me and moved on. He’d satisfied his pleasure, and there I was standing there like an idiot; a “coward” who was more afraid of being wrong and falsely accusing someone than speaking up. I glossed it over, smiled and brushed the incident aside as I drove the hour-and-half journey back to my sister’s house. I spoke not a word of it, because I’d convinced myself it was all in my imagination. But what began as an opportunity to pursue a TV writing career in Feb of 2016, soon down-spiraled as low self-esteem and doubt convinced me to forego the dream and return to the East Coast. I can’t state for certain that the experience affected my choice to leave Los Angeles, but looking at in retrospect, I can’t say for certain that I was unaffected.

I hadn’t thought much about the movie barricade incident in the past four years until a recent fall that led to a bruised bum. I couldn’t apply surface cream without the snippet of fear rushing back and my stomach clenching. I recently told my younger sisters about this experience, breaking down as I tried to explain what happened. “I don’t know what it feels like.” I kept repeating those words through broken sobs until my sister hugged me and let me release my emotions in a safe space surrounded by loved ones.

This experience is but one reason I feel embarrassed and ashamed to discuss being a virgin. I keep thinking that I should’ve known what was happening. If I’d been braver and less scared of being physical in my twenties then maybe I would’ve been more sexually knowledgeable and spoken up for myself in 2016. I could have confidently stated that some stranger was assaulting me instead of silenced by doubt. I also brushed my concerns aside because it wasn’t rape, he never touched me anywhere else. I had no wounds – not even certainty that what he was doing was actually what it felt like he was doing. My inexperience left me vulnerable, because he could continue rubbing against me and I was too uncertain to stop him.

After writing all this down in retrospect, I now wonder if that’s what caused my anxiety attack at the Women’s March nearly a year after the movie barricade incident. As the crowd thickened at the event, my anxiety rose. I felt trapped, unsafe – had to get out! The friends with me were amazingly supportive; pushing through a path for me until I could find air. I cried, sobbed, shook and yet I couldn’t explain why I felt what I felt so intensely. It didn’t make any sense as I’d never been claustrophobic before or had fell victim to severe panic attacks. All I could focus on was drinking water, sitting down, and breathing to help the shaking subside. Eventually, the crowd dispersed and I walked back to the train station with my friends at my side.

I don’t mean to dissuade film enthusiasts from the joy of standing along the barricade at movie premieres/red carpet events for the briefest glimpse of the artists you admire, but I hope that by sharing what I experienced others may stay aware of their surroundings in crowded settings and security officials recognize that it’s not only the event attendees who need your protection.

MOVING FORWARD

Why write about this experience now? In the midst of social distancing and a national health crisis when people have life and death concerns? I don’t have a good response – other than every day I read through the draft and hesitate posting it is one more day the experience holds power over me. And, quite frankly, that’s unacceptable!

For anyone who thinks or suspects they are being sexually touched without consent, speak up; nudge a neighbor next to you and ask them for help. Find a security guard patrolling the street and call them to your aid. Or better yet, turn around and tell them to “knock it off”! Your voice is worthy of being heard – your body is yours alone; no one has a right to touch you without consent. To those sexually inexperienced people like me, trust your instincts! When, or if, you decide to become physically intimate is a choice for you alone to make and the predatory acts of another should never make you feel ashamed or guilty. I’m still working on believing that last statement; but I promise to keep speaking up and out.

This girl has a name, and a voice! (Photo: April 2019 PA)