Blog post about sexual assault in D.C. unleashes torrent of women’s stories
By Petula Dvorak,
Liz Gorman did what the others didn’t.
After she was sexually assaulted on a D.C. street in the middle of the day, she not only called police, she also wrote a blog post about the way she was violated. The response was incredible.
It turns out that lots of other women have been assaulted on the street or on the Metro or even in the same bizarre way Gorman says she was. But, as they explained in e-mails to her, they never reported it.
That’s what gets to the heart of this story: On a daily basis, women get groped, grabbed, followed, harassed and assaulted while in public. And many of us don’t think it’s a crime. We don’t call police. We just take it.
For Gorman, it happened about 3:30 on Thursday afternoon. She had just had her hair done and was heading to a Dupont Circle smoothie place.
A cyclist came up behind her, she said, stuck his hand under her skirt and sexually assaulted her. Before she had a chance to realize what had happened, he pulled his hand out, rode the mountain bike off the sidewalk and took off, never breaking his pedaling.
“It was quick. He didn’t fall off, didn’t hesitate. Didn’t turn around, didn’t look at my face. He was laughing the whole time, and that just added a whole different element.”
She never saw his face, either. “Baseball cap. Orange shirt,” Gorman told me.
Fight or flight?
Gorman’s a fighter, and she ran after him, trying to catch up and pull him off his bike.
A witness saw part of this and is talking to police, who confirmed that they are investigating the incident. It happened outside the Carlyle Suites hotel on New Hampshire Avenue NW, which is reviewing its security-camera tapes, Gorman said.
Gorman, a 25-year-old photographer, didn’t freak out. She was mad.
She called 311, demurring a bit in the severity of the assault. “I grew up in D.C. I know all kinds of other stuff is happening all over the city,” she explained.
The police, to their credit, sent her call to 911, and five police cars showed up.
She made the report and went on with her day. Then she got on a plane and flew to a photo shoot.
Here’s the thing: This kind of stuff happens a lot. It happens to gorgeous, young and glamorous people such as Gorman. And it happens to frumpy moms.
Take a trip through the posts on the Collective Action for Safe Spaces site, where Gorman published her story.
You’ll see that women get cornered on the Metro, followed after the July Fourth fireworks, flashed on the way home, followed on the way to work. It happens in nice, leafy neighborhoods and in the hot, concrete ’hood.
After women read her post, they flooded her with e-mails filled with details about what had happened to them: the gropes, the mashes, the near-rapes. A handful were also targeted by a similar-sounding bicycling molester.
And the story here, besides the fact that a class of men believe it’s okay to pick whichever woman’s body they choose, is that women don’t always report this.
Sure, police are busy, and far more heartbreaking stuff happens every day. But too often, we believe it’s just a grope, just an affront, just part of living in the big city. Just 311.
As victims will tell you, an assault resounds far more deeply than most other crimes. Gorman was mugged a few years back. It happened in a dark alley, at 1 a.m., while she was going from club to club. There was a gun.
“But that was different. It’s purely financial,” she said. She now tries to protect herself by not walking in dark alleys at night, and so forth.
“But this, this was an invasion of my body. And what am I supposed to do? It was a beautiful, sunny day. On a street. In a nice neighborhood. What do I do? Not wear skirts?”
No way, she said.
Gorman is careful not to make eye contact, not to walk too closely to others on the street. Not to keep walking past the spot where the catcalls and slurping noises and howls come from.
She and many others are so dang careful not to even say “Hello” anymore. And that’s ridiculous.
As a society, haven’t we had this conversation before? Not wearing hoodies or not wearing skirts isn’t going to change anything.
But reporting assaults might help.
For Petula Dvorak’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.