I was 17 and walking down the streets of Florence on my way to an Internet café, so that I could e-mail my boyfriend back home. Not 10 paces from the hostel I was staying at, a local street vendor just my age told me that he’d make me a hair wrap for free if I just talked to him for a while. In a mix of Italian, English and Spanish, he told me that I was beautiful and that he’d be delighted to walk with me and show me around.
As a girl who wasn’t very used to be called “beautiful,” especially not by handsome Italian teens, I was flattered and accepted, lured by the promise of experiencing real nighttime Florence at Piazzale Michelangelo.
I ended up on my back under a tree off the trail of Viale Giuseppe Poggi with my pants forced down. “I will scream,” was my last warning, after realizing on the 10th, “I don’t want to” that it wouldn’t work. He then let his guard down and I stood up. It was over.
He was trying to convince me, not force me, but I could see that he was dumbfounded at my refusal; he wasn’t used to it and didn’t know how to stop at “no.”
I was wearing knee-length cargo khakis and a t-shirt.
Back at the hostel, after finding my mother asleep, I went into the floor’s shared bathroom and pulled the hair wrap out by the roots. It took all my might and was very painful, but for some reason I thought I needed pain to cleanse. I felt dirty. I spent the rest of the trip wishing for it to be over and for me to go back to my boyfriend, to have this sexual memory shut away, sandwiched between good experiences and forgotten permanently.
After I got back, I told my boyfriend what had happened.
Up to that point I had thought the guy was at fault, not me, and any feelings of guilt I could have had were more related to immature prudery rather than infidelity.
But my boyfriend went berserk. He was mad at me because, he said, I had led the guy on. He berated me for accepting to “go out with another man.” I argued that I had had no sexual intentions, but he said, “Come on! What did you think he intended to do? Just buy you beer and walk you around without expecting anything in return?”
Two years ago, one Sunday night, while waiting two and a half hours at a bus terminal, I engaged in very interesting conversation with a French tourist who was spending a month in my country. He was about my age, intelligent and adventurous. I offered local expertise. We exchanged numbers.
I was wearing knee-length cargo khakis and a baggy shirt.
He texted me two days later to ask me out. He was very polite; we had a very nice time. We agreed to see each other again later that week and for as long as he was staying.
I had a friend at work that I thought would be thrilled to hear this story, so I told her.
Another friend overheard and barged in with her opinion.
“You’re crazy! You don’t know anything about that man. What if he’s a serial killer?”
“Why would he be a serial killer?”
“Why wouldn’t he? How can you go out with someone you don’t know?”
“Wait a minute…isn’t everybody someone I don’t know until I know them?”
“Yeah, but this guy, you can’t track him down.”
“Well, I’m not in college anymore and everybody I know is married. Where the hell do you want me to meet people?”
At the end, the French guy stood me up and I never heard from him again. My concerned friend, upon knowing this, said, “Thank God!” Me, well, I felt… rejected. Thanks for asking.
Some months later, this very friend posted this video of girls giving their numbers to strangers who asked for them, with the comment, “And then they wonder why they get raped and killed.”
Three weeks ago in my country, Puerto Rico—a beautiful island where, sadly, an average two women are murdered in acts of domestic violence and gender violence every month—a man killed and dismembered a woman.
The confessed killer had kept her torso and disposed of her head, hair and hands at a nearby stream. He said he had committed such a horrible crime because she didn’t love him back. He also said that he gave her money and drugs in exchange for sex and that she had failed in “paying” him.
One news program had him explaining all this at length on camera. A friend of mine posted a link to the news story on Facebook, protesting that the media was trying to justify a crime through sexism, by allowing the confessed killer’s “motives” to have such prominence in the news, giving him a break to justify his deed and kill her reputation too.
Who the hell cares why he did it? Let’s focus on one thing, she argued: there’s no excuse whatsoever for killing a person. Period.
To discuss whether he had a reason for killing her was irrelevant. The media trying to label this as a “crime of passion” was preposterous and misogynistic. Someone—a woman—had the nerve to answer, “You know I don’t excuse him for killing her, but women shouldn’t be whoring. If you like to get high and you can’t pay it on your own, don’t look for someone to do it, don’t give anyone the right to demand something from you in exchange.”
Not that she was justifying his behavior, but in some way she was giving weight to this murderer’s version that the woman was taking advantage of him, and her friendly advice to other women was that we shouldn’t put ourselves in such situations.
The victim’s family has categorically denied that she was a drug user and that she had a sexual or romantic relationship with the killer. They were really just neighbors. Even though when missing persons are reported the clothes they were last seen wearing are described—and she had been reported missing three days before being found—I couldn’t find any accounts of what she was wearing.
No one is “asking for” crime. No one “deserves” to be raped.
I have the right to accept flattery.
If I agree to be nice to a man, I am not coming on to him. If I accept a word or a beer from him, it doesn’t mean I have to give something in exchange. If you invite me to something free, I might take you up on it. There’s nothing wrong with a guy trying to score, but when I say no, back off.
I am not loose because I drink. I remain in control of my body, always.
If I choose to give my number to a stranger, I am not a slut and asking for rape. I am most likely to be sexually assaulted by someone I know than by a stranger.
I’m never asking for sexual assault or judgment of my sexual conduct.
If you judge my sexuality or my personal choices just once, don’t ask in the future why I never tell you anything. This is also true if you judge others’ sexuality or choices in front of me.
I don’t have to act on someone’s crush on me.
I don’t judge: anyone could be sexually assaulted. I don’t call another woman a whore, a bitch or a slut.
I don’t say women shouldn’t put themselves in rape’s way.
It’s about time we all did.
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Assistant Editor: Karen Cygnarowicz/Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Flickr/Chelsea Parker