Violation can be subtly destabilizing and it can be aggressively violent.
Violation can be a penetration of someone’s boundaries, as well as a physical assault. Violation can be a failure to listen to someone—to insist on inserting an agenda contrary to their consent.
Friday morning I popped into a cafe, moved through the line, grabbed a cup of coffee, sat down at a large community-style, dark wood table, and picked up my phone. Scrolling innocently through my messages, my eyes landed on a text from a male friend—I opened it. The room swam beyond the screen of my phone, as I read a detailed text from this man describing what he wanted to do to me.
If this message were from a longtime lover, a person I willingly shared my body and world with, it would have been a sweet, steamy treat to enjoy with my coffee. It was an unwanted message—from a man who I have repeatedly told that I do not return his amorous feelings—it was a violation.
This may sound extreme, but I know the signals—and I know my body. I went into psychological shock. The night before, I was watching a show on Netflix called, “Sex Education.” In one of the episodes, a girl, maybe 17, gets on a public bus and a guy approaches. The next thing she looks down and there is spooge on her favorite jeans. She did not immediately know she had been violated. I did.
Our society is rife with the energy of violation. We see it everywhere from the behavior of Hollywood moguls, to the rape of the planet for her resources, to those daily infractions both online and in the world.
Taking the time I needed to compose myself—amidst a cafe full of strangers—I closed my phone. I closed my eyes. I placed a hand on my belly taking long, slow breaths concentrating into the exhale, (this is a method for soothing anxiety). Suddenly chilled, I pulled my thick, chocolate colored coat around me.
Opening my eyes, I took in the scene, noticing warm, friendly people sharing conversations and breakfast together. I slowly, deliberately sipped the dark, nurturing coffee and guided myself back into my body—wiggling my toes, my knees, shifting weight over my sit bones—back to those deep breaths into my belly, long exhales into the cafe over my coffee cup. Setting the cup down, I relaxed my mouth, loosening my jaw, (where I tend to stick energy), dropped my shoulders, wiggled my fingers, let my energy unfurl, and shivered as I claimed my space. Then I picked up my phone and texted my counselor.
After picking up my dog, we headed to the hill for our favorite walk. I usually dance up and down, but my hips would not sway. I had frozen. I needed to thaw, so I moved faster, discharging the adrenaline that had been released upon reading that text, urging my pug, Grom, up the hill with me.
We arrived at the top, overlooking the valley. I usually feel huge up here, magnanimous. I felt shrunken. I took in the crisp air, and clear topaz sky as I sat cross-legged on the bench, my hips, this valley a gateway to a holy world—damn well worth protecting.
Once again, I read the text and then composed my response:
I’m going to describe to you my reaction to this message.
My body started trembling, I started crying and I could feel myself disassociating. I was in a cafe as I read this—I felt exposed, not in a good way. My energy field and body interpreted this as a violation. Emotionally, I am hurt and angry. I have expressed, repeatedly, that I do not reciprocate those feelings.
Do you remember when I shared with you how I felt when you touched me without consent? This is no different. There is no day that I would welcome this message, but today was particularly hard, as I was already anxious. I’m having to take time to stabilize myself, so I can be present in my work day. If you value our friendship, and you want to support feelings of safety for me—please don’t talk to me this way.
In the days following this exchange, grief waves rolled through me. My hips did not want to dance, dancing is like breathing for me. I questioned whether I led this man on, because that is what we women do—when we get violated—we ask ourselves, what did I do to create this?
In the same way my body froze as I read that message, I’ve monitored the effects this has had on my psychology. I’m eating more. I’m restless. I’m hyperaware in environments where we’re likely to run into each other.
I doubted myself. I cried. I talked to women friends, (and my counselor), about my shock, hurt, and anger. I ignored all his subsequent messages—including an apology text. I don’t owe him a response. I don’t owe him my forgiveness. I don’t owe him a damn thing. He crossed my boundary, and now I need to redefine it. I won’t throw away his humanity, but I cannot ignore this. Even though I am at odds with my own disgust—I won’t bypass my instincts. My compassion will deepen to the degree that I am willing to protect myself.
I am leaning into this experience as an opportunity to stand my ground, state my position, and reclaim my power, but the truth is—I am tired. I am tired of telling men to keep their hands to themselves. I am tired of fending off gross messages and covert agendas. I am tired of not being able to let my guard down and simply relax.
I would much rather listen and be listened to, not be objectified, and simply feel safe, as a woman, wherever I go in the world, whomever I am with.
Though this was not a physical violation—and nothing I can’t handle—the point is, I shouldn’t have to. Consent is not a mystery. It’s a simple yes, or no. And no means no, goddammit.
Sexual harassment is real. Sexual violence is real, with some statistics stating that every 73 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted in America.
If you or someone you know is in danger, or has been hurt—get help. Call 1-800-656-HOPE or go to RAINN.
Please protect yourself and respect each other.
“Honor the innocence violated and harmed. Respect the pain and the reality of what occurred. Heal the trauma and the pain turns into power, reclaiming itself from the event and the other, returning to its natural wholeness.” ~ Marshall Burtcher