I was not assigned to cover the Guinness World Record, largest fried rice attempt Feb. 12 in Costa Rica, but I wanted to be a witness to the event and get a picture for the next day paper.
Upon arrival at 10 a.m., I walked around and scoped out a vantage point where I could get the best angle for photos without being too much in the way. A few minutes before start time, I found an ideal location behind a gate just a few meters from the metal pan in which the dish would be prepared.
Being that I am short, I climbed the bottom rung of the metal gate and held the position, camera in hand, clicking away to document the occasion. After a while the walkway where I was located began to fill up. As more people crowded around, I felt myself being pushed. No big deal I thought, when confined to a small space things like this are bound to happen.
The pushing behind me became more aggressive, and I was starting to get uncomfortable. It felt like I was going to be pushed over, and the motion was crushing my pelvic bone. Frazzled, I turned to my left and saw there was a reasonably sized space between me and the other person. The same was true for the other side. This area was not as crowded as I had thought.
I got down quickly, and turned to find a man smiling at me. A quick peer down, and I was unwantedly greeted with his erect penis bulging from his jeans. The situation became surreal at the moment. Hoisting myself up on that gate had put my backside in direct alignment with his groin. Seeing this, he had seized the opportunity to assault me from behind.
To act or not to react?
In my mind I have replayed the situation over and over with how I should have reacted. My response has been from yelling and making a public scene that ended me on the news to elbowing the pervert in the face and kicking him with all my force in his pleasure zone.
Instead I did nothing. In the moment I thought hard about what to do. I knew causing the scene would take away from the moment at hand, and I was surrounded by news sources who would jump at the opportunity to film such a commotion. I would be the talk of all my associations, something I was not prepared to handle. I also knew that I had a job to finish that day, and did not want to waste time with cops. Plus, I figured by the time a cop came over the creep would be long gone, disappeared into the thousands of people. If he didn’t, I knew he would maybe be publicly humiliated at the time, but no real legal action would come from announcing it. And to top it off, my spanish is nowhere good enough to explain what had happened. The dishevelled nature of things had caused me to forget spanish anyway.
So I did nothing, and that response has angered me since. But what angered me more is the fact that when this guy didn’t get the hint and stayed around. When he realized I wasn’t getting back up, he tapped me on the shoulder, made a take picture sign with his hands and pointed. All this with a smile, as if to say “I want to touch you more, and you will let me because you like it.” I still wonder, what kind of person would think this was ok? He had to be high or crazy, because to him, nothing he was doing was wrong.
I have since learned that this type of sexual assault is called frotteurism. People, known as frotteurs, seize the opportunity to get sexual gratification by rubbing their pelvis against the victim in a public place where they cannot easily respond. Perpetrators are usually men, and the act is usually punished with a misdemeanor.
A misdemeanor is laughable, because it’s like a slap on the risk. But I get it, it’s not a full on rape so its creepy but not as serious in the eyes of the law. Besides, rapist are hard enough to convict, and so many slip to through the crack only to hurt and abuse again.
New Perspective of Sexual Assault
This experience also gave me a new perspective on sexual assault. I won’t pretend that I can wholly empathize with people have been molested or raped, but I can understand why so much of it goes unreported. The author of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, plagued by the fact that he witnessed a sexual assault and did nothing, wrote about this through his main character. When she was raped, she took matters into her own hands by doing harm to the assailant. Cops were a waste of time, she thought. Plus, the act was just another normal occurrence in her world.
And here in land Pura Vida it is normal. A woman who operates a shelter for children here told me that 1 in 4 youth here are sexually abused. For the young girls, the abuse comes from either the male figure in the house or a male relative.
Not surprising in a place where wages are low, cost of living is high, prostitution is legal and the machismo attitude runs high. Walking in the streets, I am greeted by men as an object more than a person. A man once stopped me and told me my butt was delicious, and an older man has groped me in the street after trying to get my number.
But I would be lying if I was to say I’ve only been touched inappropriately here. In college, a friend continued to touch me even after I repeatedly said stop. It was a joke for him, but even to this day I’m still not laughing.
Sexual assault ts a worldwide phenomenon. As our world becomes overly sexed, the line continues to grey about what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Until we stand up and speak out, it will only become worse.
A more cautious me..
A person’s life is filled with experiences that causes them to reevaluate life, change a perspective or realize things are not as comprehensible as they seem. It’s even worse when the experience is an action that occurs despite the person thinking “that will never happen to me.”
Being a single female traveler has been a life changing phenomenon to me in itself. I have learned to live off a small budget. I’ve downsize to live out of a bag, leaving the materialistic me behind and becoming an I only need the essentials me as a replacement. I’ve learned that people will not respect me because of my age, race and gender but to not to let them tear me down with their ignorance. And in turn, I’ve learned to be tolerant of other person’s cultures. No way of life is wrong, it’s just different from what I am used to.
However, the most important thing I’ve learned is that I can never let my guard down. The only person that will protect me here is myself, and I have to keep my eyes and ears open, because as a single female traveler I easily become a target, and like in this instance, there were many people around but no when offered to help.
Like the song says…La gente esta muy loca…