Today we learn that yet another ‘nice guy’ may allegedly be kinda nasty after all.
Brendan Cox, widower of murdered MP Jo Cox says he wants to ‘apologise deeply and unreservedly for my past behaviour and for the hurt and offence that I have caused’.
He refers to the alleged sexual assaults as ‘mistakes’. And in a message of support, his dead wife’s sister says, ‘we all make mistakes.’
Let’s try to be clear about what mistakes he’s allegedly made, mistakes that apparently any one of us could have made, ones which have caused the ‘hurt and offence’ for which he is so very sorry: in one instance he allegedly grabbed a female colleague by the throat, allegedly pushed her up against a wall and allegedly sexually threatened her.
Call me over-sensitive but to my mind, a mistake is buying those bagels with sesame seeds on top when you meant to bring home plain ones, or downing that extra glass of wine at the end of the night which you know will make your head spin in bed.
Call me morally superior, but I have never, by mistake, grabbed someone by the throat, forced them against a wall and announced my sexual intentions into their face.
Let me attempt to deepen our understanding by telling you about a recent experience of mine.
I very much do NOT relish speaking publicly about it, but I believe it’s essential to offer a counter-narrative, a female perspective on the issue of sexual threat/assault/violence. I will spare you the gruesome details, but what follows are the bones of it, or at least, in Brendan Cox’s own words, my ‘perception’ of it.
Here is what happened:
I invited a fella back to my house. He seemed nice and funny and told me I was gorgeous. I am new to being single. During the three hours he was in my house he hit me. Several times. Across the face and head. He grabbed me by the throat and applied pressure. Several times. He pinched me hard and pushed me around and held me down. There was very little sexual contact. It was mostly violence and domination coupled, confusingly, with excessive compliments and announcements of desire. My initial response when I realised the frightening situation I was in, was to be as nice to him as possible, to let him do whatever he wanted so as not to enrage him. He was a very big man. A very drunk, big man. I am 5ft. Eventually though, I couldn’t stop the tears. I cried. A lot. I tried to make him leave. A lot. Eventually he did leave, after one final blow to the side of my head. After which he told me he loved me.
Here is how it made it me feel:
Terrified. Confused. Guilty. Ashamed. Responsible. That I could have been killed. That my instincts must be way off after twenty years of marriage. That I am stupid stupid stupid for putting myself in that situation. That my new-found sexual freedom has been broken forever. That I never want to be touched by a man ever again. Not even a hug from my male friends. Or from my family. That today, when a man held a door open for me and said ‘after you, beautiful’, my stomach lurched and I began to shake violently. That I will now always react that way to male attention. That I want to shave my hair off and gain five stone so as to repel them. That I cannot bring myself to look at my horribly bruised body. That the pain in my neck every time I move reminds me of how he grabbed my throat and told me how he could make me lose consciousness. That he knows where I live so now I’m frightened in my own home and never answer the front door. That a part of me will now always be frightened. That I should feel lucky for it not ending much more seriously.
Here is how it did NOT make me feel:
Offended. Or simply hurt. Or that he’d just ‘made a mistake.’
I suppose you could argue, and a defence barrister certainly might, that because I didn’t scream or run out of the house or phone the police; that because I’d invited him in to my home willingly and chosen the survival strategy of placation instead of confrontation, it was more than understandable that he might believe I was enjoying the blows to my head (despite my sobbing), was welcoming the near-strangulation (despite my attempts to make him leave); that this was a clear example of a man who, as Brendan Cox has claimed, thought he was being ‘sort of jokey or flirtatious’.
I understand. It must be so confusing for men, when faced with a sexually confident, independent woman, to know whether she really wants you to nearly strangle her or not. I mean, maybe her sobbing and trying to push you away and begging you to leave is all just part of the lovely ‘jokey, flirtatious’ game you’re playing?
I realise that my experience may be perceived (there’s that tricky word again) as more serious than that allegedly suffered by Brendan Cox’s alleged victim. I disagree wholeheartedly.
I may be wrong, but I suspect that most women who have been grabbed by the throat and sexually threatened (and there are so very many of us) will find their neck to be rather painful for a while after the incident and will find that the pain serves as a constant reminder of the fear and shock they experienced. Especially if the man was known to them and must be faced again on a near-daily basis.
I’m guessing most women will have repeatedly combed through their memory of the incident, looking for all the ways she may have somehow led a ‘nice guy’ to believe that what she wanted, what she absolutely really wanted was for him to grab her by the throat and sexually threaten her.
I think it’s also likely that she may spend a good portion of the next few years in a permanent state of mistrust and fear of ‘nice guys’; her previous instincts and impulses having been destabilised, ruptured, broken.
Whatever the case, we can be certain that, as a rule, when women are sexually assaulted, we feel a smidge more than just ‘hurt’ or ‘offended’. We feel stuff that sometimes takes years, if ever, to overcome. And often that’s made worse when, as in my case, it wasn’t our only experience of sexual violence.
Above and beyond the icky issue of women’s ‘perception’ and reported experience, if committing sexual assault, ADMITTING to sexual assault, is allowed to be dismissed as a ‘mistake’, the #MeToo campaign is a very long way from being over.
And no, I will not be reporting the incident to the police. I know most women will understand my decision. I know most men will not. Which is another whole shitbag of fuckery to be unpicked another day…