"...a separate allegation of indecent exposure..."
Why Sarah Everard's story sent a very particular chill up my spine.
trigger warning: indecent exposure
After seeing a few vague and ominous posts from women in my social media feeds, I took a deep breath and clicked on the hashtag #SarahEverard. I eventually found myself reading this NPR story about the chilling circumstances of the 33-year-old woman’s kidnapping and murder in South London. But it was this sentence that caught my breath in my throat and transported me back to a sunny day 7.5 years ago:
…police announced that the man had been "further arrested" on suspicion of murder and a separate allegation of indecent exposure.
It was mid-morning on a Saturday, and I was ambling along in a neon yellow athletic tank and running shorts, cell phone in hand, earbuds pumping out ‘90s jams. I was a little ways down the street from my house, which was just a block off one of the largest thoroughfares in town (South Lamar, if you know Austin).
Because I constantly scan my surroundings whenever I’m walking alone, even in broad daylight, I noticed a light blue Ford Fiesta creeping slowly up the street. It pulled over and paused ahead of me, and when I caught up with it, it rolled several feet forward and paused again. I never looked directly at it, just absorbed this information out of the corner of my eye.
After a couple of roll-pauses by the Fiesta, I started to wonder if perhaps the driver was lost and trying to get my attention to ask for help. So the next time I caught up to it, I took a step toward the car and cocked my head to the side to see in the window and respond to any questions the driver had.
The window rolled down, and as I peered inside the only thing I saw—as if it were spotlighted—was a hand stroking an erect penis.
A wave of panic washed over me followed by an abrupt trough of nausea.
I turned right on the next street as quickly as my feet could get me there while simultaneously fumbling to unlock my phone and hit the digits 9-1-1. A thousand thoughts streamed through my head in the two rings it took the dispatcher to pick up.
Had he been following me since I walked out my front door?
Did he know where I lived?
Was he following me still?
Why had I run instead of stopping to take his picture?
Or a picture of his license plate?
Where should I walk to now…? Certainly it’s not safe to walk back home? What if he’s waiting for me when I get there?
Adding kindling to the flames of my panic was the fact that I had just entered my second trimester of pregnancy. I felt like a limping gazelle separated from the herd at the moment just before the nature documentary cuts away.
When the very kind woman on the other end of my 9-1-1 call asked whether the man who was following me was white, Black, or Hispanic (apparently Asian men don’t indecently expose??), I said with great embarrassment, “Well, the only thing I saw… looked… white.”
She assured me an officer was nearby and would look for any cars matching the description I gave, but as far as I know the guy was never found. I wandered the nearby thoroughfare queasy and shaking until my husband could come pick me up and help me be certain a rapist wasn’t waiting for me in our house.
When I recounted this experience to my therapist at the time, she told me that she had facilitated group therapy for male sex offenders as part of her training. (Are there even enough female sex offenders in a single city to assemble a group, I find myself wondering?) In an attempt to ease my fears, my therapist assured me that most men who expose themselves are not violent. They are usually lonely, insecure, intimidated by women, and make up a story in their minds that their advances are welcome. I could tell she felt sad for this kind of man. I tried to feel sad for him, too.
"Further arrested" on suspicion of murder and a separate allegation of indecent exposure.
Today, reading that sentence, I don’t feel sad. I feel angry. Indecent exposure is not always very far away from murder. Sometimes it’s only 5 words away. Sometimes, as in Sarah Everard’s case, it is only 3 days away. Her murderer allegedly exposed himself in a nearby restaurant 3 days before killing her.
What if there had been consequences for this man when he pulled his dick out in a restaurant? Maybe Sarah Everard would still be alive.
If ever there were a slippery slope, it is the latitude we afford dicks.
The top of that slope is slick with silence. The type of silence I am seeing from the men in my social media feeds.
Even when there is conversation about the problem of men assaulting women, men are omitted as active agents, as Instagram user jo_can_draw highlights in this post referencing a 2012 TED talk by Jackson Katz, Ph.D.:
I had to scroll for quite some time through the 40,000+ likes on that post before I could find any likers who didn’t have a woman’s name and face.
When dick-having members of our society are not even invested enough in women’s safety to tap a heart icon on Instagram, it’s unsurprising that so little is done by the dick-havers in public office. In Texas, where I live, our state legislature is 73 percent men. It is no coincidence that we are one of the worst states for women’s equality—according to one study, Texas ranks #47 out of the 50 states.
When our state senators send lewd messages and unwanted dick pics to college students, they don’t just evade consequences—they are awarded committee chairmanships by the governor in the very next legislative session. (The crafty technology Texas Senator Charles Schwertner used to send dick pics to a young woman who’d reached out to him for mentorship allowed him to escape conviction, but his wife appeared unconvinced by his legal maneuverings and filed for divorce.)
Ironically, Texas Sen. Schwertner voted in favor of a bill that made sending unwanted nudes illegal in Texas the same year he was accused of doing just that. Maybe he consulted with one of the legal experts who say that law will be nearly impossible to enforce.
What I was too befuddled and ashamed by to tell my therapist is what happened when my husband and I returned to the safety of our bedroom on that sunny day years ago. Almost immediately, I led him to the bed, wrestled him out of his clothes, and worked myself to a powerful orgasm.
I was afraid to share that detail (still am afraid to share it, honestly) because I was terrified of what it meant about me. Did some buried place in my psyche want a stranger to put his dick in my face? I’ve spent years resisting thinking too much about it, worried there was something deeply wrong with me.
But as I’ve sat thinking about this story for the past couple of days, I’ve pictured what I’ve done in the wake of other traumas. The most vivid recent example is the February ice storm that left our family in freezing temperatures without power and clean water for several days. That was the closest I’ve ever come to worrying about basic survival for myself and my kids. When our power was finally back on and I found myself standing safely in a grocery store aisle holding the last box of Annie’s Shells & White Cheddar, I started to sob uncontrollably.
What I realized is that once I’m safe from a visceral threat, I need to somehow physically discharge the terror from my body. Sometimes that looks like soaking my sweater with tears in the pasta aisle. Sometimes that looks like fucking away the image of a scary dick with a safe dick.
In America, the majority of power-havers are also dick-havers. Are you one of the safe dick-havers? We need your active participation to right the balance of power. To fuck away the scary dicks. (Metaphorically.)
The first step is speaking up. Please speak up. Our lives depend on it.
Obviously this post was not the appropriate place to include a pin-up pic. And while I am keeping most posts free as I build my audience here, I want to say “thanks” to the handful of you who’ve generously signed up for a paid subscription already. So the next post will be for paid subscribers only and will be pure froth. ;)