Last week, the New York State Court of Appeals issued a ruling that the act of “grinding” up against a person is “as serious an offense as pervs who squeeze, grab or pinch.” As the New York Daily News reports, the state’s highest court “ruled that rubbing your private parts against another person is enough to merit the charge of ‘forcible touching’ and punishments of up to a year in jail.” Finally!
Prior to this ruling, it was possible for a perpetrator to expose his (or, I guess, her, but come on) genitals and rub them against any old innocent commuter he (or she, but come on) wanted! That’s right, the only actions that were able to be prosecuted were the ones that included manual groping. But common sense has finally prevailed, and now “any bodily contact involving the application of some level of pressure to the victim’s sexual or intimate parts qualifies as a forcible touch within the meaning of penal law.”
I remember pretty vividly my first subway pervert encounter. I was 14-years-old and riding the 1 train downtown to meet a friend at Cheap Jack’s in Union Square. I needed jeans. I had a seat on the not-too-crowded train and my head was down because I was reading a book. I wish I could say I remember the book, but I don’t. What I remember is the man who stood right in front of me, the front of his pants level with my lowered face. The back of my neck started to feel hot and soon my cheeks did too, because he inched closer and closer toward me until he was just a few inches away. I kept looking down at my book, even though I couldn’t read and the words started to blur. I didn’t want to raise my head because I didn’t want to come face to face with what I was sure was this man’s penis, but I didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t touching me. He was just standing there. Even now, with this new grinding law, he wouldn’t be arrested. But he was coming closer and closer and I felt the kind of panic a trapped animal knows, the kind of panic every woman I know has experienced on the subway before. But I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want this man to have some sort of victory over me. So I stayed in my seat, pretending to read, until the train reached 14th Street and I pushed past him and ran up the stairs and reached the street where I finally felt like I could breathe again. I never looked the man in the face, but I remember the gray New Balance sneakers he was wearing. Of course, every man was wearing those gray New Balance sneakers that year and for many years to come, so that detail meant nothing then. It means nothing still, except that I hate those shoes.
In the intervening years, I’ve had countless men on crowded subways push up against me. And even though I’ve allowed myself to think for a minute that maybe what I feel poking hard into my back is an umbrella handle, I’m not fourteen anymore, and so I step—hard—on the tops of their feet.
I’ve been the only woman on a subway platform late at night, and stood across the tracks from a man who whipped out his penis and started jerking off, shouting out at me: “Yeah, I’m looking at you!” And even though I started walking to the other end of my side of the platform, the man followed along, dick in hand, matching my steps, until the F train came and I was able to escape him.
I’ve had my day ruined by men commenting on my body, my face, and my clothes. And when I’ve told them to fuck off, I’ve never felt more powerless because the unsettling truth is that they’re protected by their maleness and there isn’t that much to do.
Or, at least, there hasn’t been. Women have long been taught to stay quiet when these types of things happen. We’re taught that if we ignore men like this, they’ll go away. But they don’t go away. It’s only through speaking up and telling the police so that these pervert motherfuckers have to face some consequences for their actions that anything will get changed. Silence only leads to those in power thinking they can do whatever they want. And if there aren’t any police around? Do as Emily Gould recently did, and yell your head off. Maybe you’ll get called “McSweeney’s” by a pair of oafish assholes, but it will be worth it. Because Gould is absolutely right: “Don’t touch women, and don’t talk to them.” Or be prepared to face the consequences.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen