Frightful sexual violation by a stranger in Columbia Heights, DC

I am a California native, and I’ve been living in Washington, DC for the past 3.5 years. I have been astounded time and time again by the level of street harassment that goes on here, as well as the type: It is not just excessive in terms of frequency, but it is also usually very verbally aggressive and hostile, in addition to overly vulgar.

From the moment I arrived in DC, I began attracting an excessive amount of negative sexual attention from men on the streets. I have had an abundance of uncomfortable experiences, ranging from simple, sexually explicit comments thrown my way, to men exposing themselves to me and masturbating to the sight of me in the park, and guys grabbing my butt while they ride past me on bikes. I am a 5’’9 Caucasian female with a curvy figure. I am attractive, but no more than any other female in this city. I do, however, seem to generate far more harassment than my friends, and I have to attribute it largely to the curves. Whatever the reason, the frequency has concerned everyone in my life.

On the night of Thursday, August 12th, just slightly after midnight, I was walking with my friend back to her apartment in the Columbia Heights neighborhood. We only had a 5 block walk to go, and we were together, so we didn’t think it was necessary to take a cab. We were carrying groceries in both our hands. A mere half a block from her building, I heard a sudden rush of footsteps behind us, then felt someone’s body slam into my back. I then felt myself 100% bound, as the person wrapped their arms solidly around me in a strong bear-hug hold.

Because the brain does not process things normally when in shock, the first thought both I and my friend had was, “Oh, whose that? Is that a friend I know that’s just surprising me with a hug?” We had just said goodnight to a friend, so I thought perhaps it was him.

The attackers grip suddenly changed, and though he still had me bound, his hands suddenly gripped my breasts very hard. My arms were pinned to my side. I could not move. And to be honest, I didn’t even realize just what was happening to me.

–That is until his left arm shifted to hold me in place while he shoved his right arm between my legs, placed his hand over my vagina, quickly rubbed it aggressively and then attempted to shove his fingers inside of me over my dress. I heard an utterly disgusting sound of sexual arousal leave his mouth in that moment– I think that sound disturbed me even more than the molestation. It has certainly been the part of the experience that has haunted me the most.

It was only then that the shock gave way to an understanding of what was happening to me. According to my friend, I screamed “Get off of me!,” then dropped my weight to the ground. I don’t even remember doing this. And that’s when she realized just what was going on. Even as my body fell away from his grip and onto the ground, he was still struggling to hold onto me. When he let go, I looked up to see my friend struggling with him and pushing him away from me. He grabbed her hair, yanked her head back, shoved her and ran away.

The entire thing probably lasted a total of 10 seconds. This person knew exactly what he was doing. He worked my body with such precision that he clearly had the attack down to a routine. I was in shock for nearly the entire thing. I didn’t fully understand what had happened until I saw him running away.

We called the police, but he was long gone. During the entire episode, there were approximately 10 men sitting on the porch to an apartment building just 2 houses down the street. They witnessed the entire thing, made no attempts to intervene, didn’t move at all to run after the attacker, and, when it was all over, sat passively in place watching me weep in a ball on the sidewalk. When the police questioned them, they said they saw nothing.

It has been a week, and I feel NERVOUS. Everywhere I go. I don’t want any man walking behind me on the sidewalk, even if he’s simply going to work, I don’t want any many standing behind me on the bus, even if he’s reading. I don’t even want any many looking at me. I cannot relax AT ALL when I leave the house.

The sexual violation isn’t even the most traumatizing aspect to the experience: Sadly, I’ve been expecting something like this to happen for a long time, and I’m frankly surprised it’s taken 3.5 years given the level of harassment in this town. What has been the most traumatizing aspect of it is feeling like anyone who passes by me could attack me at any moment. As I lay there on the sidewalk crying that night, I wasn’t crying because some stranger had tried to shove their fingers inside of me: I was crying because I felt so utterly outraged and helpless. The violation of my power as a human being and my right to not be dominated feels even more intense than the sexual violation as a woman.

I have owned pepper spray since I was groped by the cyclists last year. I have spent the past year with it clutched in my hand, switch on, finger ready every single time I’ve left my house. 4 days before this attack, my spray broke. I had been walking around DC feeling extremely naked and vulnerable and scared without it, but I tried to tell myself I’d be okay for a few days until I got a new one. –Irony at its best.

Having said that, even if I’d had my spray: Given the way he had my arms and hands pinned to my sides, the pepper spray would have been useless. In fact I wonder what, if anything, WOULD be useful in a situation like that: We all think we’re going to act like cheetahs in these situations. We carry pepper spray and take self-defense classes and think we’ll be ready. In fact I once took a self-defense class geared precisely toward what to do if someone grabs you from behind and pins your arms down.

The fact of the matter is: When it’s happening to you, you just go into SHOCK.

I am very surprised that this man attacked me with another person at my side, but I’m very thankful she was there. I’m positive I would have been raped had she not been.

Though they are illegal here, I have ordered a stun gun and I intend to begin carrying it in my hand if ever I have to walk in DC at night. The fact that I have to resort to this infuriates me, and the reality of never being able to simply go for a walk in the city I love and reside in, without feeling perpetually on guard and defensive and nervous, makes me really sad.

I don’t know what it is about this city, or me, or the combination of the two that makes this type of thing so very prevalent, but I want it to stop, and I don’t know what to do.

– B.

Location: Washington, DC; Columbia Heights neighborhood; 16th St. NW at Spring, near The Woodner apartment building

Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem. Include your location and it will be added to the Street Harassment Map.

10 Responses to Frightful sexual violation by a stranger in Columbia Heights, DC

  1. Sue Henderson says:

    I’m so sorry that this happened to you. You sound totally stunned still and I can understand why.

    I think one of the biggest factors is that the witnesses refused even to admit it had happened. That’s so disempowering.

    You’ve coped with all the verbal attacks and you’ll cope with this too. It’s tough, it’s incredibly tough, but I believe you’ll come through it in one piece, however long it takes.

    I wish you peace of mind. Sue x

  2. Golden Silence says:

    I am so sorry that happened to you. No one deserves to be attacked like that.

    I frequently get harassed, and I can relate to constantly blaming myself and wondering why I get harassed so frequently, but in the end I realize that the harassers are the problem, not me.

    The men sitting on that porch who DENIED anything going on are just as bad (if not worse) than the man who attacked you. They’re probably part of that pathetic “stop snitchin'” culture. May nothing like what happened to you happen to one of their female loved ones. How would they feel if it happened to a female loved one and some clowns who witnessed it denied it? I’m sure they wouldn’t like it at all.

    You’ll get past this in time. This disgusting scumbag will get his just desserts in due time. Stay strong.

  3. Clarice says:

    Omg im so sorry you went through this. What a weirdo. It’s not safe to go out anywhere. I hope that sad little bastard gets what he deserves in time. You are not to blame for what happened to you, if you are attacked like that again, don’t forget you have a knee, use it! , ) or grab his nuts and twist. All the best.

  4. B. says:

    Thanks for the support, ladies. It is comforting to share these thoughts/stories.

    @Golden: I remember being on here for the first time last year when I was gropped by 2 men on bikes, and I remember you indicating that you experience a high volume of harassment as well. I hope that has changed for you some since I was on here last.

    Honestly, the men sitting idly by on the porch DID infuriate me even more than my attacker. Those men are always there, and they eye-rape me every time I have to walk past them to my friend’s buliding. I suspect they themselves take the occasional liberty with a strange woman’s body on the street, so it makes sense they would have no interest in attacking the problem.

    I know I’m not to blame, I just wonder what it is about me that tends to attract SO much sexual harassment. The comments are daily, if not hourly on the weekends when I’m not sheltered by my office. I walk with headphones (daytime) these days just so that I don’t have to hear what is being said to me.

    I’ve always thought that if something like that ever happened to me, I’d use the knee, twist the balls, shove the elbow, etc. I once took a class that taught me exactly what to do if attacked from behind. I literally couldn’t move my arms or hands, though (they were pinned), and even if I could have, I was in such shock the whole time, and it happened so fast that I don’t think I could have reacted.

    I thought I was okay with this– I felt very cerebral about it when it first happened. I have been growing increasingly nervous, however, as the days have passed, and it’s unsettling.

  5. Golden Silence says:

    …I remember you indicating that you experience a high volume of harassment as well. I hope that has changed for you some since I was on here last.

    Moving to a different environment has lessened the harassment, but it hasn’t curbed it completely. It just shows that a woman can do whatever she can to prevent and deter harassment, but the onus really needs to be on the HARASSERS.

    I hope you and other DC-area readers are at the Stop Street Harassment book signing next Thursday. I want to give my support in person to anyone who’s been through this nonsense.

  6. Xanni says:

    I’m so sorry about what happened to you. I had enough of animals harassing me everywhere since I was 14. Now, I’m FTM transsexual and tomorrow is my first testosterone shot. I will grow even bigger muscles than I have now. If I see anyone harassing women in the future, I’m sorry for them in advance, cause I won’t stand still and watch it quietly.

  7. I’m sorry that you are being continuously harassed. As a male, I’m disappointed that this inappropriate and disrespectful behavior is tolerated by other men.

  8. B. says:

    I’ll be at the book signing on Thursday. Wouldn’t miss it.

  9. lubna says:

    yesterday,when i went
    to the park for exercise,a guy started talking to me,i was so nervous,i was replying to his questions,n i was putting headphn back in my ear,n started walking,he again talked,i puld headphn n answered,it kept on goin like that,atlast i kept on walking forward n didnt reply once more,i walked so fast,i was so nervous,i didnt walk another round,i cam bak home..im so afraid..,how wil i go outside?that guy was askin if i walked daily,what do i do,he even askd the working girl who went wid me abt my name n where do i live.ALLAH PLS PROTECT ME. IL PRAY 4 U TOO GIRL.

  10. Anonymous says:

    omg

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