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The Ghomeshi scandal made me remember all the times I was sexually violated

Svea Vikander's picture
As former CBC talkshow host Jian Ghomeshi goes to trial for four counts of sexual assault this month, Canada is forced to confront its attitudes about sex, consent, and the validity of victims' stories. Each day of February, Svea Vikander, a Canadian radio host and therapist, shares another of her personal experiences of sexual harassment and assault.

Day 12: Jian Ghomeshi reminded me of being molested while crowdsurfing

| February 12, 2016
Svea Vikander: Could have been worse

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Jian Ghomeshi goes to trial this month. And so, in a way, do Canadian women. This trial is not only about a man who violated the four women pressing charges, but about whether we, as a society, trust women who tell. 

It's personal for me. Today and every day of February, I am sharing my own stories of sexual harassment and violence. Today is day twelve, in which I share my experience of being grabbed in the vagina by many people while crowdsurfing at a rock show. If you're joining us now, may I suggest that you start at the beginning, by reading my introduction here. And remember, practice self-care. The Ghomeshi scandal has one hell of an undertow.

*This post contains foul language, mostly swear words from the frontman of a nu metal band* 



This is incident number fifteen.

It was 2003. I was 17 and at a show for some band at some Western Canada music festival. I went with friends to the mid-afternoon event, which was in an old hotel on Granville Street in Vancouver. I wore a black satin/lace teddy/dress and probably some other clothes and high heels. Very Courtney Love. I remember something about them checking my ID at the door; I ignored them and walked the hell on in because that's what being underage is all about. 

George Strombolopous was there in his leather jacket, standing at the back next to the bar with a videographer at his side. I was excited to be there, to be out with my friends.

There was an opportunity to dance on stage. I can't remember if it was a casual "you should go be that girl" opportunity, or if it was a specific request. I was one of the few women there. How could I not? I dragged a friend and we went up. The room was small and had an old, goldish, baroqueish ceiling. It held maybe 200 people. The music was loud. I had always wanted to crowd surf. 

I imagined it as a quasi-spiritual experience. What could be better than hundreds of people supporting your weight as you float above them, buoyed by their collective will? What better hallmark of surrender than to throw oneself onto the crowd?

Somebody else threw themselves first. I went second.

It could have been worse. I didn't, for example, fall flat on the floor. But everybody grabbed my nether regions. Like, real grabs. Hard grabs, getting right in there. 

I wanted down right away but had to wait until the crowd passed me to the back of the concert venue.

After being groped by what felt like a hundred men I was deposited at the feet of Strombo himself. I was a bit shaken up but celebrity is celebrity and I can be awfully charming after I've been assaulted. I introduced myself and we shook hands. He is known for being very polite.


I assumed that this was just what happened when women crowdsurfed. I figured it was one of the many hard truths I was learning about life and the restrictions of being a woman. At least, having done it once, I figured, I knew not to do it again.

It wasn't until more than a decade later, on hearing about an incident in which Aaron Lewis, lead singer of Staind, stopped his live show to berate audience members for "molesting" a crowdsurfing teenaged girl that I realized that this experience wasn't...inevitable. Pre-ordained. Part of the great Chain of Being. That I wasn't just a dumb kid who had put herself at risk (I was!) but also that I should and perhaps someday could be able to trust men to do the crowd-surfing thing without trying to insert themselves into my body.

Would you like to hear what Lewis said? Watch the video embedded into this post. I've watched it many, many times and found it intensely satisfying. It's NSFW, so for those of you at W, this is what he says:

"Listen up you fucking assholes, that fucking girl over right there is like 15 fucking years old and you fucking pieces of shit are molesting her while she's on the fucking crowd....You should all be fucking beaten down by everyone around you for being fucking pieces of shit....If I fucking see that shit again I swear to God I will point you out in the crowd and have everyone around you beat your fucking ass."

And apparently (you can't see it in the video), he goes on to say, "Now, girls, feel free to crowd-surf safely."

I knew that I was unhappy with what had happened. I knew I regretted going on stage and regretted throwing myself onto the crowd. I didn't know that I had been molested until someone else told me.

Many women (and some men) over the past 12 days have told me that the incidents I claim as sexual assault and harassment were things they had never considered as any kind of notable violation. One friend wrote, 

"When I read your intro....I assumed they would be "more serious," "more physical." When I read them my first reaction was this isn't harassment, this is within the range of womens' normal everyday experience in society -- its common, not "OK"...but not things I would think of as sexual assault or harassment. And then I wondered why I would think that, because it certainly isn't OK for men to act this way, and I realized that...I was reacting this way because this was my experience [too]."

She goes on to say that it's been "heavy" and "eye-opening" to look back on her own experiences under this rubric.

We're socialized to think that this kind of uncomfortable, difficult event is just the everyday cost of being female. That part of being a woman is knowing how to "handle yourself" in these situations: how to walk that fine line between exerting enough pressure on the man to stop his behavior but not so much that the situation gets worse. When someone waltzes in and says, "Nope, that's not only unnecessary and unethical, it's also illegal and it is described by words that you previously associated with the evening news" it can throw you for a tailspin. It's like having grown up with an undiagnosed medical disorder and suddenly meeting someone else with the same thing, and they have a name for it. 

At least one of Ghomeshi's accusers stated that she did not go to the police straight away because she did not know that what he had done was illegal. I, too, did not know. That a man who hit without consent, but without causing lasting bodily injury and within the context of a sexual encounter, could be brought to trial. I was amazed.

I realized that the men who pulled my skirt up and touched me at a party were not just assholes, they were breaking the law! Same with the one who trespassed my mother's property to peer in my bedroom window! And the guy who groped me as I was putting on my shoes! I've never been one for rules and regulations (cf. giving zero fucks about being underage) but damn, did it feel good to have the law, at least in name, on my side.

And only in name. This disease you've had since childhood has never before been successfully treated. Ghomeshi has been brought to trial but it is exceedingly unlikely that he will be convicted. And former Crown prosecutor Sandy Garossino had this to say about the allegations: "Nobody even yelled rape here. Except for the hard blows described by the first witness, the assaults claimed were quite minor and fleeting--so much so that were it not for the larger scandal, they'd never have been charged at all."

They'd never have been charged at all.

They'd never have been charged.

At all.

I believe Garossino. If it weren't for Ghomeshi's status, and the accusations of more than 20 other people, these violations were too "minor and fleeting" to have received any legal attention. I was surprised to hear that the law forbids them. I felt emboldened by the knowledge and I keep it close to my heart. But I won't let it get to my head.  


I'll be sharing shorter stories this weekend as I gear up for a week of dating scenarios that I have, in all honesty, been avoiding writing about thus far. I'll share about the acquaintance who touched my stomach and breasts, apologizing as he did so. I'll share about the guy who knowingly bestowed nonconsensual hickeys on my neck, leading me to wear high collars and jaunty neck scarves on dates with other men. I'll share about the ex who wouldn't leave me alone until I pretended to cry. And (bonus!) the date who "accidentally" inserted his penis inside me. 

Svea Vikander is a Swedish-Canadian radio host and therapist currently residing in Berkeley, California. Find her on twitter (@SveaVikander) and Instagram (@SveaVikander). 

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