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Day 3: Assaulted at my 15th birthday party

Svea Vikander, age 15

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Welcome back. Today is day three, in which I share my experience of having been surrounded and assaulted by three men at my 15th birthday party. This month, I share 29 of my 42 memories of sexual harassment and violence, all experienced as a young Canadian woman. These are the memories that just wouldn't leave me alone after I learned about the Jian Ghomeshi scandal in late 2014. He goes to trial this month and, in a way, so do I.

If you're joining us now, may I suggest that you start at the beginning, by reading my introduction here.


Incident number seven

I was 14-years old and my mom said I could have a party to celebrate turning 15. I had (and continue to have) an irrational fear that no one will come to my birthday, so I invited the whole school. It was exactly like the movies.

My mom was confiscating beer from kids who were then rifling through her jewelry. The cops came four times, eventually clearing the whole thing out when someone pulled a knife. A stereo was stolen, and a stack of my friend Nora's CDs. 

I don't have any pictures from that night but I remember thinking I looked pretty cute. I was wearing a tight powder-blue dress with butterflies on it, so completely late-90s fashionable that even a teenage boy remembered it and described it to a mutual friend. It was short and had a small slit up the side. I was wearing high white platform heels. I probably had a mouthful of braces (Marie Henein would tear me apart for this because I don't remember, because it doesn't matter). I was wearing sensible white cotton undies because I was still a child. 

As the night progressed and the gathering slid steadily into entropy, my mother demanded that I ask anyone I didn't personally know to leave. I saw her point.

I thought I had cleared out the basement but when I walked off the main room into my bedroom, I found three men I didn't know, all wearing black, tearing it apart, throwing my books on the floor, presumably looking for things of value. I screamed at them, asked them what the hell they were doing, and they surrounded me. One pulled up my skirt. He and the others grabbed ever part of my nether regions they could. I screamed. 

They laughed and made to leave. I pulled my skirt down. One held back to apologize, saying with some linguistic prescience, "You're really beautiful, tho."

I had little time to process this incident. I continued clearing out the party. I knew the men would be long gone and that I would only embarrass myself by making a fuss. I was already embarrassed enough, even a little ashamed of somebody having seen my childish underpants. I worried most about the damage they had done to my family heirloom copy of Shakespeare’s Collected Works. I think it was they who stole the stereo and CDs  --  items that, 17 years later, it's almost impossible to convince anyone to take for free.

 

Svea Vikander, Italy, age 14

 

These men took something from me: titillation at my expense, and physical intimacy to which I did not consent. But I gave nothing to them. I didn't feel humiliated or ashamed. I felt angry; unlike the two earlier incidents I've described, I didn't feel disgusted with myself, but disgusted with them. This made the whole thing much easier to get over.

I wonder if my anger was facilitated by the fact that these men did not simply assault me but also stole goods from me. I knew how to feel when someone obviously did something wrong, obviously broke the law. I could stand up for my books, but if they hadn't been rifling through my room, would I have been able to stand up for me?

Both of the two times I have reported a physical assault to the police, their response has used the same logic: But what did he take from you? Was it an iPhone? As if consumer goods could ever take precedence over a woman's physical integrity. But, easier to track. Easier to prosecute.

On New Year's Eve 2016, men surrounded, robbed and groped women in Cologne and other cities in Europe. Much was made about the supposed coordination of these attacks (and this may very well have been the case  --  we won't know for some time) but, given the experience I write about today, I don't believe conspiracy was necessary. 

I believe that groups of men simultaneously chose to carry out the attacks that night simply because a set of (unknown) conditions were right. The condition I suspect (and fear) the most is the skewed gender ratio in the crowd. Men are often emboldened by the presence of other men; young men with their masculinity on the line can be particularly merciless. Attacks like this happen all the time. I write about two more in this project alone.

Groups of men are dangerous to women. To paraphrase Margaret Atwood, men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.

Tomorrow: A watcher at my window.

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