The women’s poll asked questions like these: Have you ever been groped? How did you react? Did you report the incident? The men’s poll, on the other hand, asked questions like these: Have you ever groped a woman? Do you think groping is morally wrong? Do you think it’s inappropriate to furtively sniff a woman’s hair?
The gender-specific polling left us with a significant information gap. How many men are victims of groping, anyway? Do male groping victims call the police? How do they process the experience? Do they scream, hit, freeze, or quietly escape? And how many women have reached out and touched a man without his consent?
Below, four stories from D.C.’s male groping victims —-and the testimony of one female groper.
“[I] could barely look myself in the mirror.”
A couple of years ago, a local law student was sitting on a crowded Red line train when his seat-mate decided to make it a bumpy ride. “As the train started moving . . . I felt some motion from the man next to me—-his body was kind of moving slightly up and down against my side,” says the student, who was busy studying a casebook for class. “At first, I thought this was due to the natural movement of the Metro train, but it soon became clear that the movement was not from the train, but from the man.”
As the train continued down the track, the guy’s movements advanced beyond the realm of “natural movement.” “As the train moved on, the movements got more intense to the point where the man was grinding his side and back, half his ass, and part of his leg up against me,” the student says. When the student attempted to edge his body away and focus on the reading, his assailant stepped up his activity. “My efforts to get away from him seemed to only embolden him more, and at one point he even reached back to lift up his shirt so the skin of his back was rubbing up against my arm, leg, and side,” he says.
The escalating rubbing left the student “horrified and disgusted.” But as the train approached the student’s station, another response hit—-“extremely frightened.” The assailant was trapping him in the seat, and he’d have to confront him to get out. At the last minute, the confrontation was avoided—-one station before the student’s stop, the man abruptly exited the train. The student hadn’t uttered a word. “I got home to my apartment that night and could barely look myself in the mirror,” he says. “I was scared, disgusted, felt violated, and also was pissed off at myself for not doing anything.”
The crowded, enclosed train isn’t the only breeding ground for D.C. public transport groping; gropers have been known to stage their assaults in all corners of the Metrorail system. Another of the District’s male groping victims got grabbed while ascending from the Foggy Bottom station on an escalator. The man “felt someone drag their hand along the bottom of my ass and then give it a squeeze,” he says. “I looked back and it was a 20-something woman . . . She just gave me this ‘dare you’ smile back.”
As he stepped off the escalator, the woman commented about “loving a good ass,” then walked away. The victim, who said nothing at the time, says he had mixed feelings on the event: “I was kind of stunned and torn between outrage—-how dare you grab—-and flattery—-hey, she likes my ass. And then wondering what the hell was wrong with me for feeling flattered.”
Later, the man was groped again on the Foggy Bottom stop’s escalator—-this time, going down. As he descended into the station, “someone behind me slipped their hand into my back pocket,” he says. “I turned around and it was a lady in her 40s or 50s. She just smiled and told me I should be careful leaving my back pockets unbuttoned,” he says. “I was just . . . flabbergasted. . . . I never had a response for either of them, vocally or otherwise, other than stepping away. I’m not sure why.”
“I was too stunned to punch him.”
Davis, who is straight, had hit the bar with a few of his colleagues, and was waiting for one of his female co-workers outside the club’s restrooms when the groper approached. “Guy walks right up to me and grabs my crotch,” he says. “Just reached out and grabbed my junk.”
The grope caught Davis off guard. “I was too stunned to punch him, so I just sort of turned my back, like ‘Holy shit.’” Davis says. Then, “I sort of turn around again, like, wait a second—-shouldn’t I be doing something?” When Davis turned, the groper confrontedhim first: “I have a hotel room,” he whispered into Davis’ ear. “Want to come play with me? I’ll pay you.”
When Davis finally mustered a reply—-“flattered, but straight”—-the groper informed him that he had no business being in a gay bar in the first place. To the man groping the crotches of strangers, Davis was the one who had broken the rules.
“I don’t want to be rude, so I do it.”
Despite the Cobalt groper’s assertion, being a gay man in a gay bar doesn’t automatically indicate that you’re interested in unsolicited bodily contact. Keli, 25, says he’s often felt slightly uncomfortable with the unwritten rule in such venues—-that gay men are up for grabs. “I had my first experience on Sunday night with a girl trying to grope me,” Keli said of a night out at Town Danceboutique. The woman grabbed his body and attempted to force him to dance with her, “almost in an ownership kind of way,” he says. “I tried to politely smile and turned back around to dance with [my boyfriend].”
As a gay man, Keli has often been party to an unspoken groping pact between gay men and straight women. In this strange social order, gay men feel entitled to get touchy-feely with the bodies of straight women, and vice-versa. “Butts and breasts are OK, under certain circumstances—-clubs,” says Keli. “I think that the vagina and the penis/testicles are usually off limits no matter what. I have a feeling that’s a general rule.”
In Keli’s experience, women have often initiated such encounters. “I mean, in college, I would dance with some straight girls at the club,” he says. “This was so long ago, but I know that I would grab their hips and dance with them, but only after they would turn around and grind into my crotch with their butts,” Keli explains.
The expectation of permissiveness has even led Keli to perform some awkward groping of his own. Sometimes, “[if] we are talking about breasts . . . a woman will tell me to touch them,” Keli says. “I don’t want to be rude, so I do it, but it does make me feel uncomfortable.”
“That’s when I really screwed up.”
When I sent a call out last month for gropers to tell their stories, the only person who would admit to ever performing a grope was a woman. The 24-year-old, who asked that her name not be published, skipped out while visiting family in Bethesda in order to grope a man in the District. She had already visited the guy once, earlier that year, and the visit had gone well. “I went to his house and we had sex all night,” she says. “There was some groping then, but probably not the kind you mean.”
On her second trip to the area, she returned for more of the same. “The second time I went to see him, we met in public, and I asked him if he wanted to go back to his place,” she says. The proposition ended in a fight on a tourist-heavy sidewalk. “He hemmed and hawed and was clearly uncomfortable,” she says. But he didn’t give her an outright “no.” So she kept pushing to get him into bed. “He’s a good-looking guy and had been great in the sack and quite easy to get there last time,” she says. But eventually, the man gave her a “no.”
“That’s when I really screwed up,” she says. “I gave him a goodbye hug.” And then some: “hugging him I grabbed his ass and ground into his groin. I was going to make him want me,” she says. He didn’t. “He got an erection but pushed me away.”
Later, when the woman had digested the situation, she called the man and apologized. The man claimed to have been flattered; the woman didn’t end up feeling so good about it. “I think there’s a cultural expectation that a man doesn’t turn down a woman, and a man definitely doesn’t turn down a woman who’s much younger than him and offering no-strings, no-date sex,” she says. “And when I learned the hard way that it isn’t always so, my reaction was hurt, aggressive, and ugly . . . Maybe ‘culture’ set it up, but Iwas the one who touched my friend in ways he didn’t want, and I deserve to be ashamed of that.”