I am still shaken by an encounter that Douglas had on yesterday. He likes to take very long walks, so after we spent the afternoon walking and lying on the beach together, he went for another walk alone among the lagoons not far from the apartment we are renting in Quarteria, Portugal. When he returned, he looked a little bewildered, and then he told me what had happened to him. I think that it hit me harder than it did him because I tend to think of assaults of this nature as only against women. But a good mentor for men would remind them to observe and be alert, too.
The lagoons where he was walking are not visited by a lot of people, mainly because people come here for the beach and tanning. So, it is somewhat isolated there. Douglas had been admiring the view from the lagoons, and he stopped to take a picture. He had walked out a distance from the path seeking the best picture possible, so he was not looking around him. He thought that he was alone. There is a campground nearby, but he didn’t see anyone there.
Suddenly, as he was started to take his picture, a man sneaked up behind him, wrapped his arms around him, and attempted to touch him in a private way. Douglas had not heard him come up behind him. The first indication that he was not alone was the man’s hands around the middle of his body. He said that he immediately turned around and said, “No,” very forcefully, so that the man knew that it was not okay what he was trying to do. Then, he turned and started walking away from the man, who was white, shorter than Douglas, kind of pudgy, and was wearing a blue shirt.
Douglas says that he put on his power-walking and the guy could not keep up with him. When he eventually looked back, the man had stopped following him and just watched him go. Douglas came straight back to the apartment. He was disturbed, but not in a panic or anything, as I would have been, if it had happened to me as a woman. I was dismayed that Douglas was so calm about it, but he said that it was a minor incident in his life, and that if he had been raped, it would have been a major incident and he would feel justified being very upset.
For him, the guy tried and was unsuccessful in his objective, so no harm done. He says that he wished that he had thought to take the man’s picture, but I said that may have gotten him hurt, because the guy would have been afraid of going to jail. I told him that for me this was not a minor incident, as he had been sexually assaulted, but we see it in two very different ways, which surprised me.
I kept saying how stunned I was that something like this could happen, but Douglas says that when he was hitchhiking around Europe and the United States in his younger days, he was accosted by men and he simply handled it with a firm response that he was not interested in that sort of encounter, and hastily got out of the cars or refused the offer of a ride. Whereas those situations would have scared me and left a lasting impact on how I live my life, for my husband, it was not a big deal, which I find almost as troubling as the encounter.
As a survivor of a sexual assault that happened over 42 years ago, I still ask Douglas every night before we cut out the lights if he has checked the doors, both at home and here in Portugal. If he cannot say yes for sure, I get up and check them myself. Indeed, some nights, I double-check after him. Last night, for instance, I found that Douglas had not locked the front door, after all. When I went to pull on the doorknob to see if the door was locked, it opened, and my first thought was that I must close it quickly before someone comes in the apartment and hurt us both.
I also check the door to the patio because it is difficult to close. If I find it still open, I get Douglas up to shut it securely. He teases me that we are five floors up and it is unlikely that someone will climb up that far and come into the apartment. But, I still sometimes have nightmares in which as I am locking the door, a man places his feet in the door and then pushes his way into the apartment. I always wake up screaming and sweating, and Douglas has to assure me that the doors are truly locked and that it was just a bad dream.
I am still shaken about the encounter, and I wish that Douglas would have agreed to go to the police any way and reported it, in case this was not an isolated incident, but he feels that I am making way too much of it. Maybe he is right, but I think that we tell our daughters and other women to be careful and to always be alert to their surrounding and who is around them.
Yet, we often do not teach the same to our sons or the men in our lives, especially in terms of possible sexual assault. We may tell them to be careful because of the level of physical violence against men, especially black men, with so many people toting guns today. But the encounter that Douglas had yesterday should alert us that we need to be telling the men in our lives to be careful and alert, too, because we live in a broken world with broken people, some of whom are depraved and do not care about hurting other people for their own pleasure or control.
I asked Douglas why he didn’t deck that guy, or, at the very least, have kicked him in a most sensitive place, as women are taught in self-defense classes. He said that he did not think it deserved that. But also he worried that he might have ended up in jail, if he had really hurt the guy, as the police may have thought any physical assault on the perpetrator was overkill. But, most police officers are men, and I think they would have been very understanding if Douglas had put some hurt on that guy’s backside.
He has gone out today alone for one of his “Douglie” days, the days when he wants to hike up to 20 miles and I simply cannot hang with him that long. The incident has not impacted him at all, just his overwrought wife. I wanted to hold him close and protect him, but he was not having any of that. Yet, as a mentor, I want to warn men and women that no matter where you are, and no matter how safe it appears, to always be alert and observe what is happening around you. Stay prepared for flight or fight, and if you are accosted, call the police to report it, even if you are not physically hurt. Updated to add the prompt for today, which was just right for this post.