Up yours upskirters

I’ve always had mixed feelings when someone says that “a girl is asking for it.”

The charge implies that a woman deserves what she puts out into the universe—as if she’s procuring sexual harassment or violence. Well, no girl, however short the skirt or tight the shirt, deserves that sort of comeuppance.

I have dressed inappropriately in my day. Not to work, not to school – in my private life. Am I asking for it?

I am incensed by some of the outfits of young girls today and can’t stop myself from thinking that I was never that bad. Instead of thinking or saying aloud that a young woman deserves a man’s overtures, I want to give her a little fashion advice – modesty keeps the boys wanting and tight clothes do not equal more respect.

I should know – no matter what I wear I can’t seem to escape sexual advances from certain men. From the not-so-subtle looks to the out-right screams as they drive by in their cars, unwanted advances keep happening.

I’ve even had a man reach out and grab my butt as I walked down the sidewalk. This isn’t a compliment to my appearance – it’s a side effect of my gender. I know this would happen to me no matter what I looked like because I’ve been chased by grown men three times in my life: Once when I was 17, walking my two dogs in Round Hill while wearing gray sweatpants. The second time was in Paris, France when I was wearing a heavy coat and jeans (it was February) and another time in Vienna, Austria.

None of these instances – one of which resulted in me being escorted home in a police car and the other two in me running as fast as I could to the closest form of public transportation – has been as heartbreaking to me as when I was upskirted.

Today, Loudoun Times-Mirror Managing Editor John Geddie wrote an article on a Reston man, David A. Solomon, 27, who was sentenced to six years for “upskirt” photos he took of several women at Dulles Airport.

“‘Upskirting’ is typically when someone covertly takes photos or video up the dress of an unsuspecting female. The unlawful filming of another is a felony under Virginia law,” the article reads.

This report was written and posted on our website unbeknownst to me. I read it first on LoudounTimes.com the same way you all did. And, it brought back a flush of emotion from a fall day I spent looking for winter boots at Tysons Corner Mall.

I was wearing a light pink J. Crew, knee-length dress. I was on my annual hunt for winter boots, which can take hours and is all-absorbing. As I perused the leather boots in Bloomingdales, I had the feeling that I was being watched. But when I looked up, I didn’t see anyone curious. I couldn’t shake the feeling, however, so I walked to the escalator to switch floors to get away from someone, I was sure, who was following me.

Halfway up the climb, I felt a finger on my inner thigh. I turned around to find a young man looking right at me and holding his phone out.

At first, my words choked in my throat. I couldn’t believe he had just taken a picture of me. I lunged for his phone, screaming, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

He kept repeating, “no, no, no.” He clearly didn’t speak English. When he didn’t relinquish his phone, I reached up my hand to slap him in his face – but I couldn’t muster it.

A mother and her teenager daughter were standing behind us on the escalator. They did nothing. When we reached the top level, he and I both managed to get off, amongst the shower of my curse words. I felt as if my screams were only inside my head because no one was doing anything. He watched me yelling at him. He didn’t seem frightened as he slowly walked away from me. He dwarfed my self-assurance that what had just happened was a big deal and that he needed to pay. I instantly doubted my instincts.

Still, I rushed to a nearby cashier and told her that someone had just taken a picture up my dress. She said, “Oh no.” But, she too, was young to know what to do. Frustratingly to me, I started crying as I approached two more Bloomingdales employees.

The women rushed me to the employee break area where they fed me water and tissues until two undercover policemen arrived.

As I recited my tale to them, it became abundantly clear that my violator had escaped. The policeman told me he was probably long gone.

“Why would he touch me?” I asked.

The officer told me that he had probably not meant to scrape my leg at all, that he had probably meant to get his picture without me ever knowing. This man had done it before and he would do it again, the officer told me.

This is, presumably, Solomon’s goal, also. As he followed the woman around with a bag almost underneath her legs, he didn’t want to be caught. Was she asking for it, this traveler accompanied by her fiancee?

I was later asked why I didn’t hit him. The only answer I could give was that just because he is a bad person that doesn’t mean I am. My only regret is that I didn’t stop him. I didn’t wrestle him to the ground. I didn’t try hard enough to get his phone.

He is out there now – at the mall or in the airport – preying on other women. I had a chance to stop that, and I didn’t. I couldn’t.

The next best thing that I can do now is to spread the word that this does happen. Due to shame, or pity, it’s taken it happening to another woman falling victim for me to use my blog as a very public platform for what the police officer told me is a common occurrence.

Please pay attention when you’re alone:

—Listen to your intuition and your instincts.

—Make sure you cell phone is charged and in a place you can easily get to it.

—Carry pepper spray, yes, even in Tysons Corner Mall.

—Always look behind you, beside you, in front of you.

—Tell your friends.

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