Driving Me to Think
“I’m sorry that happened to you. That totally fucking sucks.”
A young man I’ll call “Daniel” had spent the last several months going to physical therapy for a strained wrist-to-shoulder. He was in a moderate amount of pain all the time, “But at least I got to have the summer off work” he said, putting a positive spin on his injury. He was perfectly able to drive himself, but the therapists’ office was pretty far from where he lived, so the company he worked for paid for ride-share to take him rather than deal with the mounds of paperwork required for him to be reimbursed for using his own vehicle.
Daniel was barely out of his teens and lived in a small town; and though he was outgoing and Goth-ish, he was still naïve about a number of things. One thing he was not at all naïve about was Consent. The reason Daniel was being treated at a physical therapy office so far from where he lived was because the previous therapist had performed a procedure against Daniel’s express wishes.
“He wanted to crack my neck and I told him not to. He’s just a physical therapist, not a chiropractor. But he was like ‘Just relax, just relax’ and then he twisted my head like that [a demonstrative gesture]. And then he laughed.”
Daniel had been furious and had sat straight up and demanded of the therapist, “Why did you do that!? I just told you not to!” But the man had just laughed to himself and walked out of the room.
Naturally, Daniel had felt really stupid for trusting the guy. And though he had reported to his employer representative what had happened, though he had refused to go to back to that particular clinic again (which is where I came in), the incident continued to bother Daniel to the point where he admittedly couldn’t stop talking about it. “I bring it up at least four or five times a week” he estimated.
“That’s because you’ve been violated!” I responded, offering him validation. “Someone put his hands on you in a way that you explicitly told him not to. It doesn’t have to be sexual for you to feel like that. It’s all about power. You said the guy laughed, right?”
“Yeah, that’s what pisses me off the most.”
Daniel was excited that someone finally understood his experience, and renewed in his anger now that he had a better vocabulary to define it.
“You told him ‘no’ and he did it anyway” I said simply. “And then he laughed about it. I’m really sorry that happened to you. That totally fucking sucks.”
I think that for males, being victimized in this kind of way is very difficult to recognize. Daniel could see clearly that the therapist had not only dismissed and ignored his non-consent, but had literally laughed it off. He could clearly see that the therapist’s actions had left him feeling both humiliated and that he had no recourse against what the therapist had done to him. What Daniel was unable to identify — what nagged at him so — was why he felt so humiliated and ashamed; why he couldn’t stop talking about it or replaying it in his head. Daniel couldn’t see that he had been assaulted by someone he was meant to trust and that that assault had traumatized him.
We have a tendency to think of assault as violent and brutal; an alcohol-soaked pummeling. And in common parlance that is what it has come to mean. But most of the time, assault involves no physical contact at all, as any woman or adolescent girl in your life can tell you — and in legal terms, no physical contact is required. Assault is simply the threat of violent or unwanted touch; or deliberately intimidating someone to cause them to fear you.
It’s easy to see why men in particular have a difficult time recognizing that they have been assaulted in an incident like Daniel’s, even when the experience leaves them feeling vulnerable and ashamed. In Daniel’s case, the incident wasn’t violent and occurred in an open space occupied by many other people, and Daniel was there voluntarily and free to leave at his leisure. But for people like the abusive therapist, those circumstances mean nothing. It’s all about power and control, and they will take advantage of someone in a vulnerable position — in Daniel’s case, literally — whenever the slightest opportunity presents itself.
As we made the turn onto Daniel’s street I reiterated to him that he had nothing to be ashamed of and that what happened to him wasn’t his fault, and if he needed to talk to someone like a counselor he shouldn’t feel embarrassed. And then I asked him if, once he had processed everything and was ready, he thought maybe he could try to take the experience as a lesson about what it’s like for women every day. He agreed that he had a much better understanding already.