Sometimes, you never know the full extent of your rights about something until you say something, and then you find out you actually had a lot more recourse than you thought you did. For example, I learned today that in New York State, you can file a police report if you experience sexual harassment, which, according to NYS Human Rights laws, can cover incidents like catcalling. The statute of limitations on filing a report is up to one year after the last episode of harassment the victim experiences. The idea that one could file a complaint to a nearby police officer, especially if catcalled in a public place, hadn’t seemed realistic to me until I read it in print on the New York City Department of Human Rights’s website.
I’m going to run down what, exactly, has been happening that I consider harassment. My superintendent always stared at me in the building; when I had to run into him to do quotidian stuff like laundry or entering and leaving. He stared a hole in me every time, like he couldn’t believe I was there. This happens a lot. Finally, eventually, I had some occasion to talk to him and he immediately asked to ‘hang out sometime’, because I was ‘so beautiful’. I should have seen the trouble coming from miles away. Instead I thought I could actually get on friendly terms with my goddamned superintendent and invite him over for a beer. I do things like this because I foolishly think “Dashiell Finley could crack a cold one without incident with his Supt.” It’s true, right?
Instead I was subjected to the world’s most uncomfortable house calls. Right from the start it was all about how I look, and creepy hugs. My super is overweight, actually, he’s obese, and lives in a culture of clubbing and words which are misspelled more than half the time. He wanted to take me to dinner. To clubs. He brought alcohol and weed to my house in quantities that were clearly supposed to buy influence. Once intoixcated on my premises he would ask to kiss me, tried to do stupid “Spanish lessons” to get me to repeat phrases I didn’t exactly know but always had to do with physical contact like “I want to kiss you”, drilled me for stories about my own sex life and shared insane, probably fictitious tales about his own. He asked me if I walked around my apartment naked. He wanted to know what kind of guys I liked, whether I liked him. He liked me. He gave me tons of compliments about liking me so that I would have to reciprocate or feel like a total heel. I let him leave the house totally shaken after forty minutes of this but told him the next day to knock it the fuck off over the telephone. Specifically I asked him what the fuck kind of question was that, did I walk around my apartment naked? It was like I had invited all of the south side of 207th Street between Broadway and 10th Avenue to heckle me in my room. He apologized profusely and said it was all a joke and that he felt so bad and then blew up my phone with more apologetic texts. He wanted to “still be friends”.
Did I mention that I told the fucking building company the unit next to mine was free, when they made a silly bluff during a tenant meeting “well, we’d love to put a super in your building, but where would he go?” like we didn’t know which units in our own building were vacant. I feel very much like I invited all of this unto myself and the police are not helping in regards to my perception of that.
For months I have been in a Cold War of avoiding my superintendent, policing his behavior, and agreeing to see him at intervals so he doesn’t sulk and bitch that I’m ‘avoiding him’. I have no idea why I gave him this kind of consideration, seeing as he let me know out of the starting gate how I felt about having sex with him was immaterial to the matter; he seems to think I was like a spaceship and he was like a black hole, and if he could just drag me past the event horizon, sex would be imminent, and I would be cool with it and powerless to tame his Latin lust. I can honestly say I feel as uncomfortable when he’s pleased with me as when he’s pissed or hurt, like he is now, because I filed a police report about this bullshit and am drafting a letter to the building company.
But sometimes there is bad news when you talk to the cops. For example, they feel the need to mark whether your relationship with your harasser is ‘domestic’ or not; in my case, the deciding factor was had I ever acquiesced and gone on a date with the man who is sexually harassing me. It seemed a major point of contention; since I had allowed him into my apartment for social visits without enlisting my friends to act as chaperons. The fact that he had repeatedly asked me to take my clothes off once invited inside and repeatedly turned even our first conversation to visualizations of my naked body and specifics about my sex life seemed not to matter. What did I expect, asking a 26 year old Latino guy what was on his mind?
The police seem to read into that one the same way my harasser, my father, and my friends do (when being honest): “If a girl invites you to her apartment alone it’s an invitation for sex.” Or, to phrase it another way: boys and girls can never actually be friends in Straightland, because men always want one thing only. So had I gone out on a date with him, or hadn’t I? The police officers asked me this question about four different ways to confirm my meaning. I wonder why that should alter the nature of the case, as if sitting across the dinner table from this guy implied some kind of consent on my part that sitting across my living room from him did not. Apparently, whether or not you cave and actually date men who relentlessly dog you to date them & whom you cannot easily shut out of your life is the difference between a crime-in-progress and a charming “how we met” story.
But I did countenance it; I ignored it for months. This was the initial advice I got from nearly everyone I asked, along with some gentle teasing about my “new boyfriend”. I want to remind everyone this happened in 2013, not 1923, regardless of my blog’s byline. This I want to remind myself this happened in 2013 (and 2014), two years after I graduated from Sarah Lawrence and lost any kind of passcard for naivete. I’m publishing this to remember that when the rubber met the road I transformed back into that shrinking violet woman who passively accepts or lukewarmly reflects unwanted sexual attention and compliments in the hopes that if you give men what they want, they’ll leave you alone without further incident.
But it never works that way. At least, not when the person harassing you is at your work, or your school, or lives in the apartment unit next door. At a certain point I became obedient to his calls and got the privelege of fast response from the super in return; like when he turns off the water and whatever. At least he wasn’t scowling at me, I thought, until he started texting me with his personal problems and shit. He claimed he lost his wallet, and then requested I loan him money. I gave $80, which I thought was more than reasonable, then like an asshole he asked for $100 more. Either he’s got no one else to ask or losing his wallet was going to be no bar on his going to the strip club that night. I meekly gave it over, like you’re supposed to when you’re getting mugged. Last Thursday he asked me to give him some weed and my reaction was ‘sure, whatever it takes for you to back the fuck off.’ So I’ve been paying out these bribes to not be harassed, or something.
So after calling the cops, I was called back today by a detective. He told me he’d tell my next-door neighbor to leave me alone, in a thick Queens accent. So far the only woman in the law I’ve talked to about this was the 911 operator, and she didn’t give me nearly as hard a time about allowing this guy in my apartment, didn’t ask why I didn’t kick him out and get aggressive at the first agitation. Obviously, if we were all alpha males, that would have been the thing to do; go stick my head in the lion’s jaws, provide the kind of ballistic rebuke that could provoke anyone into wanting to slap me upside the head. Mix that with denied sexual desire and a key to my apartment and I’m sure you see why I didn’t do that. Once you get it, tell the NYPD too.
Finally I called my superintendent to tell him I would never be inviting him over for social visits again, and to leave me alone. He seemed confused about it, but about an hour after the call blew up my phone with apologetic texts, much as he had the first time. He was so sorry, he said, he felt so bad. But I don’t think he’s upset because I’m uncomfortable with what he’s done, been doing; he knew I hated that shit all along and it was like a fun game for him, to see what he could get away with before I blew up and bounced him from my pad; he’s only upset because another man, from the police no less, called him to ask him about it. As a parting shot he promised he would ‘never even look at me again’. I should try to get this sexist bully fired from his job and his proximity to my residence.