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What must it be like, I wondered, to be a straight man in public?How lovely must that streetside invisibility feel, that blissful unawareness of who’s looking at what part of you and what they might say or do as you pass? So when I got off my bike in Petworth, I called the police.
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“Sometimes you have something you think is interesting, and it turns out to be a dud,” Darehshori says. Everyone had a horror story, and everyone knew someone else who had a horror story.” In January 2013, Darehshori published a report, “Capitol Offense: Police Mishandling of Sexual Assault Cases in the District of Columbia,” which, through anecdotes from survivors and painstaking records research, paints a damning picture of a police force ill-equipped to properly investigate sexual assault cases.
“I thought they must have changed things since [the 2007 lawsuit],” Darehshori says.
I stood close to my bike, which was locked up outside the karaoke bar at 18th Street and Kalorama Road NW, trying not to flash my most expensive personal possession to the hordes descending on Adams Morgan for a late-September Friday night turn-up. Not a grab, not a slap, but a slow, intimate caress, the kind a lover would give her partner. I whipped around and found myself face to face with a man I didn’t know. There was more yelling, more shoving, and with a final push from my partner, the man crossed Kalorama, where he tried to strike up a conversation with a group of young women gathered on the corner. (The most recent incident was some months prior, when a heavy-breather started tickling the back of my neck as I housed a jumbo slice at Pizza Mart.) My friends and I had dubbed the strip a danger zone after a round or two of homophobic taunts—some grossed out, some turned on—on our way to find food after the occasional queer dance party at Chief Ike’s.
“Sorry, I just fell,” he slurred, putting his hands up in mock surrender. “If you don’t walk away right now, I’m kicking you in the balls.” He shrugged. “If you don’t get away from me, I’m calling the cops,” I said. It wasn’t the first time I’d been touched in public without my consent; it wasn’t even the first time it’d happened to me on that four-block stretch of 18th Street.
“I was very surprised to find that any change they’d made was pretty cosmetic.” In her research, she found that after the litigation, instead of not writing anything down after some rape kits were administered, officers would classify the cases as “miscellaneous” rather than “sexual assault,” meaning they wouldn’t get a case number and would not be investigated further.
Survivors spoke of detectives who’d pass judgment or belittle them, and officers who’d incurred some truly appalling complaints received no disciplinary action.I thought of the way my insides harden when I step outside, how I automatically tuck my ass in when I walk at night, willing it and my breasts not to shake as I move. Among those who care for victims—nurses, social workers, activists—the Metropolitan Police Department has had a reputation for mishandling sexual assault cases for decades.I thought of some strange man walking around Adams Morgan, touching women with impunity like he owns them and that space. Some prevailing concerns came into the spotlight in 2007, when a Howard University student sued the D. police and the hospitals at Howard and George Washington for, among other acts of malpractice and negligence, denying her a rape kit, a test for date-rape drugs, and an in-person interview after she suspected she’d been sexually assaulted.Because this time, I wasn’t ready to brush off the incident like so much dirt from my jeans.On my bike heading toward Lyman’s, whose menu or lack thereof no longer interested me, I got angry.It was a symbolic gesture for my own sanity, too; the man might have violated me in front of dozens of people on a crowded street, but at least I did more than call him a nasty name and kick him in a sensitive spot.