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Mary Karr Wrote a Powerful Essay About Being Assaulted

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On her way home from lunch one day this spring, Mary Karr, the bestselling author of The Liars’ Club, says she was groped by a stranger in broad daylight, on a busy New York City street.

“[A]n approaching guy chatting equably with a tall friend dodged at me to grab my crotch. I don’t mean brushed by it maybe accidentally; I mean he grabbed between my legs with a meaty claw, big as a waffle iron,” Karr wrote in an essay for The New Yorker. “He also called me the C-word with breath that stank of beer.”

In the essay, Karr details her struggle to react to the alleged assault. At first, she blamed herself for the incident and wondered what she had done to provoke him, invoking a trope frequently used to discredit victims of sexual violence and harassment.

But then, she decided to stand up to him.

“If this sick bastard will do this to me in broad daylight, what’s he doing to these young’uns at 3 a.m.? My mind shuffled through the myriad times that run-ins like this had happened before,” she wrote. “Then I came to and shouted…’Not today! Not this bitch! You picked the wrong woman to fuck with today!’”

No one paid attention to Karr’s proclamation, except a homeless man on the street. “So many guys might shrug it off: What’s the big deal? This one jutted his jaw out, saying, ‘He cain’t do that’ with such fire that I started dialing 911,” she wrote.

She chased her alleged attacker down the street and the police eventually arrested him, which Karr says satisfied her, but her alleged attacker was ultimately not charged. Criminal prosecutors often say sexual assault cases are difficult to prosecute, and only 6 out of 1,000 people charged with sexual violence end up in prison, according to RAINN.

Yet violence and harassment against women remain prevalent. Karr cited statistics showing that 20% of women have been raped at some point in their lives and 44% of women have experience some other kind of sexual violence.

“But I suspect that the figure is more like a hundred per cent for women who will have endured things many men might consider minor—an unwelcome penis pressed against your leg at a party; being humped at the water cooler; being fondled, lunged at, felt up, squeezed, rubbed against,” Karr writes. “Verbal assaults few try to count.”

“Underlying all these actions exists the apparently unshakable tenet that any expression of male sexuality is somehow normal and every man’s right, whether or not a woman on the receiving end is repulsed or upset by it,” she continued. “And something in the repetition of these behaviors—and in the culture’s blindness to the insult—wires itself into your body fibres and instills a debilitating sense that you’re not quite safe walking around.”

Read the full essay at NewYorker.com.


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Write to Samantha Cooney at samantha.cooney@time.com