I lost my central vision almost two years ago and have been using a white cane since then. Since I began using the cane, I have been grabbed by strangers more times than I can possibly count. Almost every time I leave my apartment, at least one person will touch me without consent to try to move me wherever they think I want to go. I hate being touched, and it makes me incredibly anxious to know that strangers feel free to touch me without permission. When it happens, I feel threatened, humiliated, and furious. I have a tendency to freeze in these situations, but I always feel worse afterwards if I didn’t stand up for myself, so I am working on being prepared to snap at people who put their hands on me.
One incident in particular stands out to me. I was at the national NFB convention, which was very crowded, so I was already feeling tense. I got into an elevator full of people, and a man standing behind me grabbed both of my shoulders to move me. I pulled his hands away and told him to keep his hands off of me. He just told me to calm down. I moved toward the buttons to find the one for my floor, and he grabbed my arm again. I yelled, “What did I just tell you?” A man near the back of the elevator joked, “You can touch me if you want.” Everyone laughed. As I got off the elevator, a couple of people yelled comments about how I was getting upset over nothing. I’ll never forget how angry and hopeless I felt, having an elevator full of people side with a man who touched me without consent and laugh at me for trying to defend myself, and not being able to do a thing about it. I’ll never forget the realization that I can expect everyone to laugh at me and no one to support me when I am harassed in public. There is nothing I can do to force people to see me as a human being and respect my boundaries. It is hell.
Criminologist and Co-Director of Centre for Gender Studies at University of Sussex