I’m a non-binary autistic person who is often ‘helped’ by people who mistake my wariness for helplessness, but the worst incidence of non-consensual touching I have experienced happened to someone else.
I was marshalling at a graduation ceremony, and asked to provide one to one support to a blind woman, with a guide dog, who had just graduated in Creative Writing. She wanted her dog to accompany her as she crossed the stage to receive her certificate – something my colleagues seemed to interpret as ‘cute’ rather than practical, even after I explained the purpose of the guide dog. We did a practice ‘run’, and the actual ceremony went fine, although I had to gently redirect the dog twice, as he wasn’t familiar with the route and nearly went the wrong way off the stage. I explained things discreetly to the graduate as needed, whilst trying to respect the fact that this was her moment.
The correct route off the stage involved turning left, descending a few steps, then walking up the side of the hall back to the seats, so I informed the graduate that we were about to descend five steps of normal height, then continue straight ahead. One of my fellow marshals was stationed beside the steps to provide a hand to anyone who needed it, mostly people wearing high heels for the first time. I could see my colleague watching me closely, looking anxious, and for no discernable reason, she decided to grab the new graduate by both shoulders as she passed and squeeze. It was completely unhelpful behaviour and probably really irritating to the graduate.
Criminologist and Co-Director of Centre for Gender Studies at University of Sussex