by a new contributor, JW
As someone who has a lot of interest in women’s issues, I frequent numerous feminist blogs. A lot of discussion takes place there about rape culture and what that entails. Some bloggers discuss the issue of abortion access and how trying to take away that choice is perpetuation of rape culture. But, the blending of rape culture and abortion is evident beyond public discourse. I had no idea until I stepped foot on that sidewalk.
I showed up for my first Saturday quite a few weeks ago. Protestors lined the sidewalk in front of the clinic. Lots were just praying, but there were a lot of aggressors there, too. There were men standing on step stools, preaching as loudly as possible, screaming at the people going in the clinic and those of us escorting. There was a sea of yellow vests (there is a group of protestors that wear yellow vests, they like to chase); they had new recruits. Some of them bring their children to the clinic and some of them actually wear their babies in slings and get right in the middle of a scrum (a formation of escorts around a client and companion). It’s chaotic to say the least.
I walked to the front of the clinic to watch the entrance. Donna tried to talk to me, asking me why I would participate in helping to murder babies. She tried to shame me. I just pretended she wasn’t even there. A scrum was coming down the sidewalk, so she had no interest in talking to me anymore and went toward the scrum. The client got to the door with her companion. He tried to open the door; it was still locked. The protestors were surrounding the entrance just on the sidewalk side of the property line, maybe 10 feet or so from the door. The client looked scared. The protestors kept screaming at her, trying to shame her and make her feel guilty. I felt for her. Although I will not and cannot claim to know her emotional state, she didn’t seem OK standing there on that sidewalk; the longer she stood there, the smaller she got, shrinking down into her companion’s side. She told her companion that going back through that mess to the car would have been worse. So she stood there, taking everything the protestors could throw her way, looking more frightened and upset as time went on. The door opened after what felt like the longest ten minutes ever and the client went inside.
I stayed at the door, feeling a bit intimidated by the aggressors that had gathered at the property line to harass the client who had been waiting to get inside. As I stood there, a rather tall man approached the entrance. He was large, his face set and angry, a gold cross gleaming from a chain that hung around his neck. He was wearing khakis, loafers and a blue and white striped polo shirt. I would guess that he was about 6’ 5”, with muscular stature. Despite his clean-cut appearance, his presence intimidated me. He stepped over the property line, he was only a foot or so away from me. He was invading my personal space. Another escort placed himself between us, telling him that he was over the property line and he needed to step back. He looked down, then looked back up at all of us, still angry. He didn’t say anything, he just stared. What the hell was his problem? The escort repeated himself. Creepy protestor guy started breathing hard, huffing. He looked down again, looked back up at us still angry and continued to stand there, huffing. He stared at me. It took the escort telling him to step back four times before he finally did. He stepped backward, still huffing. He walked away, staring at me. It freaked me out. I had to get away from the entrance.
I started down the sidewalk, walked through the crowd and rounded the corner. A small scrum was approaching. The yellow vests were surrounding them, so I joined the scrum. The protestors were bumping into us, shoving us around to try to get to the client. I felt a little panicked. They were touching me without my permission, trying to touch the client without her permission. I made it to the door, fazed. I did more of the same, joining various scrums until it was all over an hour later, trying to deal with it until then. A yellow vest approached me between scrums; a new recruit. I had seen him trying to shove his way into numerous scrums, paying no mind to the fact that he was violating the personal space of the client and the escorts and verbally harassing both. He asked me how I could live with myself for doing what I was doing there that day. I wondered the same about him, but I didn’t ask.
As someone who has been sexually assaulted, this was a triggering experience for me. I wasn’t ready that day and I’m not fully ready now. I’m almost there. If it was that hard for me, how hard was it for the clients? How victimized do some of them feel by this invasion of their personal space and verbal harassment? That isn’t a question I can answer for them. But the intimidation, the shaming, the violation of physical space, the aggression, the coercion, the degradation; it all felt very familiar to me. It felt like just another day in rape culture.