His name was Mohammad.
He was employed by a temporary worker company which my workplace regularly calls on to supply our team with extra hands on busy nights of setting up and tearing down events at our large hotel.
That Mohammad’s level of friendliness was a little much for my taste, I quickly chalked up to cultural differences (Mohammad is not from the United States), and the heavy load of the night’s work continued as per normal.
At one point in the evening, Mohammad and I were alone, loading supplies into one of our larger elevators.
Upon filling it up, there was just enough space left for the two of us.
Mohammad, picking up on my hesitation, insisted I could just stand in front of him, motioning me over with his hands.
Again, a little off-putting and weird, I thought, but obviously I had no real reason to feel uncomfortable.
In the end, the reflexive over-politeness to strangers drilled into me as a child quickly kicked on (“don’t be rude” “don’t make him feel uncomfortable”) and we piled in.
Almost immediately, I felt a hand go down my shirt and start rubbing my back.
I said nothing. I did nothing. I stood there frozen with terror, unsure of what was happening and why.
An eternity passed before the elevator stopped (this service elevator is notoriously slow) and the doors flew open.
I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until I began to breathe again.
Upon exiting the elevator, I turned to face Mohammad.
He flashed me a knowing and lecherous smile.
“Yet, more than anything, what silenced me was the overwhelming sense of shame I associated with the encounter.”
I wanted to vomit. But I didn’t. I gave a tight-lipped hospitality worker honed fake face and pretended like absolutely nothing had happened (which included ignoring later flirtatious comments).
As soon as I could, I told my supervisor to not put me to work with him.
He acquiesced, and showed how seriously he took my encounter by making a joke of it later.
After summoning the courage days later, I related the incident to an assistant manager who informed the director of my department.
They told me the offender would not be back at the hotel.
Mohammad, however, apparently did not get the message and showed back up a week or so later.
However, since there was no work for him, he was asked to leave.
That I know of, he never returned.
I wasn’t raped. And I didn’t feel like my story was bad enough to count as assault.
Yet, more than anything, what silenced me was the overwhelming sense of shame I associated with the encounter.
“What did I do to make him think I would like that, that he could put his hands on me like that,” I obsessed.
I knew, of course.
When a man is assumed, correctly or incorrectly, to be gay (something I get quite often), that can be for him a great source of embarrassment and shame, especially if he is a conservative, Bible-believing Christian like myself (not as if being gay warrants such an advance because it most certainly does not).
And because being preyed on, cat-called, and propositioned by other men makes you feel dirty, sinful, and less of a man, when someone does put their hands on you or worse, the last thing you want to do is tell someone and intensify your shame.
And this “shamed into silence” mentality is not ameliorated by the introduction of a female offender into the story.
After all, as my assistant manager blurted out to me after I told her what had happened, “this happens to us as women, but I never even think of it happening to men.”
And therein lies the problem.
Sexual assault is not treated like a man’s problem and men who experience unwanted advances in the workplace or outright have themselves forced upon are deemed outliers.
Even now, everything inside me wants to downplay what happened and re-frame it in a way that allows me to save face and not appear weak.
And if I feel this way, how do you imagine men and boys who are raped, molested, or otherwise sexually assaulted feel (I do consider what happened to me to be assault)?
Like a fungus under a warm log, safe beyond the bright rays of the sun, the shame incurred when someone sins against you sexually festers and grows when left in the dark, undisturbed.
The Enemy would have it that we all go on our merry ways and never make waves and suffer in silence and flash the fake smiles on Sunday morning because he knows that the bright light of truth is the silver bullet to his lies.
Thus, as children of the day, it is our job to create an environment in which the shame such sin engenders is undone by the grace and truth given us in Jesus Christ.
We do this by making such accounts common by including in our sermon illustrations and stories about sin examples of men who have been sexually violated (we don’t need to be graphic or detailed, but to simply mention that it happens).
We do this when we begin to plant and form churches that take the shape of confessional communities where believers can do more than confess their sin, and confess, too, the deeply painful ways they have been hurt and sinned against.
We do this by teaching a model of masculinity that looks as three dimensional as Jesus Christ.
We do this by talking up talk therapy (seriously, go).
We do this by having zero tolerance for offenders and predators.
We do this by telling our stories and by being advocates for others who are not yet at a sharing place (and who may never be).
I don’t know if we will change the stigma surrounding the sexual assault of males, but when I look into the eyes of men and boys who have been made victims of such heinous offenses, I know we have no other option but to try.
Editor’s note: A version of this essay was first published at Unpretentious Spiritual Musings.
Photo by Marco Gomes
Photo by JavoAlfaro