When I was 10 or 11 a man walked up to me in the video game section of the old Laurens Wal-Mart. They had sample game stations set up and my folks would let me go play them instead of following along with all the shopping. I was playing Topspin, a tennis game. The man asked me about the game, some of the different shots it let you hit and all that kind of thing and then he asked me if I played. I told him that I messed around in the back yard a little but I was thinking about playing in High School. He said he had played at Clemson and taught lessons, he could give me his information if I was interested. About that time my mom walked up. I introduced them, excited about the prospect of learning from a college tennis player. She had a weird look on her face. He walked off and she didn’t say anything, she had his name and number written down. She showed it to my dad when we all came back together and then they made a call to, I found out later, one of the secretaries at the High School. They had heard that story before. They recognized the name. My mom knew that she had seen his face somewhere before. The school had a restraining order against him. He was a convicted sex offender and offering tennis lessons was the tactic he used.
I started playing tennis my 10th grade year. One day a car showed up at practice. Our coach went over to talk to whoever was in it and then called us over for introductions. The man, we were informed, had played tennis at Clemson, taught lessons, and was offering to help with the team. I realized I had heard that story before. I thought the man looked familiar. When the guy left I told my coach. When my dad got there to pick me up we asked him about it. We had a new coach and a new administration, the restraining order had expired and everyone assumed there was no reason to renew it. The next day at practice the same car was back. When the coach got to the window the man’s pants were already around his ankles.
This morning I was listening to a conversation about sexual assault, trying to process all that I heard yesterday from the Senate Judiciary Committee, like a lot of folks are doing I’m sure. They stated statistics I had heard before. 1 out of every 4 women. 1 out of every 6 men. When the man speaking said that he paused and repeated it. “1 out of 6. A roll of a dice.”
If my parents hadn’t worked where they worked that dice could have easily landed on me. If I hadn’t had that experience already it might have landed on me again. If I hadn’t been on the team and my dad hadn’t been at the school long enough it could have landed on one of my friends. Thanks to that experience my dad knew to warn every new coach from then on out.
It was privilege and circumstance, what my parents did for a living, that kept the roll of the dice from landing on me. That experience became a joke to me, a story I would tell to get a laugh. That was privilege and circumstance too. On the tennis team we were all big talk about how we wished that guy had tried something and what we would have done if he had. There were at least 12 of us. How many guys laughed in that moment, hiding the fact that they hadn’t been so lucky about where the dice landed? When I would joke in college about the time I “almost got molested,” again in groups of at least 6 more often than not, how many of my friends heard it knowing what I either didn’t realize or chose to ignore, that just because the roll of the dice spared me didn’t mean everyone around me was so lucky?
In that same conversation I listened to this morning they talked about the stereotyping that we often do when it comes to those impacted by sexual assault, how we often assume that only a certain type of person gets abused: lower income, lower education, people in relationships that are obviously unsafe, and how that allows those of us who don’t fit those stereotypes to ignore the reality of the issue. To make it something that impacts “other” people. To make jokes and tell stories without thinking about the people around us. To convince ourselves it will never happen to us or people we care.
It almost happened to me. It probably should have, but for the luck of who my parents were. The last year has shown that it happened to so many people I have connections to. People I love. People who don’t fit the image of the “other.” It shouldn’t have taken that for me to care. It shouldn’t have taken this moment for me to realize I was part of the problem every time I laughed at a joke or listened to a story of what happened the weekend before. It shouldn’t have taken this moment for us to start believing and listening. It shouldn’t have taken a Congressional hearing for us to realize how close to home these things hit. Its a sin that it did. This is my attempt at confession and repentance. I’m going to try my best to make sure Davis doesn’t have to make one.