Sexual Assault & Mactivists

[My narrative does not represent nor reflect any mentioned organization or group. It is also not meant to tarnish anyone’s reputation. I am simply sharing, because it is my lesson that I’ve learned how silence condones, enables, perpetuates and contributes to gender-based violence. I hope that it offers insight to how communities, organizations, agencies and systems can further do to proactively disrupt patriarchy and end sexual assault and domestic violence. Thank you HIP, for providing me the platform to share it.]

In summer of 2006 I was selected to participate in the Southeast Asian Student Coalition Summer Institute (SASC SI) at UC Berkeley. Organized by Southeast Asian American (SEAA) college students, the institute was an incredible and life-changing event for me as a youth--it awakened my passion for community organizing and social change.

Although the summer institute had a profound and positive impact on my life, I will always remember what happened that first night when the SASC SI mentors took us out for ice skating and bonding time. As I skated out onto the rink, I noticed a particular male mentor who would come up from behind the other female mentors and slightly push or pull them out of balance in order to catch them before they hit the ice. One incident happen directly in front of me, where I saw his hands catch his female colleague from under her armpits. In the process of catching her, he cupped her or tightened his grip so that his fingers could “accidentally” run across her breasts. As I watched, I noticed that he repeatedly did this to her and other female mentors throughout the night.

My intuition and every fiber of me knew to stay away from him. I hoped because I was a youth, he wouldn’t do anything to me or would stay away. Towards the end of the evening, the majority of folks were playing ice hockey on one half of the rink and the rest skated on the other half. Little known fact: despite being from the Central Valley, I love ice-skating so when one of the mentors challenged me to a race, I gladly accepted. In the middle of the race, I heard someone come up behind me. Before I realized who it was, it was too late. The male mentor from earlier wrapped his arms from under my armpits and lifted me up. We spun around as he tried to drop me onto the ice as though he was “catching” me. I don’t remember how hard I hit the floor but I do remember how much pressure I felt when he dug his fingers into the sides of my breasts. His forearms hid his hands as they crossed over my chest.

My intuition and every fiber of me knew to stay away from him. I hoped because I was a youth, he wouldn’t do anything to me or would stay away.

The incident happened publicly, in a brightly lit ice-skating rink, with people around and some watching. I was shocked, confused, embarrassed and speechless. As I got back up onto my feet, I remember trying to pretend as though nothing had happened. I was only 16 at the time and barely knew how to articulate my own feelings. I didn’t have the words to process what just occurred. For rest of my time at the Institute, I stayed away from him and made sure I was always accompanied by another female peer or mentor.

As a parting gift for the Institute, we were given commemorative DVD as a keepsake to remind us about the amazing week we just had. I still remember the chills that I felt rewatching the video at home. Amongst the clips of group sessions and laugher and smiles was a short clip that captured the exact moment he came up behind me. It was the first and last time I watched it.

Three Years Later

Three years after the incident, I’m in my 1st year of college and attending my siblings’ house party when the male mentor from the Institute walked in. I recognized him from afar and I avoided him for most of the night. When people had mostly left, I found myself sitting on a separate couch in the living room adjacent to the couch he was sitting on. I wanted to leave and not be alone with him but I felt a sense of urgency to ask him, “Are you ______?”

He responded, “Yeah.”

And I asked him again, “You are ____ a.k.a. Batman?” (I added Batman the second time I asked because during the Institute, everyone knew he idolized Batman and even nicknamed himself Batman.)

He responded, “Wow, yeah! I didn’t think people would remember or know me as Batman.”

So I asked him, “Do you remember me?”

He said "no." 

I told him that I was one of the youth during the SASC SI cohort in 2006 and that it was okay if he didn’t remember me, because I avoided and stayed away from him throughout the Institute.

He asked me why, so I proceeded to describe what I saw. I recalled how he was physical with other women on the ice rink. I detailed how he would catch them as they fell and how I witnessed him grab their breasts in the process. He responded to me by describing his respect for women--one that was rooted in the fact that he was raised by women including his refugee, single mother and his sisters. He thanked me for telling him, but I don’t remember whether or not he apologized for how it made me feel watching him do that to other women. I remembering feeling as though his explanation tried to mask the harm he did. I left that conversation feeling as though he had brushed the topic aside and it was a waste of time to even bring it up. Knowing that he would disregard violating me or my experience because of his “respect for women,” I did not confront him about what he done to me because I didn't feel safe. 

When he left the house, my siblings’ female housemates were sharing that they also experienced incidents with him that night. During a moment alone with him, one said that he grabbed her breast. She confronted him on the spot and he gave her the same story he told me, “I respect women, because I was raised by women such as my refugee, single mother and my sisters.” The other female housemate said that when she was talking with him, he rubbed his hand against her thigh. She also confronted him and he gave her his same “I respect women” spiel.  

I was angry at myself for not telling anyone at the party about my prior experience with him. I thought to myself, “Even if people did not believe me or confirm my experience, at least they would have been aware of the possibility that he was a sexual predator and they could have taken precautions while interacting with him.”

The Mactivist

I wish my experiences with this guy was isolated but I’ve heard much of the same from many who were once youth that he “mentored” or peers who revered him as an empowering, inspiring and talented artist. Many people in the community saw him as a trusted role model, a mentor, a social justice activist, a community organizer, an inspiring spoken word poet. It is extremely frightening to imagine how many young girls and women fell victim to his hands and predatory ways. Moreover, to think of the boys and young men who look up to him and aspire to match his smooth “player” ways while also maintaining his appearance as a “woke” mother-revering activist.

I see him as otherwise: a Macktivist who actively uses various community building platforms to expand his dating pool of girls and women. He utilized his male, age, heterosexuality and ability privileges in spaces where college students organized together to create a safe space. He took advantage of learning environments where mentors connect and develop youth, and he exploited that safety and their trust for his sexual advances. He did so by having the stage and mic to project a false persona and manipulate the audience with his ability to recite his poems of the struggle as the son of a refugee, single mother, that grew up in American poverty and racism.

He took advantage of learning environments where mentors connect and develop youth, and he exploited that safety and their trust for his sexual advances.

With so many fans and followers and so much positive attention, I wondered: Who would believe me? If I publicly shared what he did to me as a youth, I knew people would accuse me of being an opportunist--jealous of his popularity; that I am just “trying to bring him down;” or simply not believe my experience or demand empirical evidence. I know how much victim-blaming I would receive from all the scrutinizing questions about what I wore, why did I choose to ice skate if I knew he was targeting other women on the rink, or why I didn’t report to the cops and go public with my experience sooner.

In private,  I shared my experience with a few close colleagues of mine who were mutual friends with him. They recognized that he had serious problems and acknowledged my trauma. However, I do not know if they had or planned to have a conversation with him to hold him accountable for his sexually abusive behaviors. My hope and intention in confiding with people close to me was to ensure the safety of myself and others around him.

Why Now?

Although the incident with the guy happened 11 years ago, the recent sexual assault allegations coming out from Hollywood, as well as the #Notsocharming movement that called upon the Minnesota Hmong American New Year to disqualify one of their pageant contestants who sexually assaulted a youth that trusted him, immensely triggered me over the weekend. I found myself finally grieving about what happened to me as a youth which I had unintentionally buried deep in my memory as a way of trying to forget what had happened. Hearing and seeing other victims and survivors come forward with their experiences of sexual assault and harassment pushed me to grieve for myself along with the many victims and survivors who were sexually assaulted because they were young, or that they identified as female/girl/woman or for being LGBTQIA. I grieved for women of color, low-income women and limited in English women who are especially vulnerable to sexual violence because they lack the resources and agency to voice their outrage. And I celebrated the brave few who found their voice and the courage to share their narratives publicly knowing that they would be blamed and shamed in our white supremacist, patriarchal society and culture.

I am hopeful that our community will create safer spaces and conditions for people to share and learn from narratives of sexual assault; to brainstorm and implement community solutions around services and support for victims and survivors; accountability and rehabilitation for perpetrators; as well as prevention through public education and professional trainings across sectors.

I am hopeful our communities will come together to advocate for greater protections, fight back against misinformation and mobilize to reject the Trump Administration’s attacks on women by defending policies that protect the rights of sexual assault victims on college and university campuses.

If you're wondering how you can make a difference, here are a few examples to consider:

  • Work with local legislative officials to create policies that allocate more resources to fund prevention and intervention services, and efforts to end sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence.

  • Get involved in your local agencies such as school districts to ensure policies like California’s AB 1227 get implemented.

  • Know, understand, and call out harmful victim-blaming, slut-shaming, sexist and heterosexist attitudes and behaviors when people say it in their comments, questions, posts on social media, etc., in response to victims’ and survivors’ stories.

  • Volunteer, donate, and/or receive advocacy training with local organizations that work and advocate for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking.

  • Inform and hold people in positions of power within local government, agencies, community organizations, etc., about alleged sexual assaulters and perpetrators to prevent them from using public platforms to promote themselves in the public eye.

  • Educate and develop youth about consent, healthy and safe relationships, sexuality, and positive masculinity and femininity.

  • Really listen to victims’ and survivors’ stories all the way through by withholding your judgments, and see if you are able to notice the power dynamics of the environment that enabled the perpetrator’s violence to take place.

  • Expose perpetrators and warn your circle of networks when victims and survivors have come forward identifying them.  

Thank you to my partner who supported me throughout the years, and both he and my best friend for helping me process and heal during the recent days of my retraumatization. Thank you to my colleagues in HIP and Building Our Future campaign that supported and created opportunities for my growth and development in advocacy work to end gender-based violence, and for also holding space for me to come to terms with the violence I experienced in my life.

I’d like to end this by sharing a chorus from a song that encouraged me these past few days to be able to finally write and share my narrative.

Marshmallow featuring Khalid - Silence

“I found peace in your violence

Can’t show me ‘there’s no point in trying.’

I’m at one, and I’ve been silent for too long.”