*this is a work of nonfiction as told to me by my mother based on actual events that she experienced personally
There was a time when blaming the victim was even more of a problem than it is today.
Many decades ago, when my mother was in her late twenties and I was a baby, a man came to our house when my father was at work. He said my father had loaned him some money, and he wanted to make a payment.
My mother had no idea the stranger was about to attack her.
“Is your husband home?” the man asked my mother.
My mother was holding a newborn baby in her arms; that newborn baby was me.
“No,” she replied. “He’s at work and he won’t be home until later tonight.”
That’s when the man’s demeanor changed. He pounced on my mother in the entrance of our home while she fought him off with one hand and clutched her newborn baby — still me — in the other.
My mother screamed for help, but it was too late. She tried to protect herself as best she could, but he grabbed both hands and held them above her head, pinning her against the wall.
Somehow, she never let go of her child.
I watched helplessly from the protection of my mother’s arms. Clearly, I did not know what was happening, and I have no memory of that day or that incident in particular. I was too young.
The man twisted his body around hers so they were facing each other. Then he reached into the pocket of his suit jacket. My mother saw this clearly because the man’s arm extended toward her face. The man pulled out something shiny, like metal, then quickly put it back in his pocket.
At first, my mother thought maybe he’d found a coin in his pocket. But then she realized the object was much larger than any coin.
She immediately knew what the man intended to do. She couldn’t believe he would use such an act of violence against another human being, especially not her.
Then, fortunately for my mother, the upstairs neighbor arrived home and burst into the shared front entrance that led to the stairs. He did not know what was happening; he didn’t even intervene, but his sudden appearance was enough to scare off my mother’s attacker, who fled into the street without another word.
Mind you, this attacker was a man who knew my father, a man who had borrowed money from my father and had come to our home to pay him what he owed before finding my mother alone and vulnerable and then deciding to attack her.
After the man left, my mother didn’t call the police. She called her mother.
My grandmother gave her this advice: “Don’t tell your husband what happened because he will think you were asking for it. He will say it was your fault. You might get in trouble.”
The sad thing is that this was good advice for the time. It sounds ridiculous today.
In those days, everyone expected women to “know their place.” If a woman got harassed or attacked by a man, then her appearance, her clothing, and her behavior were called into question — as if any woman could be responsible for being the victim of an attack.
Nowadays, we don’t believe such things. We expect men not to behave however they want and we are angry when they get away with it.
But back then, if a woman were to get attacked by a strange man, the assumption was that she must have done something wrong.
So, my mother decided to keep quiet about what happened after her mother convinced her it would look like it was all her fault. She never spoke of it again until now.