Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The Tale of the Cock Roach. 08.02.15


This is a long story.  It is, however, an entirely true story that turned on a number of lightbulbs in my head.  It took place a couple of years ago.  Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

I’m normally pretty good at spotting pervs, creeps and various varieties of sexual predators.  I honed what I call my “pervdar” through years of hitchhiking, when I often had less than a minute to determine whether it was safe or not to get in someone’s car.  I am not saying that the pervdar might not get activated by mistake; I have no way of knowing that, as I tend to heed its warning.  The reason I do trust it is that every time I’ve ignored it, I found myself in the cacky.  I love and value my pervdar.  I’ve also learnt that it’s damn near useless in social situations.

The problem with it is that I know when someone’s a wrong ‘un, but I can’t explain why.  That’s not a problem when hitchhiking, when you’re not required to explain your decisions.  It also works fine when dealing with strangers in general.  However, it’s no help whatsoever when dealing with people within a group.  The reason is that other members of the group are, unsurprisingly, incredibly reluctant to act upon vague and inexplicable hunches against one of their own.  They tend to want actual proof that someone is potentially dangerous, or even wilfully being a nuisance. 

In my experience, people like to think they’d step up, but most of the time, they won’t do so unless or until they feel they have just cause.  People don’t punish or ostracise people they know, respect, need, and/or love unless they have actual proof of misdoings.  This isn’t just because we tend to give our own the benefit of the doubt: you can’t legally sack an employee or bar a customer without valid, provable cause.  Unfortunately, many pervs are good at operating ‘under the radar’.   Sometimes that means that people don’t realize or admit something is wrong until it’s too late, and there's a victim.  Most of the time, in my mercifully limited experience, it means that the perv, left to operate unchecked, sticks to making the chosen prey uncomfortable and/or scared.  That sort of situation can go on forever, with the perv seemingly enjoying every minute of it.

But I digress.  This story started when my pervdar went off at my self-defence class, of all places.  I’d been there for a while.  It was a jolly place full of friendly, helpful people.  Then this new guy joined, and within minutes of him being in the room, the pervdar was going EEEEEEEEEEEK.  Had I not learnt to trust it, I’d have called bullshit on it.  What predator chooses to hunt in a self-defence class, for god’s sake?

That was an incredibly stupid question.  The answer is, of course, “a clever one”.  Whilst the pickings may be slim, women often being a minority, self-defense classes have a higher chance of including people who are insecure, frightened, and/or somehow damaged by past experiences.  Many people are there to build or re-build their confidence.  Lack of confidence makes for a good prey.

The dude, let’s call him Creepo, volunteered to train with me.  Not wanting to make a fuss over nothing (ha!), I agreed.  By the end of the session, I thought I’d need to cover myself in bleach and set myself on fire to ever feel clean again.  What had happened?  Not a thing, as such, but Creepo was definitely a wrong ‘un.

When I went to leave, I found him in the doorway – not at the door, not by the door, but in the actual freakin’ doorway, so I’d have to squeeze past him to get out.  Seemingly to the universe at large, but bizarrely timed to coincide with my attempt to exit and whilst eyeballing me, he asked “if anyone wanted to walk home”.  EEEEEEEEEEK, went the pervdar.  “I live 40 miles away but I’d be more than glad to drag you behind my car,” went I, and I was dead serious.  The guy half smiled and didn’t budge.  The conversation degenerated further, ending when I told him I’d kneecap him if he didn’t get out of my way, or some such endearment.  I’m a subtle little munchkin.  He then moved.

Following session, he volunteered to train with me again.  Now, this was odd not only because I’d threatened him with violence the time before, but also because I tried to make it pretty damn obvious that I didn’t want anything to do with him.  Most people, if they start walking towards someone and that person looks like they’re about to throw up whilst trying to walk away from them, back the fuck off.  Not so this dude.  Again, not wanting to make a fuss (everyone else had already paired up), I trained with the guy.  Again, the guy creeped me out.  Again, he tried to intercept me at the door.  Again, I told him in no uncertain terms to fuck off.

At the following session, Idiot Kid turned up.  Idiot Kid was a girl I would have then classed as unfortunate, who’d been sent there by her parents because she had ongoing issues with bullying and stalking.  She was very sweet, very friendly and only 16, hence falling in that peculiar age gap between legal childhood and legal adulthood.  As soon as she turned up, I warned her that there was a new guy she ought to stay away from, because there was something seriously wrong with him.  Not only did she entirely refuse to accept my suggestion, but she told me that I was being mean and nasty, and that she’d make it up to him.

At pairing-up time, Idiot Kid, who’d always trained with me, went off and sought Creepo out.  I thought “bugger this for a game of soldier” and went off in the opposite direction, which surprised both her and the poor bastards I went off to train with.  Oh hum, she was in a perfectly safe place surrounded by friendly wannabe ninjas, and I wasn’t going to subject myself to being pawed by a creep just to keep her company.

I kept a quiet eye on her, though.  As the class went on, I could see her expression change.  She’d started off smiling and happy as normal, but that didn’t last.  She passed through confusion and uncertainty to a combination of fear and disgust.  They did little to no training, and by the end of the class she seemed frozen into place, looking like she was going to either bolt or vomit.  When she walked into the changing room, she told me that I was right: there was something seriously wrong with the guy.  Allegedly, he’d started his comments with “I wonder if you’re this energetic in bed” and carried on from there.

Now, if you think I’m making a big fuss over nothing, that he was probably just being friendly or funny or whatever, please note the following:
  •  Ages. Idiot Kid was just 16 and looked younger.  Creepo was mid-to-late twenties.  Even if he’d known that she was legal (which he couldn’t have found out without asking her, and why would he do that?) the age gap was a bit icky.
  • Setting. a self-defence class is not a meat market.  People don’t generally go there to hook up, though some do.  Whilst what he was saying might have been acceptable or even expected at a club or bar, it was inappropriate for this class.
  • Response. the kid looked horrified.  Normal people, if they say something to someone and that person takes it badly, backtrack like hell.  They don’t just carry on regardless.


Refraining from telling her “I told you so”….  Hell, I can’t lie.  I told her I’d told her so.  She first looked abashed, but then followed on with what I still hold to be the single stupidest thing anyone has ever said to me in the entirety of my miserable life:
“He was so vile, I’m going to give him my number so he can apologise more tomorrow.”
I shit you not.

I don’t normally go in for lecturing young ‘uns, for the simple reason that every time I start a sentence with “when I was your age…” I end up reliving memories that are best left unmentioned, particularly to a young audience.  This time, though, I was so entirely pissed off that I went off on one.  In a somewhat rough and stern manner I told her that she could obviously do whatever the hell she wanted, however stupid it was, but I was washing my hands of her and she was on her own.

Her response: “Everyone is always bullying me.  I thought you were nice, and now you’re bullying me too.”

Now, up until that point I’d genuinely believed the kid was unfortunate.  From what she was saying, the world was out to get her and she could never get anyone’s support.  I realised that in reality she was an attention-seeking drama whore who got herself wilfully embroidered in sticky situations, and interpreted anyone calling her out on her bullshit as bullying.  Helping her would be impossible until she was willing to realise that she was doing it to herself.  All I could have done was enable her, hold her hand whilst she fed herself through the meat grinder.  I couldn’t see the upside in that.

Her little misadventure, though it had clearly failed to teach her anything, wasn’t a total loss.  I now had reasonable cause to contact the class instructor and explain that we had a problem.  Creepo had stepped over the line, surely.

Turns out I was wrong.  When I explained the situation to the instructor, all I got in response was denial.  Poor Creepo was probably just someone with poor social skills.  It had happened several times before (and, lo and behold, they couldn’t retain female students… hmmm).  “If it made me happy,” they’d keep an eye on him.  I just love a side dish of patronisation with my sexual harassment; I really do.

I’d come to expect this type of response from the average person, particularly when dealing with loved ones.  I hadn’t expected it from a self-defence teacher, though.  I mean, what about Peyton Quinn’s five rules?  “Do not deny it’s happening”, anyone?  I knew this, and I was his student.  He was supposed to be the one there to teach me how to protect myself.  In a nutshell, WTF?

I found myself in a strange space.  I’d sought to protect a weaker member of my group, and failed.  I’d sought the help of the leader of the group, and failed.  Creepo’s activities had been socially sanctioned.  I’d been told I needed to tolerate his behaviour towards me.  Was I stuck in a shit sandwich?

Well… I guess that’s how it’s supposed to go, and by Jove I’ve seen it a lot.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard about Uncle Joe who’s a darling but you can’t leave him alone with the kids… or Bob who works in the photocopier room and is so shy but you better make sure you’re not caught in the lift with him…  It always seems to go like that, with the low-level predator lurking on unchecked and the hapless quasi-victims left on tenterhooks, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Only problem is that, as it emerges, I’m not a hapless quasi-victim.  I’m a ball of barely-controlled rage looking for a spot marked X.  The way I looked at it, I’d discharged my social obligation.  Creepo had overstepped and shown his cards.  I didn’t have any backup, but I had created a paper trail.  This could only mean one thing: ye gods and little fishes, it was open season!  I just needed to wait for him to slip up even a tiny bit and I could hurt him to my heart’s content!  I could munch him and crunch him and generally cause him a great deal of damage without feeling guilty, and quite possibly get away with it because, Officer Friendly, I’d TOLE them that the guy was bothering poor li’l weak me, and they just wouldn’t help!

I think I was supposed to have felt fear, discomfort and all of those nasty, sticky, paralyzing things.  I believe that’s what Creepo would have liked me to feel, at any rate.  Instead I felt glee.  Whoopsy daisy.

I decided that until the jolly moment when I could rearrange the guy’s gonads for him, I’d use the opportunity to work out what exactly he was doing to make my pervdar ring.  Every time I felt an EEK, I’d stop and pay attention to what exactly he was doing, so that eventually I would be able to articulate it.  Here’s what I noticed:
  • Most people in a group space themselves out fairly regularly. If you watch a room as it’s filling up, people generally rearrange themselves to share space equally. In a normal line-up at the start of class, the spacing is also regular. Creepo would break that regularity, standing unnecessarily close to someone, and that someone was always a woman.
  • He’d also go and stand between pairs of women who had turned up together or were talking. He’d literally walk between them and split them up, and then often corner one of them.
  • He was the only guy to always volunteer to train with ladies. This could be passed off as him making an effort to be inclusive, but he’d also offer to train with ladies who turned up in pairs, which was not only unnecessary but also odd. He’d only train with guys if all the ladies managed to avoid him, and even then he’d constantly try to migrate to groups with ladies in them.
  • He clearly didn’t give a toss about the training; he kept trying to distract his female partners by getting them to talk to him, instead of doing drills.
  • When he was actually training, he’d hold certain positions unnecessarily long and get closer than the other guys. We were doing a lot of in-fighting, and the rest of the guys either avoided contact involving squishier parts or got through it as fast as humanly possible.
  • He lingered in the doorway as the ladies were exiting, forcing them to squeeze past or stay put and talk to him until he was done. He didn’t do that with the guys.
  • He kept following women to their cars (thankfully none of us walked home), keeping them talking after class as the place emptied, even though they often looked obviously uncomfortable and itching to get going.


All in all, every little clue by itself was insignificant.  Adding them all up didn’t improve matters much; it just looked like a whole load of fuss over nothing.  I realised that that was the whole point: he wasn’t doing anything bad enough to get him noticed by anyone who wasn’t looking carefully, and even then everything he was doing was borderline.  Aside from his incident with Idiot Kid, nothing he was doing was bad enough to kick up a stink about.  By operating under the radar, never pushing things past a certain point, he was able to continue with his little game.

Observing him closely also gave me the opportunity to watch him as he interacted with the guys.  He was always sucking up to the instructors, making a big deal of how he was insecure of his performance and his improvements, telling them that he didn’t think he’d ever be as good as them, and so on and so forth.  He’d created this perfect persona of an insecure, excessively dependent, pathetic, awkward little weed.  He was the uber-woobie.  It was a masterwork of manipulation.  You could only tell that it was a persona if you noticed how it evaporated when he was with the laydeez.

I’d never realised how much work went into being a low-level predator.  You’re not just engineering your interactions with your preys, always walking that tightrope between making them uncomfortable and making them report you, but you’re also manipulating those who have the power to stop you.  You become not only someone they don’t want to doubt, but also someone they would not like to hurt.  And if you can make your prey feel both uncomfortable/threatened/ repulsed by you AND protective of you, then you’ve hit the jackpot.

It was an education for me, and I genuinely enjoyed watching him at work.  Creepo, on the other hand, didn’t appear to enjoy my attention.  I don’t know if it was the grin I couldn’t (wouldn’t?) control whenever it looked as if he was going to make a slip, or the fact that I was interfering with his plans, but he took to avoiding me.  Realising that he knew I knew, I upped the game a notch.  I took to following him around the place, barging into situations when he’d got a woman cornered, pointing out when he was saying or doing something inappropriate.  Why was he following her when she was trying to get away?  Why was he asking her personal questions when she’d already given him a lot of evasive answers?  Why was he here, when he clearly wasn’t at all interested in the training?  It was a fun time.

Alas, all good things come to an end.   After a few weeks of this, he disappeared.  I thought he’d quit, but as I discovered later he’d just changed class. This was a biggish deal, as it meant changing the art he was studying, yet he would do it several times.  As it happened, my schedule became irregular, so I took to attending whatever and whenever I could.  I’d pop up at unexpected times and watch his face sink visibly when he’d spot me.  He’d then change class again, until I appeared there, and so we went on for a few weeks.  I mentioned this to Marc MacYoung (bless him) who said that “predators are like cockroaches; when you flip the light on them, they scuttle away”.  Said statement caused me to spend far too long chortling over the pun, “cock-roach”…  Oh, the mirth and merriment.

All was well in my world.  Not so at my now-ex-gym (sorry and all that, but I’ve got no need for self-defence instructors who tell women to just put up with sexual harassment).  Creepo was making good progress.  The very last time I went there was to a daytime class consisting mostly of middle-aged women.  By that stage he’d graduated to making sexual remarks out loud to the whole of the class, in front of the trainer, without getting reprimanded at all.  Everyone was clearly uncomfortable, and the behaviour was clearly unacceptable, but he was getting away with it.  Oh hum.


So here it is, my tale of not-quite-woe.  If you think I’m a plucky little hero, remember that there’s still the chance that I’m wrong, in which case I spent a number of weeks wilfully and unjustifiably picking on a woobie.  There is also the chance that, had I been willing to stay on, I would have ended up being reprimanded for my heinous behaviour towards him.  There’s a cost to everything, even a good pervdar.

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