TRIGGER WARNING: MENTIONS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT
“How will you manage your athlete’s weight as she becomes busier playing tennis?” shouted my camp counselor playing a reporter in a press conference simulation.
“Just rape her,” someone whispered. I twisted in my seat, mouth ajar, and spotted four boys chuckling. They saw my horrified look, and their laughter stopped. Shaking with disgust and a little fear, I rushed to the bathroom. Once there, I grasped the counter and stared into the mirror. Tears followed. Then the five girls I spent the week with ran in. We were at a sports management camp the summer before my senior year made up of 99 kids, 93 of whom were boys. I don’t really remember the conversation that followed. I can guess it involved more tears, a little cursing, and the question: why are some boys like this?
I had never experienced anything like this from someone my age. I know lots of kind and thoughtful young men who don’t, to my knowledge, say such things. This comment changed my outlook on the camp. I have always dreamed about working in sports: sports journalism, commentary, law, or coaching have always been career aspirations high on my list. I went to this camp to learn about careers in sport; so, my expectations were high. But this moment left me wondering whether I still wanted to work in sports or continue the non-profit work in women’s rights I had started two years back.
Flashback to two years ago, I had my first catcalling experience on the streets of D.C. A construction worker screamed, “Hey, baby, lemme get your number. Man, look at that ass!” I was walking with a six-year-old boy whom I was babysitting, and he asked, “Maya, do you know that man?”
“No, little man. I don’t. C’mon, I’ll race ya!” I replied to distract him as I nudged his shoulder. We took off running towards his home, he with joy and I with fear.
The fear I felt walking near that construction worker shouting profanities towards me still makes my toes curl. When it happened, I was working as a fellow at an organization called LearnServe International, a program that gave me a space to combat a social issue. I chose sexual violence as my issue to respond to that day in D.C. It led me down the path to creating a non-profit and website to fight and prevent sexual violence. This was my way to cope with the terror I felt that day — hoping to make a difference for myself and other women.
On the last day of the sports camp, I made a speech to the whole camp. I asked them all to raise their hands if they knew that I’m obsessed with ‘The Bachelor.’ I asked if they knew I put two pairs of socks on my feet or that I have a fear of sea urchins. Only girls raised their hands for all three questions. I did this to point out just how little time the boys took to get to know me as a person. I have weird quirks; I’m scared of things. I am human and they made me temporarily feel diminished with that rape comment.
Fifteen young men from my camp came to me after that speech and vowed to reevaluate their thoughts and to learn the implications of their words. I discovered that I could not reach everyone, but the men who listen, want to learn. That’s why I started and will continue to expand my non-profit. Not because I believe violence against women will end completely, but because I want to use my voice to make a difference in the world for women like me.