*Trigger warning: sexual assault*
Finding Nemo is one of my favorite movies. Though the talking sharks terrified my childhood self and are the root cause of my recurring shark nightmares, the themes of friendship, finding oneself and devotion to friends and family were all great things I learned from it.
One of my favorite scenes is when Nemo and his fishy friends are floating on the edge of the reef overlooking the vast ocean beneath them and see – for the first time – what they call a “butt,” which is actually a fishing boat drifting on the ocean’s surface. They find it thrilling, fascinating, mysterious and tantalizing. One by one, Nemo’s friends dare each other to see who can swim closest to “the butt." Nemo at first refuses to swim toward it, remembering his father’s warnings, but eventually, under pressure, he swims in a cavalier manner across the open water and smacks “the butt” with his fin.
Many of you will enjoy going to Shooters your first couple of weeks at Duke, and for many first-years, Shooters will be one of your first going-out experiences. For better or for worse, going to Shooters has become one of the integral Duke experiences.
But let me reiterate an important lesson for all you first-year Nemos: don’t touch the butt. Don’t do it. While you might not be caught by a couple of fisherman, as was Nemo, your actions do have tangible and severe results.1
My first night at Shooters was my second night at Duke, and I had no idea of what to expect. I waited in the endless line at the decrepit-looking saloon all for the chance to see what everyone had been telling me I “had to see.” Ten dollars later, I stepped inside to the boozy welcome of dim lights, loud music and pulsing bodies everywhere. Overwhelmed, my roommate and I squeezed past revelers drenched in sweat, looking for a break in the crowd so we could stop and take it all in.
I had been there about five minutes before the first one grabbed me. I was just getting into the swing of the music with my friends when I felt a pair of hands wrap around my waist and a slimy body shove up against me. Quickly whipping around, I sent an absolute death stare to the boy who had so nonchalantly affixed himself to me as if I were nothing more than a body to be had rather than a person capable of thought. He quickly skunked off. A few minutes later a different set of hands were back. I quietly spun around and placed myself on the opposite side of my friends, ridding myself of another pair of groping fingers. Then more hands. Eventually exhausted and seemingly defeated, I didn’t pull away from the next pair of hands. One dance couldn’t hurt, right? A few minutes later that boy grabbed my face and forced his mouth on to mine.
I felt the familiar numbness I had felt so many times before creep itself back upward. Their faces reappeared. Their words rang again in my ears. Everything I had spent so long trying to repress came spewing back out in one violent torrent. I felt everything and nothing.
Those groping hands brought back memories of sexual assault and abusive relationships. A couple of days later I crawled like a wounded animal into the Women’s Center. I spent the next year fighting PTSD, depression and anxiety. While first-years were out meeting new people and establishing social circles, the drugs I had to take to calm me down knocked me out at 11 p.m. every night.
I was eventually able to claw myself out of that dark hole I was buried in for so long with the help of my friends. But those groping hands, desperate and peer pressured to touch “the butt,” are still there. I would posit most if not every woman who has been to Shooters could attest to the existence of those hands.
College is unexplored water. All of you first-years are just starting to leave the safety of the reef and begin exploring along with the rest of us. But in your exploration, remember that treating others with dignity and respect is paramount. While “the butt” in Finding Nemo was in fact an inanimate object, butts in real life are indeed attached to real people. With real emotions. In grabbing someone’s butt without asking you may, unknowingly, bring back unbearably painful memories. In grabbing our butts, you are telling us that we are not worthy of respect. One of my favorite speakers put it succinctly: “They treated me like I was nothing. I began to believe I was nothing. They stole my voice and in the after I did not dare to believe that anything I might say could matter.”
Our voices matter. Our thoughts, emotions and opinions matter. Touching the butt, without asking the person that butt is attached to, is not something you can allow yourself to be goaded into in some twisted attempt to prove your manhood. Our bodies do not exist for the purpose of your pleasure. We have the right to go to Shooters, to dance at Shooters, to exist at Shooters, without the fear of grimy fingers reaching for our behinds. Don’t be the guy with the grimy, grabby fingers.
Don’t touch the butt.
Dana Raphael is a Trinity junior and biweekly columnist.
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