One morning last August I woke up and checked my phone to find an email with a picture attached. It was a picture of a penis. Not how I wanted to start my Sunday.
Infuriatingly, many women know this exact sensation. Some of you are even desensitized to it. Somehow I made it past 30 without getting an unsolicited dick pic. Until this one. I won’t describe the dick (it was nothing special) but I will describe how I felt
First, disgusted. Second, confused and immediately after, sad. I tried to laugh it off as pathetic, but that quickly devolved into rage. Someone had the notion to text me a picture of their dick in the small hours of the morning and followed through on that impulse, and now because of this disgusting person, a dick is permanently burned into my memory. I couldn’t imagine the absolute audacity of someone feeling like they have a right to do this to me. I still can’t.
My husband was supportive. My friends were supportive. But I was still so sad and enraged about it that I could barely breathe. Even typing this, my pulse is climbing. So I called the National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-4673) and they put me in touch with someone local who volunteers to listen to whatever anyone dealing with any type of sexual assault might need to talk about.
In addition to telling me I didn’t cause this, and I had a right to be upset even though this incident was fairly minor, which I knew but appreciated hearing, she told me that this was actually a crime. Like, not just a moral injustice, but an actual, theoretically punishable, crime.
I am probably not the first person this guy ever sent a dick pic. I am, disappointingly, probably not the last. I thought maybe I could use my white privilege as a righteous weapon and make this disgusting, troubled individual face some consequences for this dick pic instead of just shouldering them all on my own. I am so tired of living in a world where women have to endure the cost of men’s actions, you know?
So I went to the police station. I had never been to a police station before. I’ve never even been pulled over. I nervously approached the counter like I was ordering at a new restaurant where I didn’t know the rules for building my sandwich, cleared my throat and said I would like to report a crime, please.
The woman at the desk arched her eyebrow when I told her the crime. She was waiting for me to finish. Someone sent you a dick pic and…? This crime doesn’t get reported a lot, I guess. The two women behind the glass had a giggle about it while they entered it into the computer. You have to fill out a form. They asked for my social security number, which honestly just seems like a trap to catch undocumented immigrants, or at least discourage them further from reporting crimes. Although I felt gross and uncomfortable, I felt slightly buoyed by the idea that I was standing up for women more vulnerable than myself. Women with more to lose by walking into a police station. I didn’t want this person to ever do this again, so I slogged through my own humiliation to put justice in motion.
A few days later a detective called me on the phone and told me this wasn’t actually a crime, and I fought back a nervous lump in my throat to read him the exact statute that had been violated. He hadn’t heard of it. If I hadn’t had this information I would have been rebuffed.
I had to go back to the police station and give a statement. The detective has admittedly probably seen unspeakable horrors and was not at all phased by my little story, and he showed that plainly enough on his face. I felt a little stupid, like I was wasting everyone’s time, including my own. But I held tight to the knowledge that I was a victim of a crime. If they could just find this guy, I reasoned, I would press all of the charges. He would think about me and feel gross and sad, the way I do when I think about him.
The picture landed in my email, but it was actually texted to my Google Voice account from another Google Voice account. I got one to make campaign calls because it’s an anonymous black hole you can make phone calls from without people knowing who you really are. Which also makes it a great way for people to anonymously send pictures of their genitals to unconsenting strangers. The detective said he would get a warrant but braced me for the fact that they probably wouldn’t find anything. I should be used to managing my expectations on things like this, and yet somehow I find myself constantly disappointed.
Google came through with the warrant and they found him. Sort of.
The detective said the phone number belonged to an older man who most likely texted me the picture by accident. The man, the detective continued, was a little senile. He had recently lost his wife and was possibly grief stricken. He sounded very sorry, I’m told, and the detective decided to leave it alone. I didn’t feel like that was his call to make.
I know I said I wouldn’t describe the dick in the photo, but I think I do have to describe it a little, I’m sorry. It’s relevant, I swear. It wasn’t really an old person dick that landed in my inbox. I’m not a detective, but that seems like a clue. And if he was so senile that he sent me a dick in a fit of grief induced hysteria, how does he work a google voice account? Maybe someone who wasn’t the owner of the phone plan sent me a dick. He could have Nancy Drew-ed this a little. But he didn’t ask.
I don’t care whether it was an accident or a regrettable mistake. This dude should be more careful with keeping his dick out of the wrong hands, so to speak. But if it was an accident, why the sob story about losing his wife? Another detail about the dick pic will make this clear: it was a white dick. Or at least a white passing one. He was granted the benefit of a doubt for not committing a crime, and simultaneously forgiven for the crime itself. Schrödinger’s Dick Pic.
I knew this but hoped it wouldn’t be true this time: White people can straight up just commit crimes and get away with it. But I allowed myself to hope that with such a clear violation of a very specific law, with my evidence, and my willingness to come forward, that the owner of this dick would suffer a small fraction of the pain he had inflicted on me. But in a battle of white privilege vs white privilege, male privilege usually breaks the tie. It was apparently naive of me to expect law enforcement to, I don’t know, enforce their own laws. I appealed to a pro bono lawyer who said he would look into it, but it’s been almost a year and I don’t think anything is going to happen.
So why am I dredging up this gross nonsense now? Tell me you’re starting to connect some of these dick dots.
For one, with growing calls to defund the police, I’m getting a lot of whining and self righteous finger wagging from folks who say we need to think of rape victims. “Who are they supposed to call?” Google how many rape kits are rotting in storage lockers in your state. Here in South Carolina, as of February, there were “1,258 sexual assault kits in line for testing, the oldest of which was submitted in 2016.” These people don’t chime in with support for rape victims on any other topics. I felt humiliated just talking about a dick in my inbox. I can’t imagine the guts it would take to describe a rape in detail, over and over again, only to have it reach the same conclusion as my story. And statistically, that’s what would happen.
Cops aren’t doing a good job of preventing these crimes, and our criminal justice system does an appalling job at punishing them. I’m sure there are people out there who’ve had positive experiences with law enforcement in the wake of an assault, but that doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority of perpetrators won’t see a day in jail, or the fact that reporting a crime like this was, in my and others’ experiences, almost as bad as the incident itself. I want to believe there is a better way to hold people responsible for crimes than the way we’re doing it now, and I don’t want conversations about defunding the police to be derailed in the name of people who are harmed by the status quo.
Speaking of which. Do you ever get brave and read the comments on news articles about the murder of a Black person by the police? I try not to, but sometimes I can’t help myself. Inevitably, a white person will chime in and say that if the person in question had only followed the law, they would still be alive. In a “free” country, a lot of people take it as a given that, violating the law, any law, justifies murder. Except, obviously, for white people.
Every time I read a comment like that, I flash back to the piece of paper in my little police report folder where I wrote the law that had been violated. I don’t want the owner of the dick to slowly suffocate face down on the pavement under a cop’s knee. But I didn’t even get so much as a weak apology.
I don’t feel protected or served, and if you’re eager to assume someone murdered by police must have done something to deserve it, something tells me you don’t either.
That dick is still in my inbox. I can’t bring myself to delete it, because part of me hopes that the sender may yet face consequences and I don’t want to get rid of the evidence.
But then I remember that Brock Turner only served three months in jail for rape. That dick is probably here to stay.