#metoo: I was Sexually Assaulted on Stage.
The past couple of days I’ve found social media a harrowing place. Gone are the cat memes and the pictures of poached eggs - they’ve been replaced with #metoo stories. Hundreds, of women have come forward to talk about the sexual harassment AND assault in their lives and I’ve found it courageous and heartbreaking.
It’s hard to know when and how to speak up about sexual assault. I know for myself I’ve justified my own silence with thoughts of, “Other people have had it worse.”, “I don’t want this instance to define me.” or even “I don’t want to make a fuss.” But now, in the midst of so many voices, I find I do want to talk about one particular experience.
This past August I was assaulted on stage. At the time I did want to write about it, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make it public. So I wrote down the facts in that moment as clearly as I could remember. But then I sat with those notes and did nothing. And siting with it hasn’t felt good. It’s been rolling around in my stomach for months now. I go back and forth between anger, frustration, forgiveness, and stoicism. Watching people come forward with their stories has inspired me to add my own. This is my story. #metoo.
This past Edinburgh Fringe marked my third year hosting one of the festival’s rowdiest late-night shows. It’s always been a fun time. I’ve seen amazing performances I wouldn’t have otherwise, and it’s always been a good way to blow off some steam at the end of a stressful day in the form of dancing, shouting and boozing.
In the show we have a section where an audience member is allowed to get on stage and promote anything they want- they just have to get completly naked to do so. We’ve had all sorts of people get on stage; from young actors promoting their theatre show, to people raising money for charity. During the opening night of this year’s show a girl got up to promote her show about sexual assault. A heavy topic for a light-hearted moment in the show. At the end she stood nude in front of the crowd and said, “Just because I’m naked doesn’t mean I’m asking for it.” the audience gave her a standing ovation and I got choked up. It was a powerful hippy-dippy moment and I was glad to witness it.
On the 11th of August my co-host and I were MCing as usual when, again, it came to the voluntary naked part and this time it was a less feel good moment.
A man who was part of a stag-do got on stage. From the moment he stepped on stage you could use one word to sum him up: asshole. He was immediately rude to me, stating he’d sleep with me and he wasn’t picky. The audience didn’t like him, I didn’t like him, but the show continued. He got off his shirt, pulled down (but not off his pants) then tried to reach out and grab me. I held him back. This was getting weird and dragging on. I needed to get the guy off stage, I asked the audience if they were happy with the nudity thus far and there was a drunken roar. I looked to my co-host to signal that we should get the man off stage. But my co-host wasn’t looking at me he was helping the man un-tie his shoes. I yelled his name. But my partner never looked up. I couldn’t reach him to tap him on the shoulder - there was a naked man in between us, one who had already tried to grab me once.
When the guy was fully nude. My co-host hugged him. Which then gave the man permission to hug me. He reached out, wrapped his arms around me, I wasn’t comfortable, but I felt physically trapped. Then wrapped his legs around me koala bear style so I had the weight him on me. Fully naked, his flesh pressed against me. I hated it. To have a man come on stage and insult me then jump on me naked has never been in my job description. I hated it.
The show finished. I didn’t know what to do I just felt sick to my stomach for the rest of the evening. But everything carried on as normal. No one checked to see if I was ok. And I suppose because in the moment I stayed professional and finished the job, I didn’t let on I was bothered. I had a job to do. The man who jumped on me naked wasn’t thrown out. He was given a beer and went back to his crew of men with a story to tell. As the night went on my feelings of discomfort sat with me.
At the end of the night my co-host came up to me and said, “An audience member asked me if you were ok after all that” he shrugged and continued ”I told him you can look after yourself” Then he walked away from me.
When I left the venue I was no longer uncomfortable; now I was angry. I was angry that a person jumped on me, I was angry I couldn’t get the attention of my comedy partner to get him off stage. And I was angry that the show’s team reaction that night was no reaction at all. Just because I host a show with a bit of nudity doesn’t mean I’m asking for it.
I told my team I was unhappy with what happened they ensured me it wouldn’t happen again. They suggested a safe-word but I’m not sure what safe-word achieves if my partner was so engrossed in undressing a man he couldn’t hear me yell his name into a microphone?
When I went back to the show. It wasn’t the same. I hated every minute of it. I didn’t trust that my partner had my back and I was going through the motions in some weird “the show must go on” mentality. But as the show progressed I became increasingly distraught. By the interval I was in an alley crying next to my boyfriend at the thought of continuing. I choked back the tears and finished the second half. I felt I had to. I’m a professional.
My co-host and producers saw I was having a hard time and we decided to have a meeting. We’ve all become close working on this show. We’re all colleagues but friends as well. Because that’s what the show is based on; “mates having fun”.
In the meeting I was told that they’d do anything to make me feel comfortable and safe. I said I wanted to split up the hosting and spend my nights hosting with someone who I think would have seen the red flags and helped avoid a situation like that. That idea was immediately shot down. I was told it wouldn’t be good for the show and it wouldn’t be fair to my co-host to halve his shows when we agreed that we would do them together. They were willing to doing “anything” to make me feel safe except the one thing that I ask for. I was told to take two days off to think about it while my co-host would host with someone else for those days. In the moment it felt like I was being punished for being assaulted. I told them that’s how it felt. And they said it wasn’t like that. The said sometimes people need sick days for your body and I needed a couple mental health days. I didn’t need mental health days. I needed a change.
Another meeting was had between me and my producers and again, I was told they can’t just pick sides, that me and my partner needed to sit down and talk about it. They were right. We did need to talk about it. He’s a good man and a friend and I know he felt bad that I was hurting. But I didn’t feel safe with him on stage anymore. I had a meeting with my co-host and told him I was leaving the show. He told me that he didn’t mean for it to happen and it wouldn’t happen again. But it’s too late now, it already happened once. I screamed for help on stage, I wasn’t heard and I don’t want to put myself in a situation where that might happen again.
And it could have. An asshole intentionally jumped on me naked. I hate that guy, I’m mad at him. He did it on purpose - but everyone around me made the mistake of not helping stop it before it got to that point because they didn’t hear or understand the situation. And that might happen again. It’s a rowdy night. That’s a hook the show is sold on.
I still call everyone on that late-night team a friend. No one I work with wanted that to happen to me. When they saw how I was affected by it they rallied around me, offering support the best they knew how. But I believe their support was misguided. I think everyone thought if I took a couple days off I’d be fine. So for those two days I re-played every bit of it in my head, and I am fine but I’m not going back to work in a place where I might be on purpose/accidentally sexually assaulted.
In the end leaving the show is the best way for me to feel safe. And writing a public post about the incident is a way for me to make peace with what happened. When I wrote something during The Fringe about it, but I was advised by colleagues and friends not associated with the show not to put it online. They were afraid there might be a backlash against me. Or that my entire Fringe would be shrouded in one incident. They wanted to keep me safe by keeping me quiet. But quiet hasn’t helped.
It felt like, something happened and I needed to talk about it and everyone was touching me on the knee saying, “Shhhh, it’ll be fine. Just best forget about it.” But I haven’t. It hasn’t sat right with me. Because a man in a moment of drunken douchery jumped on me, I Ieft a job and no longer trust close friends.
I can’t help but think that it’s instances like this that have people screaming about how comedy can be a “boys club” or that it’s dictated by the patriarchy. I felt I was given two options; host the show with a friend who I still love but now no longer trust to make quick judgment calls by my side. Or quit. So I quit.
I don’t know what would have been a better outcome. We don’t have a human resources department and the Fringe is a fast and fleeting place. With sexual assault there is a bad guy, the abuser. If we dare come forwards, and if we are believed, then we know how to punish the bad guy. But what about all the people who stand around the assaulted and don’t know what or how to help them? What course of action do we suggest to them? I wish I knew. Because my friends from the show are still asking how can they help. And now all I can do is shrug and say, “You can’t. It already happened. And now I have to make sure it doesn’t happen to me again.” Then walk away.