Wednesday, 3 July 2013

My Body, My Rules

So I was quite happily shopping in Poundworld in Nottingham, as I do far too regularly (it's cheap and easy material for Ranger meetings) and looking at puzzles at the end of the aisle. I needed some jigsaws for some activities we're doing and 45 pieces for £1 seemed perfect. I just needed to check the size and quality of the pieces.

I had just picked up my packs of puzzle pieces when I felt two hands around my waist, and I was pulled to one side. A staff member had decided to grab me and physically move me out of his way instead of asking politely. I yelped first, and then he put his hand on my arm, compounding the issue. I couldn't breathe, couldn't think, didn't know what to do.

I started having a panic attack. If you've never experienced them, they are horrible, foul things that stop you thinking, as if a dense fog has descended over your brain. You feel a pain in your chest, everything's so tense it aches and it feels like you're going to die. I was scratching at my waist where he had grabbed me and I was aware but couldn't stop. I drew blood.

He stood there sneering at me, and when I managed to gasp "manager, please" (I wanted to point out to the supervisor that touching a customer in any way is unacceptable), he loudly announced, "Are you kidding me?  What's wrong with you? You fucking dickhead!"

His manager was standing within earshot of this, came over and also tried to put her hands on me, causing me to back up into the shelves. Thankfully, it was just uncomfortable rather than an embarrassing fall into the merchandise, and I recovered from the panic attack fairly quickly by my standards (and stopped the manager calling for an ambulance, which she was convinced needed doing).

I explained to the manager what had happened. The employee, Kevin (yes, for once I shall name and shame!) stormed off with a sigh and the manager told me that I must have misheard because he "is a nice man and has never said anything nasty to anyone." Furthermore, on the subject of physical contact, she told me that I had misunderstood his intentions, because he obviously meant no harm.

That is not the point.

My body, my rules. I have a right to personal space. I have a right to feel safe when I'm out shopping. I don't often let friends touch me, why should I let strangers? Last night, M was literally slapped away when she tried to put her hand on my back, and that's someone that I've known several years now. It's my body, it's my choice how it is used and who by. He took that choice away from me.

The manager's attitude was accusatory. She told me that physical contact happens all the time in retail, that she brushes by customers or moves them out of the way. But, I explained, brushing accidentally is different. I don't like that either, but someone has not made the conscious decision to invade my personal space for a prolonged action. And the fact that she also grabs her customers does not condone it in any way.

Respect people's space, respect their wishes, respect their emotional wellbeing and, most of all, respect their bodies. Because it's theirs.

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