Because I Didn’t Do Enough – #RWA14

I learned something about myself at RWA this year.

Ok, I learned many things about myself. I learned that I cannot hang with Texas salsa—my Midwesterner taste buds are pepper-challenged. I learned that, yes, it’s still just as easy as ever to make me cry at a keynote speech about the hope and succor and comfort that books in this genre offer to readers. I learned that I don’t just have a second wind, but a third and even sometimes a fourth wind.

And I learned, or was reminded, of how well trained I am to shrug off harassment, to ignore being mistreated by someone, to declare that “it’s no big deal” when a man is inappropriate.

I also learned, or was reminded, of how much easier it is to access my ability to act when I am doing so on another woman’s behalf.

On Friday morning, I got on the elevator with two other women to head down to the lobby. A man was standing in the back corner of the elevator and after a moment he interrupted our conference chat.

“Do you want to go on a sex date with me?”

My brain doesn’t always process speech quickly, especially when it’s completely out of context to the situation. So I just looked at him for a moment while the other two women said, “No” and looked away. I think that if I had understood what he was saying and felt like it was directed to me, I might have done much the same.

But by the time I figured out what he’d said, aided by his helpfully repeating himself, I was furious on their behalf.

“You don’t talk like that to women. EVER. That is not okay. Do not say that to any woman. EVER.”

I was in lecture mode immediately, feeling protective and outraged on behalf of these women who were so clearly uncomfortable (as anyone would be while being sexually harassed in a tiny, enclosed space) and just hoping the elevator would hit the lobby as quickly as possible.

We all got off the elevator on the same floor and the man walked away. I didn’t realize that he’d walked in the direction I was headed until I sat down on a bench next to the friends I was meeting and saw that he was already sitting two benches away.

“See that guy over there?” I said in my not-at-all lowered voice. “He just asked me and two other women in the elevator if we wanted to go on sex dates with him. Yes. THAT guy.” I told the group what had just happened, but I was also ready to break out my laptop and get to work on my edits.

My friend Shelley Ann Clark was the first person to ask, “Did you report him to security?”

It honestly hadn’t even occurred to me to do so.

I have been harassed so many times in my life, that it’s just become a part of my background noise. Stranger in the elevator asks for a sex date? Quelle surprise. That was far less shocking that the guy ahead of me in line at the 7-Eleven once who stared at my breasts until I told him to stop and then told me, “Why don’t you grow some tits?” That time, the cashier grimaced and shrugged and tried to get the guy to check out and pay as quickly as possible, but no one other than me said anything. It was certainly less shocking than the time my boss’s friend whistled me over for a drink while I was tending bar and when I jokingly (not-so-jokingly) scolded him, “I know you didn’t just whistle for me like I’m a dog, right?”, looked me dead in the eye and said, “Well, I’m sure my dog is smarter than you are, so how about you just get me a drink?”

Elevator Sex Date man?

Not even on my radar.

He was on Shelley’s though. She, and my other friends, told me that I really ought to report it to security. After asking my permission, Shelley actually left and walked to the front desk to alert them to this guy. She left and I sat there with my phone in my hand, and I was still uncertain about what I should do. It is so deeply ingrained in me that harassment isn’t a big deal. That no one is going to do anything about it. That I just need to suck it up and move past it.

Finally, the voices in my head united in agreeing that Shelley was right. I called Security and had just gotten them on the phone when the man in question moved to another bench near us and sat next to a woman who was reading. I was in the middle of telling them that I thought he was probably harassing another woman right now when I heard my friends gasp and say, “He just grabbed her.”

The man had his hand on the back of her neck. The woman very loudly told him to stop touching her and attempted to get up and move away from him. He didn’t let go. It honestly looked to me as if he were attempting to pull her out the hotel doors right next to us and into the mall.

Social conditioning is a powerful thing. But it works in more than one way and sometimes it comes into conflict with itself. I felt no urge whatsoever to do something about the harasser for myself, but once he escalated to assaulting another woman? I was on my feet in an instant, chasing him out the door, shouting and putting myself in between him and the woman he’d grabbed, because I am also conditioned to be protective and that instinct was more powerful than the one that minimized his harassment of me.

The elasticity of time is always a marvel to experience in an adrenalin-filled moment. During the two minutes that lasted a half hour as we yelled at him (because my friends and even a random man nearby in the mall all jumped in), I had so much time to think about what was happening. We were protecting her. We were chasing him off. But also not trying to chase him too far, because I knew hotel security was on their way. We were bracing ourselves for him to turn violent (or at least I was, as I realized when he took a step towards me once and I immediately retreated back through the glass door of the hotel), which he never did.

And all of it felt so good. It feels powerful to stand up and shout and threaten someone when they are aggressively hurting others. It feels powerful to know that standing right behind you are women who have your back and are ready to step in. As support, as witnesses, to take the lead if you get tired or scared or just overwhelmed. And afterwards, my friends offered to get the woman who had been grabbed anything she needed. They walked her to meet her lunch date (her mom, which must have felt like safety personified.) They exchanged cards with her and offered her company at any hour of the day or night so that she would never have to sit alone at the conference anywhere, if she wanted to feel safe. They followed up with emails and tweets to make sure she was doing okay.

I follow a lot of SFF and comic book community members online. For the past several years, there has been an ongoing and escalating conversation about harassment at conventions, the need for explicit policies and plans to handle it, and the regular and disappointing failure of even the savviest of cons to get it right.

There’s a little part of me that wants to brag about how awesome the romance writing community is after everyone’s response to this incident at RWA.

There’s a bigger part of me that needs to apologize with sincere regret both to the woman who was assaulted by this man and to the rest of my conference attendees. (I am not mentioning her name in case she would rather not relive the moment online.) I didn’t act fast enough. I didn’t take our right to exist in the world with freedom and safety seriously enough. I know better. I will do better. I promise you that.

And that man?

A security guard from the San Antonio Mariott Rivercenter came running up as we were still yelling at the harasser outside the hotel/mall entrance. When the guy took off with the guard chasing after him, I thought, “Well, he’s never going to catch him in that crowd at the mall. We’re going to have to alert the entire conference to be on the lookout for this guy.” But Mr. Charles Rodriguez of the Marriott team is committed to protecting his hotel guests. He chased the man through the mall and into the parking garage, before running him down and calling the police. The San Antonio bicycle police officers on the scene said that he would be charged with assault, trespassing, and possession. I can’t thank the hotel, and Mr. Rodriguez in particular, enough for acting swiftly and without hesitation in support of our safety.

I will attempt to learn from their example.

ETA: I wrote a follow-up post, Don’t Judge – Further Thoughts on Harassment, here.

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102 Responses to Because I Didn’t Do Enough – #RWA14

  1. Ana says:

    Holy cow! That is one way to get a wake up call. I think we learn to ignore and minimize out of self-protection. We don’t always have people around us to back us up.

    • And most women do not have the support of a community like RWA and romance writers in general. This kind of thing is not unusual. But in almost no other situation is a woman so certain to be taken seriously, to be heard, to see her complaint acted upon, and to avoid suffering socially for her actions afterward. So often women are punished for reporting harassment and I would not for once second suggest that this is what anyone else should do in a similar situation. No one should judge any woman for the choices she makes when harassed. Prioritizing her safety is #1.

  2. Whoa!! I had no idea about all this, and it is such a good point about how much we let go or shrug off that we ought not to. I’m impressed how everyone rallied for that poor woman, and how the hotel security ran with it.

    • I had multiple people gently walking me through the realization that this was a bigger deal than I thought it was and it still took me time to agree with them. Between the social conditioning not to make a fuss and a lifetime’s worth of experience of no one ever doing anything about it, you just sort of roll your eyes and move on. It was a powerful moment to feel everyone’s strength coming together and so fucking reassuring to see the hotel 100% in support of us. They were absolutely fantastic. Mr. Rodriguez especially. :)

      • I read this blog post and comments and my throat closed up and my eyes filled with tears. I had to sit back and evaluate my reaction. I realized I was experiencing two very strong but very different emotions. One, I was just so proud of all of you for stepping up to protect this woman. We live in a rape culture where a “blame the victim” mentality is ever present. College, for example, is probably the most dangerous place you can send your daughter. Statistics estimate one in three women will either be raped or assaulted before they graduate. One. In. Three. This is appalling. When college students are assaulted and report it, they are most often assaulted all over again by a system they thought they could trust. Nope. Football and fraternities. Those are sacred cows. A new case was reported this week and made the news because about 3000 students from the college said “uh uh.” I signed a petition and the last I saw it had 32,000 signatures and counting. Working to eradicate rape culture and bullying has become my passion. (
        Two, I felt a great sense of despair because THIS is still happening in a country that is supposed to be so advanced and erudite. F@&k that! Until woman can walk down a street (or get in an elevator) and not be touched or harassed by a man, we take forty steps back for every step forward. Yes, this had happened to me. I bet all women can say this. And the answer is NO YOU FREAK. You cannot touch me down there. Or hold me at gunpoint and tell me to take off my clothes or you will kill me. And I am six.

        The only way we will ever stop this is banding together. So while you didn’t protect yourself, in reality right now it takes more than just one woman to be heard. That isn’t right. But it’s our dally struggle.

        So, thank you. Thank you to every single woman who put on her high heels and cape and STOPPED this assault which could have been much worse.

        I am proud of you today. While you were partying it up some moron named Matt Walsh was calling women to arms thinking he had the right to tell US to bring our country back from the precipice that would too us over if the Shades of Gray movie made any money. I haven’t read the books and probably never will but it’s my choice and it’s based on reasons that I won’t force on anyone else.

        We have been saving Matt Walsh’s stinky smelly butt for thousands of years. Call your cronies to arms, you idiot, like the Southern Republican congressman who said on live television that medical doctors have told him that women can shut off that part of their body in cases of “legitimate” rape. There’s legitimate rape? Really? Who knew. And where did these doctors go to school? Boko Haram University? Taliban University?

        Sigh. And now I’ve written a novel I will stop. But know this. You changed the world this weekend. And none of us can do it alone.


        • Prisakiss says:


          My middle daughter and two of her friends started an organization at Arizona State University after one of the friends was drugged and date raped. I Always Get Consent ( was and is a labor of love, determination, compassion and strength!

          I’m so proud of all the hard work these incredibly strong women have done in their bid to raise awareness about sexual violence, especially around college campuses. When my daughter first told me that 1 in 3 college female will experience some type of sexual violence during college, I was completely shell-shocked. As a mom of three daughters, I was appalled and frightened.

          If you’d like to learn more about their organization and others like it around college campuses, please visit their site.

          • What an inspiration your daughter is! I think “enthusiastic consent” as a concept is one of the best things to come about in the past decade. And it blows me away to see the awesome young women who are organizing on campuses across the country. I learned about Know Your IX, a group that teaches women about their Title IX rights to a harassment-free existence on campus, just this year. It’s amazing to see what smart, savvy young women are doing today. They’re fabulous. :)

      • Degan Outridge says:

        Kudos to you and the other ladies and I’d like to recommend a book called “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin DeBecker which is all about listening to that survival instinct we try so hard to stamp out in the name of good manners. As women, we are heavily conditioned towards civility and conciliation, which can make it easier to take advantage.

        My daughter grabbed “Protecting the Gift” away from me as soon as I brought it home (she was 11) and it inspired her to take Krav Maga and feel okay about ignoring people or saying ‘no’ — we practice on the kiosk piranhas at the mall. ;)

  3. We face this at the library. When a woman reports harassment, it’s usually been happening for a couple weeks. The woman is always surprised when we immediately do something about it and our refrain is always, “Please, please, please report stuff like this.”

    But, like Amy, when it happens to me, I usually shrug it off. Even though I know better.

    • Shelley Ann Clark says:

      Part of why I was so insistent was because I’m used to being the one in charge at the library who can make the person harassing someone go away. Once you realize that you do have the power to stop it, you don’t want to let anyone else suffer it.

      • I think this is a key point. I too have been the person in charge in many places (work especially, but also the captain of a sports team, etc. Ok, stop laughing, shooting pool is too a sport!) and that definitely changes your perception of how people will react to your protest against harassment. I am at a point where I expect, intellectually, to be taken seriously, although it’s obvious that emotionally I still assume that I won’t be. But it’s easier to access the intellect when you are operating from a position of power, instead of a position of feeling threatened.

        Don’t know if you can tell, but I have a follow-up post brewing on this topic. :)

  4. Good for you for doing this and for writing about it.

  5. Julie says:

    Amy, thank you so much for writing about your experience. I think we’re all lulled into a sense of false security at National and regional RWA conferences; after all, it’s just all of us, right? There’s nobody in the hotel or in the surrounding community that would try to harass or hurt any of us, is there? Unfortunately, there is, and you acted quickly when the guy stepped up his harassment and started getting physical.

    I’m glad the security staff took it seriously and dealt with the guy. In the meantime, perhaps RWA needs to look at establishing some type of posted policy and/or information on what to do if there is someone in the conference hotel or at an activity that isn’t part of the group and is there for less than appropriate reasons.

    • I think you’re absolutely correct that RWA should have a policy & reporting procedure shared with us. And I should have contacted them directly before now, because I’m guessing they (like most people) didn’t have any idea that this happened. Just another example of how the kneejerk reaction is not to make a big deal about things. I’M STILL DOING IT. Man, it’s hard to step outside of this conditioning and see clearly. Mind-boggling really, how tough it is. Thank you for pointing out what still needs doing!

      • We certainly are blessed to have such an amazing community of romance writers! :)

      • Amber says:

        I remember specifically reading an anti-harassment policy at the beginning of the conference booklet this time. And I remember thinking that when AJ started telling me this story, a few hours after it had happened, I was going to tell her to report it to the conference organizers. But then she finished the story, wherein the guy got arrested, and that was an even better ending, especially since he wasn’t part of the conference anyway. So, maybe it still could have been reported to RWA but at the time I remember thinking this was fine (and better).

  6. Tatum Flynn says:

    Well done all of you for doing something, like you say, you get so used to it you shrug it off, until it goes too far.

  7. Thank you for acting and for sharing this with us! You’re right, too often we shrug off incidents and to hear of your willingness to stand up and speak up is galvanizing.

    Thank you again.

  8. I was also at RWA14, and I have to say all this went on without my being aware of it. I’m sorry you all had to go through it, but I’m not wholly surprised that there are men who target mostly-female conferences in the f-witted belief that if women are away from home, and talking romance and career, they must be up for sex. A few weeks ago, I was walking my elderly and gentle dogs in a quiet country village, very near to my home and a man came up and threatened my dogs and verbally abused me. He went down under a missile battery of the most sewer-ripened expletives I have in my repertoire, which is extensive. I shouted at the top of my voice for all the world to hear my opinion of his deeply unpleasant and illegal sexual practices. I always feel that when threatened and insulted, give back loud, vile and way over the top. It scares the bejaysus out of cowards and afterwards, you don’t have ‘I wish I’d said that’ feeling.

    That notwithstanding, I hope you had a great conference, and hurrah to the Marriott staff too. It was a very nice hotel.

  9. Thanks so much for posting this. It’s a reminder that predators are everywhere, and even when we might feel most safe it pays to be alert. Glad you took action and that the harasser didn’t get away with his behavior (as he probably has many times before judging from his boldness in remaining in the area).

  10. Cecilia Tan says:

    Wow, oh wow. Don’t beat yourself up too much for your initial slowness to act. You did and that’s what matters most.

    • I had the best circumstances in the world for doing so. A strong community who I knew would support us, a group of friends to hand, a woman who needed protecting, security on the way…I can’t imagine how different the outcome would be had this happened elsewhere.

  11. Kelly says:

    I was one of the women in the elevator. I actually didn’t hear him the first time and asked him to repeat himself. Or, I guess I didn’t *think* I’d heard him correctly… and so I asked him to repeat himself. Shock doesn’t even begin to cover my reaction to his proposition. He was so casual about it, as if he really thought someone might say “yes”. In retrospect, that disturbs me.

    I chose to ignore him, based on the belief that things that are annoyed eventually go away. After reading this post, I guess I have a few retrospective thoughts on that, as well, such as: Why did it not occur to me to report this guy? Why did I only think of myself and my own reaction, that of my friend? He followed us for a short while, until my friend pulled us away. That’s when I told her to ignore him.

    My daughter was harassed in a similar manner at the mall a few weeks ago. When she wants to shop alone or with her friends, I always remain in the mall, tethered to my cell phone in case she texts me. She’s nearly 13. She believes she’s old enough to shop alone. I disagree, obviously. I reported the guy to security. I also cautioned my daughter and her friends to not engage the guy by looking over their shoulders as he followed us. I figured that by *engaging* him in any way, they were actively participating in a conversation of a sort, you know? (I also reminded them that if anyone ever approaches them in that manner again, to go into a store and ask to speak to a manager or security. And to text me, of course.)

    So why didn’t I follow my own rule? I think it’s because I was so disturbed that I just wanted to get away, as fast as possible. Now, I can’t believe I abandoned a situation that might have affected other women, and for that I am truly sorry.

    So, thank you, Shelley, for taking action. And thank you, Amy, for standing up for us and for reminding me that I am not alone, and that I should never feel like I am. That I am part of a community. And, that I have the right to act.

    • Kelly says:

      So much for proof reading: I chose to ignore him, based on the belief that things that are *ignored* eventually go away.

    • I’m so glad you saw this post, Kelly. I wished afterward that I’d stopped and gotten your and the other woman’s names, but again, I was moving on. No big deal, right?

      I think you are correct that engaging with harassers in any way is always a risk. If I had been alone in that elevator, I absolutely would not have yelled at that guy. It’s not safe and the risk of harm is high. You are teaching your daughter life skills that will keep her safe. What we need as a society to work on, of course, is making sure that those people she reaches out to will respond in a way that supports her and doesn’t minimize her experience. I was honestly surprised to learn how far Mr. Rodriguez was willing to go on behalf of our safety. I am not used to people extending themselves to respond to harassment issues. Maybe we’re getting better. :)

      Our community is amazing. We are a safe place, a strong place, for women to act and I’m so glad that I got to see that in action. And I’m glad I got to meet you too. If you’re in NYC next year and need back up, you make sure to grab me, ok? We got this.

    • I’m glad your young daughter was safe. And I see a lot of dads being more cognizant of the problem. When an an entire town will protect two teen rapusts can carry a young, unconscious girl from party to party and then a great many of that town’s population triumph to protect them because they were “football” players, we are in deep, deep trouble.

      If it were not for Twitter and caring people they probably would have gone free.

      I’ve decided that the advice to warn off black bears and mountain lions is better. Make yourself as big as you can, put your arms in the air and scream as loud as you can. If you are with others, band together.

      These effing predators aren’t men or human. They
      are rodents. And that’s a slur on rodents.

  12. Marlene says:

    Wow. Thanks for sharing this! As a woman, it’s reassuring to know fellow strangers still stand up for each other.

  13. Kay Hudson says:

    Good for you Amy, and the same for those who stepped up with you. Fortunately the men who spoke to me at the conference were all gentlemen, and I can’t say enough nice things about the hotel staff (both hotels!). So sorry you ran into this creep. Glad you did something about him.

  14. Jean Willett says:

    I, too, am from a generation that shrugs off the many sly comments that have come my way through the years. Corporations have done a lot to try and stop the aggressive behavior. But, the best thing any of us can do is learn to react. I attended a Police Academy for writers last year. One of the workshops was self-defense, specifically a mini lesson of Krav Maga. Krav Maga – from Wikipedia “.. has a philosophy emphasizing threat neutralization, simultaneous defensive and offensive maneuvers, and aggression. Krav Maga is used by Israeli Defense Forces, both regular and special forces, and several closely related variations have been developed and adopted by law enforcement and intelligence organizations, Mossad and Shin Bet.”
    I grow very calm in emergency situations. In our session we learned to 1]be aware of our surroundings all the time. Put away our cellphones. 2]when someone approaches your private space, speak loudly and tell them to back off. The purpose being a]to draw attention b]to have witnesses
    We learned to yell, attack to defend and how to stay physically balanced at all times. [As when the man stepped toward you and you backed up.]
    It was the toughest 2hrs I’ve ever spent-mentallyl and physcially. I don’t yell at people. I don’t hit people…but I wasn’t going anywhere until the instructor heard me.
    I plan to pursue more. It was liberating to kickass on a huge dummy. :0
    So glad everyone is safe and you jumped into the fray.

  15. jnfr says:

    Thank you for standing up as you did.

  16. I noticed a marked increase in cop and security presence late Friday afternoon and evening. Later Friday night someone told me a woman had been attacked – which was very shocking indeed. Thank you for posting this, which may help with the healing process and also encourage woman to be aware of their surrondings at all times. This sort of thing is not okay. I was glad they caught the guy and the hotel stepped up to the plate by keeping a strong vigil for the remainder of the conference.

    I’m so sorry you experieced this.

  17. Rosie says:

    I am in awe. In my opinion, you *did* do enough. You fought the conditioning that told you to accept this sort of thing, and then you leapt to action and defended someone against the person who assaulted them. You are a superhero!

    • It takes so many things coming together to make this kind of response possible. People who take harassment seriously, a crowd who are willing to jump up and surround someone in trouble, strangers coming over and adding their voice to the protest, professionals who don’t hesitate to commit to action and who are eager to pursue justice, a community that offers unflinching support to women. I would wish for no one to experience harassment of any kind, ever, but damn…if it’s going to happen, the romance community is the best place you can be. Talk about a bedrock!

  18. Jenn says:

    I was the other woman in the elevator with Amy Jo and Kelly. Thank you, Amy Jo and Shelley. Like Kelly, I just put it out of my head, because you’re absolutely right: we’re programmed to brush this stuff off, ignore it, move on, forget about it, and then feel guilty if we think about bringing attention to it.

    I’m very glad this guy was apprehended. Not only that, I’m proud to be a part of a community that will stand up like this and say (shout) NO.

    • I’m so glad both of you saw this post. It was really bothering me to think that I didn’t have any way to talk to you, to say, “Hey, that was pretty creepy, right? Are you okay?” Thank you so much for commenting! Now I am following you both on Twitter, which means you will never get rid of me. :)

  19. “Do you want to go on a sex date with me?” Good lord, really!? Just like that. Who even says that? That’s simply….glaaaarrrggghh!

    • And honestly, that didn’t even really throw me for a loop. I’ve been harassed while walking down the street in my sweatpants, holding my child’s hand. It’s SO ever present that you just stop paying attention to it. And then something like this happens, and you realized how much you just ignore. And then you get pissed.

  20. Chris Brown says:

    Good for you. It is just sad that so many men think this kind of behavior is OK. I think men need to do more to police this a-holes. We know who they are.

    • I think that absolutely helps. The sad fact is that plenty of men don’t take harassment complaints from women seriously, but they listen when another man says something. I was certainly glad that a man who was nearby was one of the people who came over to keep this guy away from the woman he was trying to grab. We were protecting her, but it’s always good to see a man stand up and say, “Not okay. This is not okay.”

  21. Janet Lee Nye says:

    I heard about this. Apparently, I’d just left the lobby to go across the street and missed it.

    My first thought was, “Boy, did he pick the WRONG group of women to try this with.”

    My second was that I wished I’d been there. I can get loud and I can put my Nurse Ratched voice on and let my Mamma Bear roar when I need to.

    Thank you for sharing. The more we share these stories, the quicker we can recognize and react appropriately.

    And, thank you for going a step above and beyond in tracking down the security guard and making sure he got the praise he deserved.

    • My inner mama bear was definitely up out of hibernation. But we could have used your Nurse Ratched voice! And yes, 2000 romance writers are not the crowd you want to screw around with…

      Mr. Rodriguez is on my holiday card list forever. I saw him several times over the next 48 hours and we always stopped to talk. He’s a good man.

  22. S.Scott says:

    I felt chills reading this. Thank you for posting this and for standing up and for acting on this.

    I was harrassed at an RWA event as well. I even paused just now to assess whether that was the correct word, because the guy was somewhat professional and courteous. But he also refused to let me pay for my own drink or walk away, and I was too fearful of his 200+ pound nature to refuse. I finally pulled away after ten minutes but felt icky all night.

    • Harassment is absolutely the right word. He ignored what you wanted and did what he wanted. He didn’t respect your space or your agency. That is not okay and I’m sorry that it happened to you. :(

  23. Audra North says:

    It’s so hard to adequately cover all the things I want to say about this, but it boils down to three main things:

    1. You are awesome. Shelley is awesome. Del, Jennifer Lohmann, and especially the woman who was assaulted and shouted loudly and publicly in protest are awesome. Freakin’ yeah.

    2. The way that we, as women, view ourselves and our fundamental right to protection in this society is disturbing. I’m talking about protection on every level–physical, mental, emotional…we are taught to be givers, and that also means that we take a lot of abuse in silence. Thank you to the woman who was attacked and to you for breaking that silence.

    3. I hope this hammers home to anyone who has never experienced harassment (and good for those people, that is wonderful) that it isn’t limited to women who dress a certain way, women who are poor, women who are “stupid enough” (I do not believe this, btw) to walk or sit alone. Women are not issuing an invitation by their very existence, and yet too often this is the implicit teaching that everyone absorbs and therefore everyone supports, whether consciously or not.

    I’m beyond pleased by the response from the Marriott staff. They did an incredible job, and they genuinely cared about what happened on a human level as opposed to a case/lawsuit/PR level. Good for them.

  24. Sunny says:

    Thank you for speaking up and reminding me that we have power in our voice. Perhaps next time I hear a sexist or racist comment, I will be more willing to speak up faster.

  25. This, unfortunately, is not the first story I’ve heard along these lines. Another woman told me and a group of my friends about a man who followed her from the elevator toward our room. Thankfully, she had the foresight to enter a room one of the maids was cleaning and alert her to the situation. But the man disappeared at that point. I’m glad he was caught.

  26. Chills. That’s all I got. Thank you for being awesome.

  27. I also wasn’t aware this happened! We do the best we can in the moment with the information (and social conditioning) we have at the time.

    I’ve spent over thirteen years beating myself up for not even reporting the man I knew for all of 6 hours before he raped me. I never told the cops or went to the hospital or anything (bc when it happens to you, somehow it’s not as much of a “big deal” as when it happens to someone else, right?). For over a decade I’ve blamed myself for every woman he has almost certainly raped after me. I had to let go of the self-blame to move on. (In fact, this is the first time I’ve even mentioned it online without being anonymous).

    We do the best we can with what we know at the time it happened. You’re so blessed you got a second chance to get that creep. Not all of us are so lucky. Please don’t blame yourself (or any woman) for doing exactly what we’ve been taught by society to do.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story, Shoshanna. I am so sorry for what happened to you. And you are right. We should NONE of us judge or blame ourselves or others (although I know, as you can see, how hard that is) for our responses to harassment, assault, rape. There are endless factors to any situation that can cost you–physically, mentally, emotionally, professionally–and most women are nowhere near as safe a position as I was when this happened. I was lucky to come across him again, and lucky to have the friends around me who were able to help me see more clearly what was happening. We are an amazing community.

  28. Nan Dixon says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post.

  29. Sabrina Jeffries says:

    Good for you for reporting it, since so many of us don’t. I honestly don’t expect this kind of thing to happen at RWA, but of course it happens everywhere, so it’s always good to be vigilant. We’re so proud of you, and glad that the hotel security was that diligent and prompt!

  30. Maggie Wells says:

    Wow. Just wow. And you are absolutely right. Thank you for sharing the story and making us all a little more conscious of our responsibility to stand up.

  31. You are awesome, woman. Thank you SO much for everything you did. Yes, it was a big deal. Yes, the Marriott staff was wonderful, the entire conference. And Yes, the RWA crowd totally rocks. But you – you are AWESOME. Good for you. The next conference we’re both at, I’ll make sure to find you and give you a hug.

  32. Mary Behre says:

    You are incredible! To respond on your feet is phenomenal. And you did nothing wrong. The fact you kept an eye on him while debating what to do shows, your radar was on even if social conditioning had you second-guessing your instincts.

    Be proud and brag and share you story. More women need to know they have a right to stand up. And you might have saved that woman’s life.

  33. Also, I wanted to add a book recommendation: The Gift of Fear by Gavin deBecker. He talks about trusting your intuition and the signals someone who is considering violence send. Very informative.

    • Seconded! I read this book almost twenty years ago when it first was published. It drastically changed my response to different situations on the street and definitely made me more willing to speak up. It also made me much more inclined to take seriously any creepy feelings I get. It’s an eye-opener.

  34. Del says:

    I’m still so amazed and impressed by yours and Shelley’s and Audra’s awesome response. I think the time frame was just so compressed, and it’s okay to cut yourself slack for the fact that *you* were still trying to process what had just happened when he started up the incident a few benches over. While at the same time acknowledging that, yeah, we probably all should examine how much harder it sometimes is to act on our own behalf.

    Which I guess also means…we all have this advice for others about always speaking up, but we maybe need to be sensitive of the fact that what we’re asking them to do is a really hard thing for a lot of reasons. Because it is so different when you’re the one it’s happening to. It seems like an obvious thing, “speak up, speak out, stand up for yourself.” But it isn’t always obvious that it’s time to do that, in the moment. Just…lots of layers to the whole issue.

    *hugs* you were a badass though. In the end, you were. You *did* speak up. You helped. I was extremely proud of you.

  35. Crystal Huff says:

    Thank you so much for writing this post, and intervening. I’m so sorry you and others were harassed.

    This caught my eye:
    There’s a bigger part of me that needs to apologize with sincere regret both to the woman who was assaulted by this man and to the rest of my conference attendees.

    I suspect you know this, but the behavior of a man who’s harassing someone is in no way your fault or responsibility, whether or not you were harassed by him previously. His actions after harassing you weren’t your fault. They were his fault, and maybe the fault of our misogynistic society.

  36. Yikes, I had no idea that had happened. I’m glad he was caught! What irks me, is that he probably felt he had some “right” because we write about sex?? WTF?

  37. Thank you everyone for sharing this post and the responses – thank you Shoshana. You all handled it — at every stage — very well. No need to apologize, any of you, for being shocked – that’s happened to all of us. We’re trained to ignore the random nonthreatening crazy person out of politeness, so when it is a threatening person, that’s really warring with the other training – I think you handled every part of this very well.

    The fact that that man would feel as if he could act like that in an elevator with three women is terrifying – I’m so glad none of you were alone. And that he would touch a woman in a lobby filled with crowds – I can’t believe it. (I do, but I shouldn’t, but I do, because … the disrespect for women just seems to be growing.)

    Was it one of the elevators where you can’t hit a floor button once you’re inside?

    I have a great fear of those more “efficient” elevators – the ones like at RT 2014 in New Orleans – where you push the floor you want in the lobby, but there are no floor buttons inside the elevator – for exactly this reason. If someone gets on with me and I get a creep vibe, I’m stuck riding. I can’t get off at a floor other than my own, I can’t hit the Lobby button again, nothing. The only choices in that case are to hit the alarm or continue to my floor — there’s nothing in between. I find that very, very disconcerting for exactly this reason – being alone in an elevator is a scary trapped space.

    I have explained this concern many times with men in those elevators – lawyers, bankers, dads on vacations – those elevators are especially common in large office buildings and large hotels, where lots of people come and go and people move around at night. One hundred percent of the men that I mentioned how much I hate this type of elevator and why to were surprised – it had NEVER occurred to them that a woman could be nervous in an elevator. Even after my explanation, none of them could see why I would worry – “You could just hit the alarm button” – more than one said to me. It didn’t occur to them, and they couldn’t even fathom, that I have to protect myself BEFORE an elevator ride gets to the alarm stage. That I have to have A CHOICE and those elevators take it away and trap me – men just don’t feel trapped. (They don’t have a history of their choices and decisions being circumscribed quite as much by other men). I try to explain: if I’m coming down from my office in the evening, and I feel creeped out about going all the way to the parking garage with the guy who just stepped in, I want to – I must be able to – change the destination to lobby where the security guard is immediately. But I can’t. And that’s wrong.

    Those lobby-button-only elevators? Not designed by a woman. Not selected by female architects, or at least not by ones empowered to share their thoughts and experiences. No one in the process must have ridden elevators while female or even had the imagination to think about it, or the light-bulb moment to ask. And I have no idea how to get through to the designers and installers that these elevators are scary, and not female-friendly.

    It is well-known, by the way, that a lot of crimes occur in elevators – designers try hard to make them faster and more efficient, but they don’t really try to make them safer.

    I am SO glad you are all safe.

    • Anna, I’d like to see you continue your elevator reform efforts in concert with a group devoted to ending violence against women, like a coalition of women’s shelters, which are usually somehow affiliated with rape crisis centers. The power of their numbers and contacts could help you get this concept out there where it can be heard.

    • Shelley Ann Clark says:

      Those elevators at RT terrified me too, for this very reason.

  38. Prisakiss says:

    I’m the one who was followed off the elevator by some strange guy while at RWA last week. You know, I’ve traveled and attended RWA for years, but this is the first time something like this has happened. Thank goodness, because it really freaked me out!

    Friday midday, six of us RWA ladies got on the elevator on the third floor and this guy with dark hair and a beard jumped in, shoving his way into the center of the group. I wound up standing behind him, pressing back against the wall because he reeked of body odor. I noticed that as one woman asked which floors we needed, he didn’t say anything. Naively I thought maybe his number had been called out.

    He asked us if we were the romance writers and one woman made a funny comment in reply. Two women got off on the first stop; another got off on the next. With three of us and the guy left, he decided to light up a cigarette. On the elevator!

    I moved out from behind him, trying to get away, thankful my floor was next. One woman called him out, starting a debate with him about whether or not smoking was legal in elevators. He said something about an e-cigarette and I just kept praying the elevator doors would open before he freaked out on us inside.

    The doors opened on my floor and I slid out quickly, making a beeline for my room at the end of the long, crookedly windy hallway to the right. I shared an end room with my friends, only two other rooms were alongside ours and I was about three doors away when I felt something behind me. I looked over my shoulder and the guy was right up on me.

    I gasped and immediately ducked under and back around him heading in the direction we’d come from. But he turned and started toward me saying that he just wanted to ask me some questions. I waved him away, saying I wasn’t interested, but he kept coming toward me. Thankfully a room door was propped open a little ways down the hall with a vacuum in front of it. I backed away from him and ducked inside calling out that there was a guy outside and he was making me nervous.

    The maid quickly dropped her rag or whatever she’d been holding (my mind draws a blank on that), spoke into a walkie talkie as she went outside to look for him. The guy was lingering outside. He said he was looking for his friend who was writer and she was on the third floor. Well, we were on the 15th floor!

    He walked away toward the elevator and the maid asked me if I was okay, if I wanted to call security. I repeated that he’d scared me and he’d been acting strange in the elevator. She went after him again and I heard them talking down the hallway, moving toward the elevator. Then I heard her speaking into a walkie talkie again as she came back a few minutes later. She reassured me that security was going to look for him on the third floor. I went back to my room and stayed there for over an hour– freaked out, shaky inside, and so thankful that I’d been lucky to find the maid.

    Later in the day, I saw the maid again and she reassured me that security had found the man and escorted him from the building.

    I was safe, but I tell you, I kept looking over my shoulder, slowing down as I came to a crooked bend in the hallway heading to my room for the rest of the conference.

    It was eye-opening. Like Amy Jo said, I think about these things when it comes to my daughters or other women, but I hadn’t really thought about my own safety in a hotel full of women. We’re like fish in a barrel at those conferences- especially for someone looking to do wrong.

    I’ll say it was reassuring to notice the presence of cops in the lobby. I haven’t seen that at a conference before. But after my experience with freaky elevator guy, I felt more secure with the cops there.

    Thanks, Amy Jo and all the others who spoke up, stood up and made a difference by catching that predator. That’s what he was– a predator preying on someone he considered weaker than him. He didn’t know what he was up against when it came to you ladies and Charles Rodriguez!

    • How incredibly frightening. This was almost certainly the same man, based on your description. The hotel told us that he’d already been reported by a housekeeper and that they were trying to track him down in the hotel, but hadn’t been able to do so yet when we alerted them to his location. Full credit to the Marriott staff and the San Antonio police for reacting swiftly and with all seriousness to our complaints. They were absolutely stellar in their pursuit of this guy. Mr. Rodriguez in particular gets my eternal thanks!

      Don’t mess with romance writers. :)

      • Prisakiss says:

        I’m planning to send a thank you note to the hotel. The maid’s quick response and care, not to mention the beefed up security in the lobby helped to ease my fear. Sounds like Mr. Rodriguez went above and beyond as well. Thanks so much for your blog post.

        This is definitely a message that needs to be shared.

        • I was deeply appreciative of the speedy responses by the entire Marriott team. I emailed the Resident Manager, and Audra North also supplied a thank you card and a gift for Mr. Rodriguez. Being taken seriously is not always a given when it comes to reporting harassment, so that was impressive. Hotel security was visibly present in heightened numbers for the rest of the conference. They did a stellar job. I’m so glad you had similar support!

          • Janet Lee Nye says:

            I mentioned this incident in the “how was your stay” survey I got. I was staying at the Riverwalk, but told of the great response you all got from the Marriott staff at Rivercenter.

            I remember (was it last fall?) there was a lot of talk regarding harassment of women at sci-fi cons and it seemed like nothing was done about it.

            The way these incidents were handled – from the staff to the bystanders to the women involved was wonderful to see.

            Your excellent summary of the events and how they were so efficiently handled must be shared as widely as possible.

  39. AJ Pine says:

    You are a fabulous woman, Amy Jo. Thank you for writing this post. I am sorry you and other women were treated like this at what should have been a wonderful, safe event but am so blown away by how you all reacted…and acted.

  40. Well done, Amy Jo, Jennifer, Shelley and Audra!!! Wish I could have seen y’all in action. I’m a harassment survivor, as well. Since Pink Panthers is already taken (international jewel thieves network) I guess I’ll call you the name you seem to have chosen for yourselves, the Mama Bears. Beware the Mama Bears of the RWA, rrrowrrr! :-) Sounds like we could all use a refresher course in SING (solar plexus, instep, nose, groin – Miss Congeniality’s self-defense demo), just to be ready for the inevitable next loser. Whoever’s behind him can dance on his back, neck and knees, Footloose-style.

  41. Chanpreet says:

    We’ve got to learn to be our own defenders. It’s better to over react as opposed to sit back and make excuses or feel guilty later.

    I’m so glad you finally sprang into action. Shame on him and brava to all the ladies and Mr. Rodriguez for stepping in, stopping him, and catching him.

  42. Shelley Ann Clark says:

    Thank you for writing about this.

    The thing is, for me, I was able to respond as I did– “Did you alert security? You should! Do you mind if I do?” precisely because it happened to you and because it did not happen to me. When I’ve been harassed– and I was, twice at that conference– I shrug it off, because I’ve been taught to expect it, and worse, I’ve been taught that people in authority will do nothing to stop it. I am a woman. I am small. I write about sex. Therefore, men will harass me and that is just the way the world works. Fighting back will only make them more aggressive.

    BUT. When I see someone else being attacked, then I’m willing to step in. It seems I’ve internalized the message that I myself am not worth protecting, but other people are. It’s a scary thing to realize, that this is the lesson I’ve learned. While I’m glad that I’m willing to do something on behalf of another person when I feel they’re in danger, I need to learn that I, too, am worth defending.

    ALL of us need to learn that. Even if defending ourselves means making a scene or not being nice, or, heaven forbid, being rude to the man who asked us for a sex date. (Ironic that my first worry would be rudeness to a man who would so blatantly step over my own boundaries, right?)

    And at least this one time, we learned that people in positions of authority WILL listen, WILL help, WILL stop it– especially when confronted by a group of women who won’t let them NOT do their jobs. Kudos to the male bystander, too, who said that he nearly didn’t get involved because he thought it was a “domestic matter,” but then added, “BUT even if it was, IT STILL WASN’T RIGHT.” I’m heartened by those responses, because it means we’ve come a long way in the last ten years or so, even if we still have far to go.

  43. Kristi Weldon says:

    I had no idea this went down but wondered why there were bicycle cops hanging out at the side entrance so often. I didn’t mind; it just seemed odd. I have asked my USMC combat vet DH for a refresher self-defense course. His response (aside from “yes”): “Wow. Those TX cops don’t play, either. He is so [screwed].” Go Mamma Bears, Mr. Rodriguez, Marriott, and SAT police! I pretty much felt safe the whole time, but like you said, your mental guard never fully drops around male strangers in elevators and bars. : /

  44. Yeah, I tend to stick up for others too, while ignoring the crap that happens to me. :( I think it’s engrained in us as a behavior. But you DID do something, and that is wonderful, and frankly, I’d be so flabbergasted by someone asking for a ‘sex date’ that I’d probably still be trying to process it. We just don’t think these things are ‘real’ because they’re out there so far. Don’t beat yourself up over it–and next time, we’ll all be more prepared thanks to your post. :)

  45. Kristi Weldon says:

    I sent Marriott corporate a link to this blog post and a “Thank You” with specific praise for housekeeping, security, management, and the San Antonio Police. Here’s the link if you want to contact them, also:

  46. Valerie says:

    Good writing, Wonder Woman. You make a good point about just dealing with harassment when we are the victim, but when witnessing injustice to another we’re more likely to jump into action. I wish there were more of you around when I removed the hand of a 300 pound pickpocket from my purse while in Macy’s. I held it up and yelled “pickpocket” and the patrons in their coffee shop stared at me like I was crazy. The woman taking coffee orders only glanced my way and returned to her customer when I shouted for her to call security. Yup, lend hand when you can. You should let Mr. Rodriguez’s boss know he got a shout out and lots of people read it.

    • How have I never heard this story? I wish we’d been there too! I’d have been ALL OVER that pickpocket. I’m sorry those bystanders let you down. :(

      (The above comment is from my mom. Hence my outrage. Nobody messes with my mom.)

  47. I just heard about this in during a discussion about the mystery girl* at SDCC this past weekend. I’m stunned in both cases.

    (From what I understand, a young girl left her group of friends, and no one knows what happened between her leaving them and when she was later found alongside of the road bloody, unconscious, and with no ID).

    • I saw a post about that, but I also saw a lot of reports that the police are questioning whether or not it’s a hoax, as they did not find a girl nor have they heard from her parents. Of course, even worse things happen with regularity, but in this case we may be lucky to find out that nothing at all happened to the girl cosplaying Roger Rabbit. Fingers crossed.

  48. Thanks for sharing your experience! It’s certainly eye-opening, and a reminder to all of us to stay vigilant. I was at the RWA conference and had not heard about this incident. I shared the link to your blog on my Facebook page. Kudos to you for talking back to him, and also for alerting the other women about him. Your speaking out called others into action.

  49. Christine Shea says:

    Thank you for writing this. I Love You!

    • I love you too! Do you remember the “why don’t you grow some tits?” guy from the White Hen Pantry all those years ago? I believe you caught my fist in your hand as I pulled it back to punch him. :) Given the utter lack of reaction of anyone else in the store, that was a good move.

  50. Pingback: Swassing, “Wait. Wait.”, and All the Best Women in the World – RWA14 | Amy Jo Cousins

  51. Pingback: Because I Didn’t Do Enough – #RWA14 | FEMBORG

  52. Although I was at RWA14, I didn’t hear about this. So glad it turned out okay and that you and your friends did intervene. That’s far more than many people would do. Props from me!


  53. You inspired me to call the yellow cab company in San Antonio. Our cab driver had major anger issues and almost threw us out the cab in a parking lot near the airport because he didn’t know how to get to the airport. We made to the airport because I talked him down off his anger issue, but that was not okay. No other woman should ever have to be afraid and thankfully I was with another writer from RWA. I can’t imagine being alone. So call is now complete. Thank you for sharing. You just reminded me to speak up on behalf of others.

  54. Unfortunately, we have something to add to this conversation.

    The CEO of Boroughs was in an elevator with her Senior Editor. Two men got on the elevator and stood, appropriately, on the other side of the elevator, giving the women their space. A third man got on the elevator on another floor. Immediately, it became clear that he was a friend to the other two men on the elevator. Instead of joining their group on their side of the elevator, the newest entrant wedged himself against the Senior Editor in such a way that his elbow brushed her breast.

    The CEO called him out immediately, telling him – in no uncertain terms – that he did that on purpose, his behavior was unacceptable and that he should be ashamed of himself, among other chosen sentiments. All three men were in varying states of surprise at the comments and that they were made. Not one of them said anything, including an apology, although the original two had some manners; they looked abashed.

    For those that have or are raising children, we know that kids get away with that which their parents permit – same holds true for adults.

  55. Pingback: Links: 08/01/14 — The Radish.

  56. Laura Kaye says:

    I want to say I can’t believe this happened, but of course I can. And I so identify with the way you reacted. There were lots of jokes the first day or two when those other all-male (or mostly male) conventions were at the hotel. And there was lots of snickering overheard about the cover clings in/on the elevators. One man got into an elevator with a bunch of us and said, “I guess I’ll ride with the hen party,” and laughed like he was real funny and like we weren’t a bunch of professional women doing something as legitimate as he was at that hotel. Of course, we all just looked at each other and didn’t call him the asshole that he was. Because among everything else you mentioned, we’re also trained to be polite. Glad you weren’t. Glad you called him out and acted. You don’t owe a single apology. Kudos to you!

  57. It’s sad because we are so conditioned to put up with this kind of crap. I remember being dumbfounded once when my boss commented to one of my male employees while in my presence that he didn’t know why he hadn’t been able to get me to sleep with him yet. I was paralyzed. My mind had to work overtime to process whether this was “normal” harassment or something much more insidious, similar to what Amy Jo described. And this was a CPA firm, too, not that that makes any difference, sadly.

    So Amy Jo, please don’t beat yourself up over “not doing enough” to make up for some douchebag at best, predator at worst’s behavior. Taking back our right to NOT be harassed isn’t going to happen overnight and until we’re there, none of us should feel guilty about being a victim.

  58. I just wanted to say that I think you’re amazing, you did do something so many of us, myself included, hang our heads & keep our mouths shut instead of doing something. I want to use your story as part of our Ladies’ aid. We should all be standing up & shouting, kudos for you, you are waking us all up, I’m just glad you had back up. It could have been scarier if you’d been alone. Thanks for the inspiration.