One of the students in my graduate class has posted an experience she had at the local mall, in which a salesperson (male) physically grabbed her and pulled her somewhere. In my reading, this could easily be seen as assault: no one touches someone’s face uninvited.
She wonders why she was not more active in resisting this. I’ve talked to many people — not just women, but mostly — who have been in similar situations, and unprepared, are just too stunned to speak out. I’m reminded a bit of a recent NYT article on Milgram’s attempts at crossing social lines in a subway. The “victims” of this experiment generally complied, in part, I suspect, because they didn’t have a schema to resist it. It was simply a very unexpected event.
I guess part of it is that it’s really important for people to be prepared — as much as possible — for such breaches of civility. I think women are generally more aware today about rape, even if they have not had someone attempt to rape them, and have in mind some of the ways they can respond. But there are a range of physical attacks that they may not be prepared to react to. I suspect this might also have something to do with socialization: boys are often taught that it is both acceptable and even admirable to respond physically to a physical intrusion, whereas many girls do not have the opportunity to learn how they can or should behave when their physical privacy is intruded upon.
Of course, the terrible part of this is that reporting this incident (which I think is vital), may have little or no effect on what happens in the future. Many organizations have people within them that have been repeatedly accused of, for example, harassment, but there is nothing done until the complaints are deafening. And for every complaint, there are ten people who silently abide by the behavior.
In her shoes, I would contact not mall management, but Kaufman’s customer service. When they know that another shop in the mall is assaulting their customers on the way out, I suspect they will have more of an impact than a single customer will have on the mall management.