Sex Crimes

Woman Arrested for Sexual Abuse After Twerking on Stranger in D.C. Store

As a proponent of gender-blind law, I understand why D.C. police must take the incident seriously. And yet...


D.C. Police

A Las Vegas woman has been arrested for sexual assault after she and a friend twerked up against and groped at a male stranger in a D.C. convenience store. One of the women also put her arms around him and attempted to kiss him. On Monday, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department released video footage of the October 7 incident and offered a $1,000 reward for anyone who could offer info leading to the women's apprehension. On Tuesday, they announced that 22-year-old Ayanna Marie Knight had been arrested and charged with third-degree sexual abuse. If convicted, Knight could face a fine of up to $25,000 and up to 10 years in prison. 

In D.C., the offense of third-degree sexual abuse is defined as "engag[ing] in or caus[ing] sexual contact with or by another person" via force, threats, or rendering the individual unconscious.

"The search for the other woman in the video continues," DCist reports. Police have since pulled video of the incident—captured by a surveillance camera inside the Shell gas-station store—from the department's YouTube channel, but you can watch it here

In an interview with D.C.'s local Fox News network, the man in the video—a D.C. teacher who wishes to remain anonymous—suggested that the women may have been trying to solicit him for prostitution or steal his wallet, and also that they might have been "men dressed like women." Regardless, "when someone is just grabbing your body parts without your permission, no matter who it is, that's just a violation completely," he told NBC Washington. 

The women's behavior in the video is certainly strange, and marginally agressive. They're also relatively small in comparison to the victim. It's tempting to say he should have just pushed them away—although one can also imagine he feared being branded an assailant if he did so. As to why he didn't just exit the store: eventually he did, and the women followed, continuing to watch and flash him from a distance as he pumped his gas and called police. 

As a proponent of gender-blind law, I understand why D.C. police are obligated to take this incident seriously. And certainly men have as much of a right as women not to be grabbed at by strangers in public. Yet something about the whole business rubs me the wrong way nonetheless. We don't know what the aim of Knight and her friend were—flirtation? Solicitation? Just goofing around? But it's hard for me to read their antics as genuinely menacing or worthy of years behind bars. 

I've previously railed against campus sexual-assault complaints over attempted kisses that were undesired or one student grabbing another by the arm at a party. It seems to me we're pathologizing and criminalizing normal parts of courtship, which are sometimes clumsy and always involve imperfect information balances. Who among us hasn't leaned in for a kiss without 100 percent certainty that the recipient would return our affections? Who hasn't at some point had an undesired but well-meaning suitor put the moves on them?

Persistent unwanted advances are one thing—and maybe that is the best way to characterize the actions of our mystery convenience-store twerkers. But we seem to be headed toward a world where there can be zero ambiguity about even the mildest romantic or sexual advance without it being considered sexual assault. That sounds like a terribly boring, clinical, and libido-numbing world to me.