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Ever since I was a teenager I’ll admit that I’ve never really mastered the whole flirting thing. I don’t like meaningless small talk or unnecessary touching. As I’ve gotten older I’ve witnessed friends flirting as naturally as lip-quivering comes to Trey Songz, but I can’t stand being indirect. I just want to get straight to point leaving no room for mixed messages. The only thing I have mastered is the “lingering stare and then look away”. I’ll do just enough to lock eyes to let you know to come talk to me, but that’s not an invitation to come get a free feel. Turns out that many men will RSVP anyway, at least if you’re in a bar or club.

A recent article published on the Huffington Post called Sexually Aggressive Men In Bars Aren’t Misreading Women’s Signals — Just Choosing To Ignore Them, Study Finds revealed that in certain situations men don’t care if you lock eyes, flip your hair or bite your lip, they’re going to grab your behind or grope you anyway. A study done in Toronto was originally intended as research for a program to prevent violence and aggression in Toronto bars and clubs.What lead researcher, Kathyrn Graham and her colleagues discovered was that whether women invited sexual advances or completely ignored sexually aggressive men in bars and clubs, they would still cat-call, grope or grind as they pleased because they believed they’d be more likely to get away with it in those situations. “If that happened in a subway or at a university cafeteria or something, they’d call the police or people would have consequences,” Graham told Live Science. “But somehow, in bars it’s become very normative, and guys are able to get away with doing this sort of thing,” reveals the senior scientist at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health at the University of Toronto.

It reminds me of years ago when Philadelphia would host the annual Greek Picnic every summer. An event that was meant for fraternities and sororities to show their pride and socialize turned into a literal freak festival with girls riding on the backs of motor bikes with their bare behinds in the air and women performing oral sex in the middle of public parks in crowds of people. It was literally hedonism to the point where the city eventually shut the city-wide event down. I wouldn’t even venture into the neighborhood because it really wasn’t safe. It was as if for one weekend men felt they earned a pass to sexually assault and harass anything walking the streets with ovaries.

This same behavior has apparently made its way to happy hour. As a part of the program, researchers trained 148 observers to visit 118 clubs in Toronto on Friday and Saturday nights. Out of 1334 total visits they recorded 1057 incidents of sexual aggression from angry, unwarranted comments to physical assaults. In about 34 incidents, it was “beyond clear” that the women didn’t want any attention. The article reports:

“In one case, a man and a woman were on the dance floor when he suddenly moved in close and grabbed her butt with both hands. She pushed him away immediately, and he looked at his male friend and laughed. Ten seconds later, he grabbed her breasts. She pushed him away harder as the guys laughed again. She then headed to another area of the dance floor.

Graham goes on to say that this is a result of a “blurred lines” kind of culture where women aren’t allowed to say no, and if they do, they really mean yes. Being sexually explicit seems to be entertaining to men in groups who seem to think it’s ok to yell to random strangers, “Can I bite that?” or who think women must want their behinds slapped if they’re wearing leggings to a lounge.

Honestly, I’m torn. I don’t think it’s ever excusable for a man to touch a woman without her approval or be overtly sexual with a woman they just met, but there are women who think this kind of cat/mouse game is in fact flirting. I can see how the lines can be blurred when a woman is doing everything but riding some man’s face on the dance floor but then gets offended when his hand goes a little too high up her thigh. It doesn’t justify her being disrespected, but it is misleading.  It also can send the message that the rules of respect don’t apply when we’re tossing back Ciroc and Cranberry and dancing to Chris Brown in the club.

I don’t know about you all, but I don’t think it’s cute or complimentary for a man to be telling me where he wants to put his tongue before he even knows my name. But in the media there’s a repeated message that women secretly loved to be talked to like sex slaves. If Usher isn’t talking about making love in the club then Robin Thicke is confident that “the way you grab me, must wanna get nasty.” I don’t knock the women who do in fact want to, but some of us just want a good margarita and to get home to see our DVR’d episode of The Haves and The Have Nots without getting groped along the way. Going to the club doesn’t mean I want to get sexually exploited.

Toya Sharee is a community health educator and parenting education coordinator who has a  passion for helping  young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health.  She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about  everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.

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