Semi-Conscious 19 y.o. Woman Assaulted on Spring Break

Random Spring Break picture, not of the woman mentioned in this post.

NOTE: For clarity: the blame for rape rests solely on the rapists. I am staunchly in the "men should not rape" crowd. However, hundreds of people witnessed this woman's assault, others watched and recorded it, and the woman likely was partying with friends prior to her assault.  Those people are not responsible for rape, but they still aint sh--.


Like many, I’ve been following the news story about a 19-year-old woman who was publicly gang-raped during spring break in Panama City, Fla. Dozens of people watched or recorded the incident, which is how it came to the attention of authorities who were investigating an unrelated crime in another state. The woman, who was semiconscious during the assault, alleges that she was drugged and has little recollection of the incident. So far, two men—both Troy University students—have been arrested.

Video of the assault, thankfully, isn’t publicly available—even though it’s only a matter of time before someone could post it online—but Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen described it as “the most disgusting, sickening thing I’ve ever seen.”

I’m horrified by this story, which is perhaps every woman’s worst nightmare, but I can’t say I’m surprised by most of it. The one thing that raises my (manicured) eyebrows is wondering, “How did this 19-year-old woman get left behind?” According to reports, she was found unconscious on a beach chair. Where were her friends? Surely she didn’t go to spring break alone, and that type of event usually isn’t a couples’ getaway. She had to have some girls. Where were they?

I’ve babysat my fair share of drunken friends (and to be fully transparent, in my early 20s, I also needed a babysitter on more occasions than I’m comfortable publicly admitting). It is beyond annoying to be with the friend who can’t hold her liquor and wants to act up or throw up or pass out. But two of the codes of womanhood and drinking are, “No woman left behind” and “We go together, we leave together.” Period.

No one likes to spend the night in the venue bathroom, leave early and head back to hold someone’s head over the toilet, but everyone with sense does it to avoid what happened to this 19-year-old girl here. Who in their right minds let the drunken—or drugged—friend wander off or, worse, knew that she was out of it and parked her on a beach chair because they didn’t want to turn down yet?

This part of the story is shocking to me, but everything else? I’m sickened, saddened but, as I said, not surprised that it happened—nor that there were so many bystanders who did nothing. This assault is a worst-case scenario, but women being assaulted at spring-break destinations and other large gatherings for partygoers isn’t uncommon or new. At the events I’ve been to or, better, used to go to—note the past tense—I always felt that there was an undercurrent of sexual violence, an assault waiting to happen. I never felt that the other attendees were going to have my back. And that’s why I stopped going.

I never went to spring break in Panama City, but I did go to the Black Greek Festival in Philadelphia in the late ’90s. To be fair, the vast majority of the attendees were well-behaved students who showed up to see the step shows and spot some cuties. But as I was walking through the park with my girls, I spotted two women dancing suggestively on top of a truck that was blaring whatever the hot song was at the time. A group of guys had gathered around the truck to watch and record the women, who were dressed in bikini tops and “batty riders.”

Even in my inexperienced youth, I knew that wasn’t going to end well. I looked over at a nearby officer who seemed exasperated watching the scene. When he caught me watching him (with a look that wondered, Why aren’t you doing anything?), he said something like, “I don’t know why these girls do that.”

Suddenly the group of guys began pushing the truck, shaking it and trying to knock the girls off and into the crowd, where only God knows what would have happened to them. The officer sighed and strolled—not ran—to break up the melee. I got the feeling that this sort of thing happened all the time.


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A Belle in Panama: The Art of Doing Nothing

It's an art. You know what is my biggest issue being in Panama? Stopping me from me.

I keep looking for things to do to keep me busy: a walk here, a ferry there, a cab here, a look-see there, etc.

I set my alarm this morning for 6:30AM planning to head to Isle Taboga, a little island with a beach-- Panama City proper doesn't have one— about 60 minutes off the mainland. There’s only one ferry going and one returning, so I fancied myself to have a day trip of exploration and getting up at 6:30 AM on my second day of vacation. I’ve been in Panama City for 36 hours, and I’m already trying to run off when I need to just be still.

I forced myself to turn off my alarm and actually get some rest, especially since I was up til 4AM the “night” before. Folks told me Panamanian coffee was good, and it is. “They” didn’t say how strong it was, but now that I think about it, that could have been what they meant by “good”. Hmmm.

Anyway, I’ve made plans to do nothing today—or nothing major. I’m headed to Armador  Causeway later this afternoon to ride a bike and the plan park myself under a shady palm tree and put another dent in Terry McMillan’s “Who Asked You?”, which I’m really enjoying. That’s my plan for the entire day. Oh, and dinner. Somewhere fancy. Maybe Italian?

I don’t like to be still, but I NEED to be. Being in another country, especially one where I don’t speak the language well, has its challenges, to put it mildly. It's frustrating not to be able to communicate effectively and I get lost a lot. I didn’t realize how unrelaxed this was making me until I welled up with tears at the sight of a toothbrush.

In addition to draws, I left that at home too, so I spent all day Wednesdayy with dirty teeth. It’s not like I didn’t try to find a toothbrush, just no one knew what I was asking for and my wi-fi (pronounced here as “we- fee”) outside of they hotel was sketchy and I couldn’t look up the word, and… you get the drift. Anyway, after spending three hours at the mall alternately chilling, shopping, walking in circles and searching for a toothbrush, (ie, asking various shop girls if they knew where I could find one, ie, Me: “Emm…. Donde esta..." *makes brushing motion with hand *) I finally found a woman dressed for a store promotion in about the same outfit Rose wore to board the Titanic who spoke enough English to know “toothbrush.” This was right after I’d left the mall to walk aimlessly around it searching for anything that looked like a drugstore and came up empty. Defeated, I was headed back to the mall to catch a cab, spotted a Courtyard Marriott and popped in to ask the guy at reception in English if they sold toothbrushes. He in turn asks me, “did you try the mall?”

Anyway, chick dressed like Rose pointed me toward perhaps the fanciest drug store ever and there I found a plethora of toothbrushes on display and tears came like Lenny Williams in that “oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh” song, except he had a better reason.

I tried my luck to look for Black hair care products since I left my black gel at home too. (Yes, that black gel. The old school kind. What you know better that holds down black girl edges in humidity? Exactly.) That was just me being ridiculous though. No gel. Not even anything for silky haired folks. Plenty of perm boxes and products to maintain a keratin treatment though.  :-/

Random: my hair is going to look like Pure D sh—in 2 more days. I am solely hair- equipped with a bottle of oil lotion and a can of oil sheen. And rubber bands. Oh, and no Black girl brush. Don’t expect IG pics of me after Saturday.


I was out all day yesterday (Wednesday) so I showed up to a much-anticipated dinner with my favorite writer  (Alex Hardy) with edges that looked like a Black girl who’d been at play all day. He was kind enough not to notice, or better, not say anything. Bless him.

I was kinda nervous to meet him because so many people aren’t in person who they are online. He is. And that – and dinner at Black-owned Caribbean restaurant (the owner went to HU, ha!)— was awesome. We talked for two hours about life, and writer ish.

I planned to go for a walk when I got back to my hotel. Instead, I knocked out my second column for The Root so my editor wouldn’t be mad at me for missing deadlines. After this, I’m actually on vacation…. at least til Tuesday. Now to learn the art of doing nothing.

A Belle in Panama: The First 24.

Panama City (2012) Image courtesy of It took me 12 hours to get to Panama. I'd planned for 8.

Actually it took me 6 days and 12 hours.

Let me explain.I was supposed to leave for Panama on July 10, the day after my birthday. I bailed on the latter half of my surprise party to get home early because I had a 6AM flight and had to finish the last bit of packing and you know, actually sleep.

So I did that. And I went to sleep intending to wake up at 3:45 and/ or 4 AM to head to the airport. But I woke up at 4:45 and there was no way I could make it to the airport in time to board my flight. So I call the airline to say "hey, I need a later flight" and the woman on the end of the line is like, "no, you need a flight". I don't understand the distinction until she explains that despite putting in all my credit card deets and pushing "purchase" my flight had only been reserved, not bought. So even if I woke up on time and made it to the airport on time, I wasn't going to Panama, at least not on the flight I thought I had booked.

So I tried to buy a ticket on the next flight, until she told me it was $1400 total. Um... I don't pay that to go to South Africa. The way I set my trip up, 5 days in the city, 5 at a resort, it made more sense to just wait, fly in Tuesday, go to the city first, then the resort and call life, well, life. And it was only $50 more than the ticket I paid for.

On Tuesday, I get a call at 3 AM that my flight is delayed by an hour. Great. And I mean that. I used the extra hour of sleep. The plane  leaves on time for the new time, but there's a layover in Miami that leaves an hour late, then sits on the runway for 90 minutes because of a storm, then, when finally arriving in Panama, sits at some obscure gate for 30 minutes because no buses are available to pick us up and take us to the main gate.

The woman sitting in the aisle seat across from me (a grandmother from Panama who is taking her two children and five grands to Panama for the first time) uses the down time to make small talk. " I watch you on 'that show'," she says. "Is it coming back for a second season?"

It is. Am I? Uhhhhhh....

But I made it here. And I'm not complaining at all because Panama is f***in awesome.


The drive from the airport was uneventful until I saw the Panama City skyline which looks like more like the pics I've seen of Dubai than Miami which I've actually seen several times and what everyone always compares Panama too.  What is does look like for certain is way better than the pics online.

So does my hotel. After a long mental back and forth where I couldn't figure out if I wanted to stay at the 5- star Trump (the views are sick) or a boutique (pool-less) hotel in the "cute" side of town (Casco Viejo), I choose cute. The cute place also happens to be a HUGE room and have a balcony, which was oddly not mentioned on the site. Weird.  In the morning, I'll pull a chair in my room out there so I have something to sit on while I write

Anyway, after I settle in, I grab dinner on a rooftop bar, then I go for what's supposed to be a brief walk. I recall my travel book (more on that later) saying the area isn't safe, so I avoid dark streets and stick to where large groups were crossing and well-lit areas. That logic took me by some really cute resties that I MUST eat at before I go and the waterfront with great views of the skyline and Casco Viejo.  I walked around for an hour-plus taking pics and taking in the views and sights.

Day 2

My Spanish sucks. I took 3-4 years of it in high school and you'd think that would make me fluent. Um, I can read it well enough, but speak or better, reinterpret into English what people speaking Spanish to me are saying quickly enough to actually converse? Not so much. This is especially problematic as I'm making a rather conscious decision not to do total tourist ish. I'm relying on hand signals and minimal words -"comida?" "mall?" "taxi?" - to get by, which is surprisingly effective. My Panamanian friend who told me everyone in Panama speaks English, lied.

I bought a guide book about Panama so I would know where to go. It's 120 pages. The writer recommends the same 10 places over and over and from what I can tell misses all the good ish. Get this: the place I was posting all those pics from on Wednesday? Casco Viejo? The book doesn't mention it more than to say it's an unsafe area, should be avoided at all costs, and it's a bunch of old rocks so it can be skipped? Um, really? One of the oldest churches in the Western Hemisphere is skippable? Later, a friend points out that it may be an old guide book. Casco Viejo didn't look this way just 2 years ago. That, and tour guides are made for middle-aged white people who walk around with Nikon cameras hanging from their necks. If you can manage to use just a lil bit of sense, he says, you'll be fine.

The upside of the book is the author kept saying over and over how cheap taxis are in Panama City. Like dirt cheap. So I leave my hotel, looking for one to go to the good mall because I forgot to pack draws. (I'm wearing swimsuit bottoms as undies. It was that or go commando on a humid, 85 degree day. Um... No.) Anyway, the first cab that stops charges $20 to go to the Mulitiplaza. I say, "no way." The next one that stops charges me.... $3.  Oh, and I do mean $3 as in US currency. Panama's official currency is the American dollar. Go figure.

The book saved me $17 already, which was the cost of the travel guide, so we'll call it even... almost.

The book also says to avoid a place called Colon. Literally, it says Colon is dangerous and there's nothing remotely that would be interesting to tourists. How about from what I can gather, Colon is the "black part" of the Panama. My (Black) friend who lives here described it as a "sleepy Black town" with pretty views. Colon is also the bus connection to get to Portobelo, which happens to have Nazareno of Portobelo aka the Black Christ, which I am all about and the book never once mentioned. Like, if I see NOTHING else this trip, I want to see a historical life- size statue of Black Jesus that Black folks in Panama have been praising for 354 years.

Apparently  once a year for the last THREE CENTURIES  there are folks who WALK  50+ miles from Panama City to Colon to honor Black Christ on October 21st. There are also folks who crawl the last mile as penance. We can't get even most American Black churches to put a Black Jesus on the wall in 2014, but there are Black Panamanians who  have been celebrating one since the 17th century and CRAWLING to get to him?!
I NEED to see this biblically accurate Jesus with skin like bronze and hair like lamb's wool for myself. And apparently there are TWO of them. Not one, but two!!! There's another Black Jesus in the water off Isla Grande nailed to the cross. Seeing both of these are God's plan for me.

Black Jesus at Isla Grande

But figuring out how to get to Portobelo SAFELY is tricky without, you know, speaking thorough Spanish or spending hundreds on a driver. But it might be worthwhile. Stay tuned. I WILL make this happen.