Last Saturday evening, while lazily browsing through the TV channels, my husband and I came across a commercial for a boxing fight that was about to start. The fight was between Kubrat Pulev, one of the most famous Bulgarian boxers nowadays, and Bogdan Dinu, a strong Romanian contender. Although we didn’t know about it beforehand, both of us were immediately interested. I personally have grown up watching boxing as my dad was a long-time boxing referee, a hobby that took him to multiple international competitions over the years, including the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta. My husband doesn’t have the same family history with the sport but is a general sports enthusiast and always enjoy a good match or game of any kind. Moreover, both of us were excited to be able to watch a famous Bulgarian athlete compete, so we eagerly tuned in.
The fight itself was intense and interesting. Pulev got a deep cut above his eyebrow in the 4th round but ended up winning with a TKO in the 7th round. We rooted for him. We cheered when he won. I posted a few Instagram stories of the game. Then I switched to re-watching GOT and moved on. I didn’t stay tuned to watch any of the post-game interviews and didn’t read anything about the game on Sunday either.
On Monday morning I was talking to my mom when she asked “what do you think of that post-game interview?” I had no idea what she was referring to, so she went on to explain. Apparently, Pulev was giving an interview to a female reporter after the game, during which he grabbed her face and forcibly kissed her on the lips. I went online and started reading up on the incident, shown in the following video. Jenny “SuShe” Ravalo – a reporter for Vegas Sports Daily – asked Kubrat about the game and his future career plans. He responded to a few questions and then suddenly grabbed and kissed her. She pulled back and laughed awkwardly. He looked jubilant, apparently happy with both his victory and his decision to sexually assault his interviewer. Over the following few days, Ms. Ravalo has come forward with additional details of the evening, saying that after the interview, Pulev also grabbed and squeezed her buttocks and walked away laughing.
Both the on- and the off-camera parts of the assault are infuriating to watch and read about. And yet, the reactions in the Bulgarian press, which are primarily focused on the on-camera kiss, have been overwhelmingly supportive of Pulev. I found a variation of the same story in article after article across Bulgaria’s newspapers: Pulev gave an innocent kiss to a good-looking female reporter, fueled by the adrenaline of the game; she seemed to love it; his girlfriend may get jealous, so stay tuned for the updates on that one (spoiler alert: his girlfriend recently came out with a public statement calling Pulev a “victim” and implying Ms. Ravalo is “evil”).
Multiple articles focused on the fact that Ms. Ravalo has an Instagram account in which she has posted several pictures posing without clothes and covered in sushi. Racism made its way into most of them, with Ms. Ravalo repeatedly being described as “exotic.” Later in the week, a number of additional pieces brought up the fact that Ms. Ravalo joined a party after the match and danced on the lap of someone from Pulev’s team, with a video helpfully released to document this. Despite being utterly unrelated to the assault, the discussions of both Ms. Ravalo’s Instagram photos and the after-party video of her dancing are comfortably relying on the age-old slut shaming formula of excusing sexual violence because of the victims’ past or present actions, clothing, sexual history or general life choices.
One piece describes the on-camera assault as a “passionate kiss,” notes Ms. Ravalo’s physical attractiveness and proceeds to explain that Kubrat is a favorite among female journalists in the U.S. The article even provides “evidence” of Pulev’s likability by linking to a previous interview with a different reporter in which, the article claims, the interviewer was “openly flirting with him,” of course implying that no woman would ever consider any physical contact with Pulev non-consensual.
Another article, retelling the on-camera incident, puts non-consensual in quotation marks, making it clear that the author views the kiss as anything but. Similarly, a SportLive.bg article on Ms. Ravalo’s reaction calls her a victim in quotation marks and proceeds to offer a link entitled “see steaming hot pictures of the reporter kissed by Kubrat.” The article also laments the fact that the incident received more coverage in the UK press than the game itself.
A piece in TopSport.bg, whose title but not content focuses on the forced kiss, mentions the assault only in its last paragraph, portraying it as a cute story and excellent gossip-magazine fodder. The kiss, according to the author, was equivalent to a cute little flirtation, relished by Ms. Ravalo and a direct result of Pulev feeling extra confident post-fight: “(t)he Bulgarian was extremely self-assured and, at the end of the interview, kissed Ms. Ravalo. The reporter was pleasantly surprised. But what will his girlfriend Andrea think about this…”
Pulev posted a response on his Instagram account days after the assault, saying that Ms. Ravalo was his friend (something she has since refuted), he “gave her a kiss” because he was “so elated” after the game, they both laughed following the interview and went to the same party that evening. “There really is nothing more to this” his non-apology concludes. The comments from Bulgarian fans under the post are overwhelmingly positive – reassuring Pulev that he is amazing, bemoaning the American culture where “everything is considered assault,” discussing Ms. Ravalo’s clothes as evidence that she was dying to be assaulted, and telling Pulev that he has “nothing to apologize for” (not that he has come even close to apologizing to begin with). Later in the week, following Ms. Ravalo’s description of the groping that occurred off-camera, Pulev responded in the Bulgarian media by denying Ms. Ravalo’s groping allegations and saying that the reporter was “not his type.”
Well, here is my response to Pulev’s ridiculous reaction to both incidents:
- Being euphoric for whatever reason does not give you permission to initiate any unsolicited sexual contact with anyone around you. There are numerous other ways for a human being to express excitement that do not involve forcibly grabbing, kissing or groping someone. Both you and Ms. Ravalo were there to do your job. She had in no way given you her permission to touch her, put your lips on her face, or put your hands on her buttocks.
- If your first reaction to being excited and near a woman is to forcibly kiss and grope her, you need to seriously examine your personal beliefs about what you are “entitled to” in terms of access to women’s bodies. If this is your spontaneous reaction to euphoria, this means your brain believes women exist purely for your personal pleasure and enjoyment, making their opinions and consent irrelevant and their mere presence around you an invitation for assault.
- Ms. Ravalo’s laugh after the kiss you forced on her is a completely normal reaction women frequently have when being faced with an uncomfortable situation. She was on the job and surrounded by colleagues, she was surprised and shocked, she probably did not want to make the situation even more uncomfortable for her, so her first reaction was to laugh nervously. She might have been worried about how you would react if she had done something more aggressive. She might have been worried about being labeled “crazy,” “irrational,” “difficult” or “unprofessional” as women who speak up for themselves often are, especially in overwhelmingly male-dominated fields such as Ms. Ravalo’s. So her laugh had everything to do with her discomfort, her likely coping mechanism when confronted with male aggression and the weight of learned social expectations placed on women to endure and gracefully handle such aggression directed towards them. And her laugh is very far from an indication that she liked the kiss you forced on her.
- The fact that you consider Ms. Ravalo your friend is beyond irrelevant. Your friends and your non-friends alike deserve body autonomy and have the right to not be harassed or assaulted by you.
- The fact that Ms. Ravalo went to the post-game party and danced there is also beyond irrelevant. None of her decisions prior to or following that evening make your disgusting actions OK.
And here’s my response to the Bulgarian press dreamily covering the sexual assault:
- Please see above for a brief explanation of why neither Pulev’s “euphoria,” nor Ms. Ravalo’s laugh after the incident make sexual assault acceptable.
- The fact that someone has an Instagram account that you find “steamy” or “provocative” does not make assaulting that person OK, does not mean they are “asking for it” and definitely does not mean they want to be grabbed, groped or kissed without permission while doing their job (or at any other time).
- The fact that you find someone physically attractive or “exotic-looking” also does not make assaulting that person OK. Nor does the fact that they were dancing with other men after the assault.
- Non-consensual physical contact is never “steamy,” “pleasantly surprising” or fun gossip fodder – it is sexual assault even when (or, rather, especially when) the perpetrator is someone you want to root for because you love their work.