Meryl Williams
February 08, 2015 7:30 am

I don’t know about you, but I have high hopes for 2015 when it comes to addressing issues that impact women’s safety. I had a great year in 2014, but it was also the year I faced more street harassment and other forms of disturbing sexual behavior from strangers than I had any other year. It was also the year this issue dominated the news and a serious conversation about it took place at a national level. I’m sad it’s still an enormous problem, but I am glad this dialogue is happening.

I live in Chicago and have for four years; for the first three of those, I was in a long-term, live-in relationship and spent most of my walking time traveling with a tall dude. We broke up at the beginning of 2014, and that was when I realized the city is a very different place for a woman walking home alone than it is for one walking with a man. Within six months of 2014 alone, I experienced three of my most serious encounters with sexual harassment.

In June, I was sexually assaulted by a cyclist who grabbed me as he flew by. I moved to a different neighborhood shortly after but it didn’t matter – weeks later I was grabbed again by a man on the sidewalk. Then finally, in December, a cab driver tried to intimidate me into giving him my number for miles. He refused to let the issue drop until the second I was finally able to exit his vehicle and he drove off. I filed a complaint against him and the cab company he worked for immediately suspended him. A complaint lodged with the city of Chicago is pending at this time.

These are just a handful of stories from one woman, from one year – occurrences like these happen to my friends, to women I read about online, to so many different women living in so many different places. It’s everywhere. That is disheartening, but I am so glad we are talking about it now instead of ignoring the problem. In almost every instance, the people I  filed complaints with and the authorities I spoke to took me seriously and listened to me with empathy and patience. That would have been less likely five or ten years ago, and I am encouraged by the national conversation happening about this topic. It’s no longer acceptable to respond to these stories by saying, “It’s not a big deal” or “Boys will be boys.” The more we shame those who harass, the less accepted these behaviors will be.

Jessica Williams did a series of amazing pieces for the Daily Show in 2014 about these issues, and these pieces are simultaneously hilarious and saddening. Campaigns by organizations like HollaBack and Stop Street Harassment brought the issue to the forefront of people’s newsfeeds and minds. I am grateful to these groups for helping make this issue a topic of national conversation.

I am so thankful that the instances of assault and harassment I experienced didn’t physically escalate beyond the point they did. Emotionally, these incidents are still deeply upsetting, but having a supportive network of friends and even strangers online letting me know my feelings are valid goes such a long way toward recovery. If something like this happens to you, I am, first of all, extremely sorry. Secondly, I hope you will find comfort in communion with those who have been there too, and in knowing you are not alone — not by a long shot. I hope 2015 brings further change and progress.

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