Warning, what you’ll read in this post is very upsetting and disturbing. I know many posts on here are, but this one may be more so because it focuses on the recent deaths/murders of three teenage girls.
In Chicago this week a 15-year-old-girl has died from injuries related to being hit by three cars. ABC News reports that last Saturday night she was waiting for a bus, talking on her cell phone to her boyfriend when a group of men began street harassing her. Her boyfriend heard her yell, “don’t touch me. Get away from me,” before the line went dead. She ran into the street to get away from the men and was hit by not one, but three vehicles.
Most street harassment incidents don’t end in the death of the individual being targeted, but as this story shows, some do. And that’s serious. Had these men left her alone, she wouldn’t have run in the street to escape. Street harassment is not just a trivial annoyance or a compliment, it is bullying, threatening behavior and it must end.
In the second story, in late February, a 17-year-old girl went missing after she had gone for a run in a nearby park in San Diego. Six days later investigators found her body, she had been raped and murdered. A local sex offender matched the DNA found on her clothing and now is being tried for the crimes. He’s pleading not guilty. He’s also being accused of attacking a 22-year-old woman in the same park in December. He previously served five years in prison for molesting a 13-year-old neighbor girl.
Somewhat similarly, last weekend a 13-year-old girl went running near her Cincinnati home and never returned. The next morning investigators found her body, she had been raped, strangled, and her body burned.
A registered sex offender just confessed to the killing and now he is under investigation for three unsolved murders because the women’s bodies were found similarly violated. He previously served 16 years in prison for beating and setting on fire a woman who later died from the injuries.
There is no indication that the latter two stories began with harassment, but they are important to mention in the context of street harassment because hearing about rape/murders by strangers in public often make girls and women more wary of being in public alone and remind them that there is always an underlying threat of sexual violence. It can make girls and women leery of any man that approaches them, making “innocent” harassment become threatening. And overall it makes public places less safe for women, causing women to be in public less often than men, impeding their equality with men.
I learned about these three stories in a 24-hour time period. While I would be mad reading about any single one, combined they make me furious. So furious. Three teenage girls’ lives are over and their families are devastated because of harassing and predatory men. Women who read their stories likely will feel less safe in public and/or worry about the teenage girls in their lives. I felt less safe going for a run by myself at 6:30 a.m. today. I had to remind myself that statistically, chances are low that I will be attacked, but still, I am a woman and that is a real concern.
I don’t highlight these stories to try to scare women into staying home or taking more precautions than they already do. I want the opposite – I want us to be able to live fearless lives and to go where we please.
Instead I want to place these tragic stories in the context of the harassment and risk of assault women face every day in public, especially when they are alone, especially when they are young. We need to talk about the context of these stories – they are not isolated. They occur in a context of misogyny, disrespect for women, and a rape culture. Consequently, most women are harassed in the street at least sometimes and one in six women are sexually assaulted or raped. These stories are on the extreme end, so we hear about them. But lesser forms of harassment and assault occur every day to women, keeping public places largely male-dominated.
We can tell our stories and make the extent of the “lesser” forms of harassment and assault known. Maybe one day the larger public will notice and listen and take action so that we can be safe in public and we can be there without having our gender be a liability.