#MeToo: One Out of Every Six American Women

Me Too. But not only for the uninvited “compliments” on the streets, in echoey hallways, or in airport security lines. Or for all the times they felt it was acceptable to inspect me from bottom to top, or take it to the next level and “accidentally” brush up against me or straight up grope, not minding that we were in a busy market, on a crowded bus, or even in a temple.

Me Too for the time I went for a run. I was excited to get out there after six weeks of recovery — the doctor had just given me the green light. And so I set out on a beautiful, clear sky day, favorite playlist on hand. It felt great. The human body is an incredible thing — it can heal so quickly.

Two miles under my belt. I was on my way back. He slowed down his car and pulled over. I watched curiously. Something didn’t feel right.

Why would the guy stop right there? He opened the door and jumped past the sidewalk and into the bushes about 20 feet ahead. He left his car running. I kept walking because turning around was not an option, nor was stopping. I could see him walking quickly towards me through the tall grass.

This is a safe neighborhood, I thought to myself.

It’s mid-morning.

Where is everyone?

Why the heck didn’t I just stay home?

He jumped back onto the sidewalk suddenly and blocked my path. I had already taken one earbud out — now I knew something wasn’t right.

“Uh, did you see a 5 year old kid go that way?” he asked, pointing to an imaginary destination directly behind me.

Oh my God. This is really happening.

Did he have a weapon?

Could he hear my heart thumping in my ears???

“No, I haven’t,” I replied, taking an step back. There was no way I was going to turn my back to look in the direction he was pointing. This clearly was going to make his work harder, but he grabbed me anyways. I still know exactly where the hoodie-wearing stranger’s hand landed on my right upper arm as he tried to drag me towards his car. Did it matter that I was a mother? Daughter? Wife? Lawyer?

I screamed, even though the old Chinese couple I had run past just a few minutes ago were likely long gone. I screamed louder — HELP HELP HELP, while pulling away as hard as I could. And then my hand clenched into a fist, delivering a blow with a strength I had never fully released. It took just a minute for him to realize he had picked a fighter — at least that’s what I’d like to think. He fled — back to his car, screeching away, leaving smokey black streaks on the asphalt.

Dialing three simple numbers — 9-1-1 — was a serious struggle as my hands trembled uncontrollably, all the while sprinting backwards to make sure he didn’t change his mind and come back for me. Luckily he didn’t.

One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Around the world, one in three women will be assaulted in her lifetime. All of these statistics are a bitter dose of reality, likely even more bitter because of underreporting due to social or other stigma.

I know I’m fortunate, and that too many others have not been. I escaped without a scratch, but the experience left a scar that hasn’t healed quite the way I know the human body can. I didn’t run for the longest time — certainly not alone. I’m still hyper-alert when out walking — even now, nearly seven years later. And young guys in hoodies that share the same build as him — if I see one walking towards me, even on a crowded city street or when I’m with others, my body’s stress response still kicks in, often leaving me feeling guilt for having thought ill of someone who might just be a regular, law abiding stranger.

The Hindu spiritual giant, Swami Vivekananda said nearly 100 years ago, that, “There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved.” He also said that, “The best thermometer to the progress of a nation is its treatment of its women.” By these measures, while the world has seen vast improvements in so many aspects of a woman’s life, in others, we’re still in a deep freeze and have a long way to go.

But I’m hopeful that we can get to place where women can not only feel safe, but are safe. This hope is grounded in knowing that there are plenty of men out there who believe harassment and violence against women are wrong. It also stems from the decent men I’m blessed to know — my father, brothers and cousins, my husband and sons, my nephews and friends — who not only respect women, but are as acutely aware as women are of the fear and suffering that our half of the world’s population endures. But for those men who are not, may #MeToo serve as an awakening.