'My sadness at how society has come to this'

Any gesture can feel intimidating.

Any gesture can feel intimidating, especially when there's an underlying threat of harassment. - Credit: AndreyPopov/iStock/Getty Images Plus

I wish it stopped there, but there are many more experiences I can recount over the years, and I'm sure this is true for many women out there.

Women's safety: 'I realised I was a victim too'


In the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard and the subsequent debate over women's safety, reporter Laura Bill looks back on her own experiences of harassment and abuse, and asks herself why she has felt reluctant to speak out before now.

Let me tell you about Stalker James. I met him at the train station in the January snow. I was in my car and he was at the taxi rank. In a moment of madness I heard myself say "Jump in - I can take you to Harpenden". That was the beginning of lots of scary contacts over a period of years.

Emails and telephone calls despite several firm requests to be left alone. I once got a text asking me how my dentist appointment was. He used to phone me from other people's phones and make strange comments about my relationship with my then ex-partner. He would turn up where I went. At first I felt sorry for him but after a while I became frightened for my safety and had to involve police. I still sometimes feel afraid if I see someone who looks like him in a crowd. 

I 'met' another man on a Christian dating website. We even had a few acquaintances in common which lulled me into a false sense of security. We chatted a lot electronically about faith and life and seemed to get on really well. I thought I would arrange to meet him in my local pub where I knew people and was really close to home. 

He called from outside my home saying there was nowhere to park near the pub and forced his way through my front door. He started forcefully kissing my neck and said "Shall we just stay here?" and rather than see this as a red flag, I ushered him out of the door and went for a glass of wine with him.

I can't bring myself to go into the specifics of what then happened but after a trip to the loo, he urged me to down my drink and the next thing I can recall is a vague memory of getting lost on the way home on a route I had walked hundreds of times and him leaving my home hours later, the front door wide open and me coming round from my one glass of Sauvignon very confused.

I had a friend who was abused by a family member as a child, and even though their assailant was subsequently imprisoned for their crimes, the victim had been conditioned to “enjoy” a family party twice a year because “Well, it’s just a bit awkward if I don’t go...” 

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I feel really sad as I come to the end of this. Sad that I live in a so-called progressive society. Sad that what I have experienced is far less than some women and also echoes the experiences of so many.

I've tried to talk to my male friends about some of these incidents, and their reaction has been a mix of anger and vengeance as they've wanted to take action against my abusers, when all I really wanted was for someone to listen and say they understood what I'd gone through. It almost perpetuates the idea of angry machismo, which is the last thing you want to experience, and has prevented me from sharing my stories as a result.

Even just the other week I was faced with a situation where I was hugely undermined in a room full of men. All because I suggested that we adapt the environment to make it more welcoming for women. Though I made several appropriate suggestions, I was quickly shut down and am still figuring out the best way to move forward.

Something needs to change.