Content Warning: Sexual Harassment, Sexual Assault and Rape.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but this does not just mean those who have been assaulted. This is to spread awareness and prevention of sexual assault, harassment and abuse. I personally think that sexual harassment is one of the most brushed aside topics.
What is Sexual Harassment?
The National Sexual Violence Resouce Center (NSVRC) does not have a true definition for it, but more about how it affects those who experience it: “Sexual harassment is defined by its impact, not its intent. The conduct must be unwelcome to be considered sexual harassment.”
This can range from:
unwelcome sexual advances
requests for sexual favors
verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature
sexually explicit jokes, emails or texts
offensive objects or images.
Not all sexual harassment will be the same, so it is difficult to differentiate for some. I for one have experienced sexual harassment and not realized it until someone else pointed it out.
I am a teenage girl who has been around older men since I was 12, between volunteering and working. I have had my fair share of comments from men. I have had men tell me that if I was just a little bit older, they would have gotten with me. Then, I have had less forward comments such as, “let me bring you home with me” and “oh, you seem old for your age.”
Now for a personal encounter:
I had someone that I idolized make advances at me, but I was young and naive so I decided to try to avoid it. For context, I was 16 and they were 26. That is a pretty big age difference and he knew my age. They sent me a lot of messages that made me uncomfortable but some of the big ones were “but you seem older than you are… and I’m just a big kid… ;)” “Am I too old for you to be more than friends with? Lol.” He then made comments about how I should come visit him and it would be fun. He mentioned multiple times me coming to visit and even mentioned me missing school to come see him. The whole situation was bad, but I truly did not see a huge problem when it was going on, since it was someone I idolized.
I do blame myself for continuing the conversation, but the thing is that this was someone I idolized and thought I could trust. I tried avoiding that conversation and changing topics, but it just did not work. We stopped talking but it still sits with me. The fact that someone I idolized said gross and inappropriate things to me is a different type of pain.
I think the problem is that people do not take sexual harassment that seriously. I can not tell you all the times I have been told, “it was a compliment” or “it was a joke” or my personal favorite “they are just gross old men.” The problem is that it is not just old men making these comments to me, I have had people of all ages make inappropriate comments to me.
Along with this, it also turns into he said/she said. People usually take a man's word over a woman’s because women are “overdramatic” and emotional. This is why many women are not open about what happens either, they are seen as liars or not knowing how to take a compliment. It is truly sad that women are scared to speak up because of how the world is.
Some harassment even happened in the workplace, which is not uncommon, “38% of all women and 14% of men have reported experiencing sexual harassment at work” (Kearl, Johns, & Raj, 2019). Along with this, “Sixty percent of women say they have experienced unwanted sexual attention, sexual coercion, sexually crude conduct, or sexist comments in the workplace” (Feldblum & Lipnic, 2016).
I truly think people do it on purpose because they feel like they can get away with it. Since the person is a guest or customer, they are supposed to be treated nicely. I can not tell you all the times that I have just smiled or laughed to avoid the awkwardness and so that I do not get fired. I do not think I have ever had an instance where someone told the person to stop making comments. Is it because they do not want to lose the paying customer? Or is it because they do not see a problem? I truly do not know.
The person who sexually harasses you is not always a stranger. Data from NISVS 2011 revealed that a majority of victims of all types of sexual violence knew the perpetrator. 46.7% of female victims of rape had at least one perpetrator who was an acquaintance, and 45.4% of female rape victims had at least one perpetrator who was an intimate partner. Those you trust the most could do this to you. This is why I am picky about who my male friends are. I know not just males are the problem, but I feel a little safer being specific about who is in my personal life.
Victims usually blame themselves for not seeing what happened during or before it happened. I truly blame myself for a lot of harassment that I endured, even if it was not my fault. I think it is a coping mechanism. This way if you blame yourself, you are not taking down anybody else. I think to myself, “Well if I didn't message him this wouldn't have happened” or “If I didn't dress like this I wouldn't have been catcalled.” This is not the case, it is NEVER the victim's fault.
I do not care what point people make, it is NEVER someone’s fault for someone else's actions.