Ria travels to school by public transport. On the bus, a man touched her breasts and it made her feel uncomfortable. She was not sure if it was by accident or on purpose. She did not know what she could do about it. Sahil too got groped by another man while returning home from his tuition. Sexual harassment is a serious problem that affects people of all ages, including teenagers and adolescents. It is important to understand what sexual harassment is, its different types and what you can do to protect yourselves and others from this harmful behaviour. Let’s talk more about it in this week’s That’s Puzzling.
What is sexual harassment?
Any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, whether it is verbal, physical, or visual is sexual harassment. This can include things like unwanted touching, sexual comments or jokes, or showing someone pornographic material without their consent. Sexual harassment can happen to anyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, and it can take place in a variety of settings, including at school, at work, or online.
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There are several different types of sexual harassment that are particularly relevant to teenagers and adolescents. These include:
- Verbal harassment, which includes things like sexual name-calling, comments or jokes, or propositions.
- Physical harassment, which includes unwanted touching or other forms of physical contact.
- Visual harassment, which includes showing someone pornographic material or exposing oneself.
- Cyber harassment, which is harassment that takes place online, such as through social media or text messages.
Sexual harassment can also take on a systemic pattern, like for instance street harassment, harassment in public transport, at the workplace or hostel etc.
Some examples of sexual harassment
- Blocking a person’s way, or standing in their way
- Asking about someone’s love life
- Stalking someone, even on social media
- Creating some’s fake profiles on social media
- Passing on someone’s number, without their permission
- Forcefully hugging or kissing someone
- Calling special names such as jaanu, baby, sweety etc for someone who is not intimate with you
- Brushing up against someone in a public place or otherwise and making it look ‘unintentional’ or ‘accidental’
- Checking up on a person’s body by staring at it
- Stalking someone, following them every day or paying specific attention to them in particular
- Making fun of someone’s SOGI – sexual orientation or gender identity or even questioning them about it
- Making vulgar jokes or even sharing experiences/stories about sex and its experience– even if this is not about you but done in your presence to make you uncomfortable
- Sending messages/pictures that are unwanted/lewd or have sexual connotations via any form of communication like emails/sms/or any other form of communication
- Displaying/sharing pictures like sexual screensavers on your computer at school
- Making another person uncomfortable by any lewd or sexually offensive signs/facial expressions
- Touching, kissing (even air kissing), caressing a person’s clothing or body part inappropriately and suggestively
- Repeatedly asking for dates despite being rebuffed
- Making sexually offensive gestures, remarks or facial expressions like smooching noises or winks
Usually someone you know
It’s usually someone you know who goes beyond your limits. Your boyfriend or girlfriend, an internet date or a teacher at school. This makes it complicated to say you don’t want it. You like someone, but you don’t like what they’re doing. It’s best to be very clear about what you want and don’t want. Don’t say ‘maybe’ if you mean ‘no’.
It’s not only girls who run into unwanted sexual behaviour. Boys can also be sexually harassed. For example a sports trainer who likes you, or your best friend’s older brother who wants to show you inappropriate content online. Or by your partner who doesn’t want you to break up with them.
Worst case scenario
If the worst happens and someone forces you to have sex, don’t keep it to yourself. Tell someone and talk about it. It’s a terrible experience to be sexually assaulted. It’s natural to feel absolutely devastated.
You might want to spend hours under the shower and preferably forget about what has happened as quickly as possible. But you can’t because the memories keep coming back. You might have nightmares and feel terrified of meeting the person who assaulted or raped you. You can feel very small and alone. You might also have pain in your abdomen or genitals. You might be scared you are pregnant or have caught a sexually transmitted disease. If so, go to the doctor or a clinic and get a check-up.
Here are a few things you do to protect yourselves and others.
- First and foremost, it’s important to speak out against sexual harassment. This can be difficult, especially when the person doing the harassing is someone you know, but it’s important to let them know that their behaviour is not okay and that it makes you feel uncomfortable.
- Speak to someone you trust like a family member, a teacher, or a counsellor, they can help you to figure out the best way to handle the situation and make sure you are safe.
- Don’t be afraid to report the incident to the authorities. They will be able to help you and ensure that the situation is dealt with appropriately.
- Learn how to protect yourself online. This includes not sharing personal information, not accepting friend requests from people you don’t know, and being careful about what you post. Be careful with recordings with a webcam. The video can be passed on to other people.
- Don’t let someone put you under pressure. Don’t think you’re strange if you say no. It’s your body and your choice!
- Stop a friendship or relationship if the other person doesn’t respect you.
- Don’t say ‘maybe’ if you mean ‘no’
Guilt and shame
Victims often feel guilty – they think it’s their own fault. Which it isn’t! No one has the right to force another person to do anything that they do not want to do. Even if you’re his girlfriend or boyfriend, or you said yes the last time. And also not because you’re wearing a sexy dress or you let them buy you a drink.
Victims also feel ashamed or embarrassed. You think everyone can tell what’s happened to you. Anyone who’s been forced to have sex against their will feels like this. It’s normal. You’re not overreacting. Your confidence has taken a serious knock, you feel like the world is a lot less safe and friendly than you thought it was.
You might also feel repulsed by getting physically close to other people, or sex, or your own body. If you feel deeply unhappy, depressed or afraid, you should seek help.
Not your fault
It’s important to remember that sexual harassment is not your fault and you don’t have to put up with it. You have the right to be treated with respect and dignity, and you deserve to feel safe and secure in your own skin. If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual harassment, it’s important to speak out and get help.
Do you have any questions about sexual harassment? Share with us in the comment box below. Remember not to put any personal information in the comment box.
Photo: Shutterstock/Wirestock Creators/Person in the photo is a model. Names changed.