A Basic Guide To Sexual Harassment
Guess what? It's NOT flirting, and it shouldn't have to be tolerated.
Why now? It’s taken Hollywood celebs bravely coming forward and talking about their experiences to inspire women around the world to do the same. The huge scale of sexual harassment and sexual assault revealed on Twitter under the hashtag #MeToo suddenly made the issue impossible to ignore, and the truth hit home.
Here's Courtney Act on the topic of... consent!
Just because everyone’s talking about it, doesn’t mean it’s totally clear in everyone’s minds what exactly sexual harassment is, why it’s damaging, and what we can do about it. Here’s a basic guide to sexual harassment, to clear up confusion.
What is it?
It’s submitting someone to unwanted sexual behaviour that has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity or creates an uncomfortable, intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them. Basically, it's being sexualised or put in a sexualised environment against your will, and it's goddamn uncomfortable. And genuinely upsetting.
Examples of sexual harassment could be a suggestive remark, inappropriate touch, sexualising gaze, or asking for or demanding sex. Like any other type of harassment, sexual harassment is seen as discrimination.
What’s the big deal?
Sexual harassment can range in extremity, but there’s no type of sexual harassment that is ok or should be ‘taken with a pinch of salt’. It’s straight up degrading and wrong.
A woman who is being sexually harassed at work or in a learning environment, for example, is made to think she’s only valuable to a company or employer because of her sex appeal. It’s very damaging for self-esteem. Plus, because sexual harassment demeans or takes power away from the person who’s being harassed, it can feel very threatening and traumatic.
How often does it happen?
A 2016 YouGov national survey found that 85% of women aged 18–24 had experienced unwanted sexual attention in public places with 45% experiencing unwanted sexual touching, reported sexual offences on trains have more than doubled in the past five years, and one in five women have been sexually harassed at work in the UK according to a 2017 Opinium poll.
Basically, a lot.
How many people report it?
Sexual harassment is massively underreported. In 2016, TUC research found that four out of five didn’t report sexual harassment at work to their employer.
One of the reasons why many people don’t feel they can report sexual harassment in the workplace is that they fear putting their jobs on the line, or don’t feel that they will be believed or supported. The Time’s Up campaign is working to help women in this position in the US.
Another reason may be that women don’t believe that reporting it will have any impact, and that sexual harassment (for example, being cat-called on the street) is just an unavoidable part of life. That’s why things need to change.
What can you do if you witness it?
Although it may still be hard, it’s always easier to call out sexual harassment as an outsider. That’s why it’s SO important that if you see it happening, you should speak up. Identifying someone’s behaviour as sexual harassment and calling the perpetrator out is the best way not only to stop it happening again, but to send a message to anyone witnessing it that that behaviour shouldn’t be tolerated.
Another thing you can do is to talk to the person receiving the harassment and ask how they’re feeling, and whether you can report what they’re experiencing. If they say yes but don’t feel comfortable being identified, you should leave them anonymous in your report. The best place to go to report sexual harassment at work is the HR department.
If you're not reporting it straight away, always document what you’ve witnessed (when it happened, what was said or done, and how the victim reacted) so that you can use it as evidence later on.
What can you do if you experience it?
If the sexual harassment is happening at work, you’re protected by law under the Equality Act (click here for more info) and are in a better position to report it. Unfortunately, sexual harassment outside of work still isn’t illegal in the UK, and isn't categorised as a hate crime, which means people are not being held accountable if they sexually harass you on the street. HOWEVER, thanks to the spotlight that’s been shone on sexual harassment recently, laws may be changing soon. Watch this space…
Until then, if you’ve experienced sexual harassment, try the Citizens Advice helpline to find out what your next steps could be for your individual case. If you’ve experienced sexual harassment on public transport, though, you can contact the transport police directly (details here).
If you’re feeling distressed as a result of sexual harassment or sexual assault and need somebody to talk to, contact Safeline who specialise in all kinds of sexual abuse. Visit The Survivors Trust for more information and guidance.
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