Sexual Harassment

Words By Zu Anjalika Kamis Gunnnulfsen | Photograph By Markus Winkler

There is something about sexual harassment that most often than not, leaves the victim feel helpless, uncertain and angry. In many cases, the perpetrators said or did things with a smile or giggle or nonchalantly, that mask-off the malicious intentions. This makes the victim feel like the feeling she or he has might be an overreaction. 

“Oh wow, you look sexy in that dress,” said Mark when Ashley walked into the office. Mark is Ashley’s colleague. The day before, when Ashley requested for a document, Mark remarked that he’ll pass it over to her if she’d go for a drink with him. 

Some years ago, these two scenarios might just be brushed off as a boy’s mischief or a joke. Well, not anymore.  Sexual harassment has been the topic in the media for the last several years.  Of late, things have started to reveal themselves – sportsmen, movie producers, medical practitioners and even educators have been put in the spotlight for what is deemed as the act of sexual harassment.

For decades, we have often been made to believe that sexual harassment is the act of sex itself. The truth of the matter is, sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual behaviour that is offensive, humiliating or intimidating; can be written, verbal or physical and can happen in person or online – to the perpetrators, it is all about power, aggression and manipulation.

You see sexual harassment everywhere – in the office, amongst business partners, on the streets, in schools, even online professional platforms not sparred. We have seen many revelations in the media recently, however, there is still something not right with the current climate of communication.  Words exchanged are often taken to a different level; a level that should have never even been treaded-on.

So, let’s walk down the list and see what constitute sexual harassment.  This includes but not limited to :

  • touching, grabbing or making other physical contacts with you without your consent
  • making comments that have sexual meaning
  • asking for kiss, sex or sexual favours
  • asking for kiss, sex or sexual favours in return for something i.e professional documents or meetings
  • leering and staring at you
  • taking pictures or videos without your consent
  • displaying rude and offensive material so that you or others can see it
  • making sexual gestures or suggestive body movements towards you
  • cracking sexual jokes and comments around or to you
  • telling you their sexual encounters which you do not want to hear about
  • questioning about your sex life
  • insulting with sexual comments
  • committing a criminal offence against you, such as making an obscene phone call, indecently exposing themselves or sexually assaulting you.

It is reported that 52% of women had experienced some form of sexual harassment at work. A fifth of this number has experienced sexual advances, while a quarter had been touched. 

Do bear in mind that both men and women can be the victims of sexual harassment. A 2019 study on Sexual Harassment and Assault by UC San Diego Center on Gender Equity and Health reveals the following.

  • verbal sexual harassment is most common as reported by 76% of women and 35% of men.  
  • Cyber sexual harassment (via text, phone, online) was reported by 40% of women and 21% of men.  
  • Physically aggressive forms of sexual harassment were reported by 58% of women and 25% of men. This severe form of sexual harassment included being sexually touched in an unwelcome way (49% of women and 18% of men); being physically followed (27% of women and 11% of men); being flashed or shown genitals against their will (30% of women and 12% of men). 
  • Sexual assault was reported by an alarming 23% of women and 9% of men and almost every person who had experienced assault (97%) had also experienced sexual harassment.

This is how alarming the situation is.

What do you do when you feel you are sexually harassed?  The Association of Women And Research, Singapore (AWARE) stressed that you should indicate clearly that you are uncomfortable with the behaviour. Say NO effectively.  It is more important to be firm than polite. If you are more comfortable not speaking to the perpetrator face to face, send an SMS or email. This message and the perpetrator’s reply may also be used as evidence.

Start collecting evidence; logs and note down dates, times, places and who was present at the time of the incidents and give detailed accounts of the unwelcomed sexual behaviour.  Also, keep any email or message correspondence with the harasser as evidence. Taped evidence is also useful.

It is also good to alert or inform someone whom you trust of the harassment. Talk to friends or family members even if they were not present at the harassment scene, they may be able to support your case as witnesses.

Just sad how sexual harassment is so pervasive that it is accepted as way of life in some societies.   Something has got to change and it starts with all of us speaking-up and out.

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