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Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is violation of a person's rights and is certainly not something you can simply brush aside. How many of us know if we were sexually harassed?

Have you ever experienced a boy in your class pinching your bottom?
Does your uncle hug and kiss you at family gatherings that make you feel uncomfortable?
Has anyone ever stared at your chest?
Have you ever experienced being whistled at by a group of boys?

Most of us surely must have been sexually harassed at some point in our lives. Can you recall how you felt when you were sexually harassed? Some of us felt like crying and punching the person that made you feel so miserable. Some of us felt so disheartened that we could not concentrate on our studies or work. It is only natural that you feel bad as we cannot escape from feeling hurt or angry and helpless. But don't let those feelings bring you down. By letting yourself dwell in the doldrums, you are surrendering to your harasser and he will gleam with pride at your defeat. Remember, you did not do anything wrong and you should not admit defeat.

A lot of us wonder why we get sexually harassed? Do we look "weak" in the eyes of the harasser? Then let's wonder why could anyone care to sexually harass someone else? Why would anyone want to make someone else feel hurt or angry and helpless? Perhaps this lies in the fact that some people find that they are more "powerful" when they can make someone else feel "small". Can this be true?

The real reason why sexual harassment happens is because there is a general lack of respect for girls and women. It is only natural that girls, or women are associated with the gender stereotyping of being quiet, shy and ladylike. These are feminine traits that only girls and women have. To the guys, some of them appreciate the feminine companionship by treating the opposite sex with respect, by being gentlemen. Other guys however, tend to exploit the opposite's traits by treating them with no respect, by sexually harassing the shy, quiet and ladylike. These other guys would feel stronger and more powerful (so they think). Sexual harassment is such a hateful act that it is no wonder some of us call these "other guys" perverts!

Harassers know or most often assume that the person they are harassing will not fight back, especially if the harasser has more power or authority. Harassers also often believe that no action will be taken against them. And they can do it again, and again, to more and more helpless girls. That is why we should never be quiet when we are sexually harassed. By standing up to them, we can make them realise that we are not weak at all, and that we will stand up against them to protect our own rights and modesty.

While we must be careful not to let "bullies" sexually harass us, we must not be overly sensitive to the fact that some good gestures may mean no harm. Never confuse harassment with compliments. Compliments are given in respectful ways while harassment is not. Remember, it is only fun and fitting if both people involved think so. If you feel uneasy or uncomfortable about what someone is doing or has done to you, then what he is doing is wrong.

Some people find some kinds of touching okay, while others not. For example, it may be okay for a very close friend to squeeze your shoulders, but not okay for another friend whom you are not very comfortable with to do the same thing. For some, hugs and kisses from a close uncle is a sign of care and love. Others may feel uncomfortable if their uncle does the same - it really depends on how you draw your limits with certain people. Certain parts of our bodies are off limits to some people but are not to others. Certain parts are off limits to everybody. You have the right to determine those limits.

When you are sexually harassed, do not just ignore it! If it is a one-off incident, some people prefer to just ignore it and perhaps this is one way of dealing with it. The truth is, sexual harassment gets worse when you ignore it, especially if the person who is harassing is someone you have to see everyday. If it affects you, take action, do something. The only thing you must not do is to do nothing!

Reproductive Health Adolescents Module (2000)
Federation of Family Planning Association, Malaysia

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