When I was first introduced to the concept of sexual harassment, I was 13-years-old and we were shown a video about it in one of my classes. In the video, a boy was tugging on a girl’s bra strap even after she told him to stop. I remember thinking, Wow, this is so stupid.
I realized how not stupid it was about a year later when I was groped in line at Disney Land by the boys (my friends) who I was traveling with.
We were on a service trip and I was the only girl who wanted to go on the roller coaster. Their behavior towards me was completely inappropriate, and for the life of me I can’t understand why the adults who were standing on either side of us did not tell them to stop.
The news about Harvey Weinstein poses a lot of questions about what it means to be complicit in situations like these, and what our roles are as fellow humans who are likely to witness and experience sexual harassment at some point in our lives. If you are not calling out sexual harassment by name, you are- point blank- aiding the harasser.
But sexual harassment has long been seen as an issue of sensitivity. Women feel uneasy about reporting if they weren’t physically touched. Even if they were physically touched, 99% of perpetrators of sexual violence will walk free, so it’s hard to muster the courage and confidence to speak out.
We have created an environment where victims don’t feel safe coming forward, because they are often told their lifestyle, fashion choices or behavior is the reason why they were victimized.
I had an interesting conversation with my boyfriend when we were traveling over the summer about the role fear plays in a woman’s life. This came up because when I was walking to the bathroom of the bar we were in, I saw a man staring at me, and the way he was doing so made me uncomfortable. When I got to the bathroom, which was upstairs and totally isolated from the rest of the bar, I heard footsteps outside. My mind began racing, What if it’s that guy, and if it is, what does he want from me, and what can I do about it?
The same thoughts go through my mind when I notice a man is alone and walking behind me for any period of time. What does he want from me?
The fear of sexual misconduct and violence, as a college woman, shapes most of my perception about my daily environment.
This goes back to the issue of being complicit, and understanding our role as people in a world where 81% of women have experienced harassment, and where someone is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. If you look anywhere online, you’ll see a flood of women saying, “Me too,” because- I promise you- every woman you know, even the ones who didn’t post, has a sexual harassment/assault story.
Our role as victims is to understand that we have a right to feel comfortable in our environments. Our role as witnesses is to understand the importance in supporting victims and stepping in when necessary. Our role as a society is to believe women, and stop asking them why they couldn’t have prevented it.
We must all agree to be better, or we are agreeing to be complicit.