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Let’s Talk: Sexual Harassment

Photo by Mihai Surdu

Have you ever been sexually harassed? Did you realise it was sexual harassment or just brushed it off as normal behaviour? We need to be able to identify it and take necessary actions if ever faced with it. Leading up to this, what is sexual harassment some may wonder? According to Women Watch, sexual harassment is considered an unwelcome behaviour of sexual nature.

Could sexual harassment only happen verbally? I'm afraid not. It tends to start off as verbal harassment. Then it slowly progresses into physical harassment if no action is taken. Some forms of verbal sexual harassment include cat-calling, making sexual comments regarding someone's clothing or body and also unwanted sexual jokes or questions. Whereas physical, sexual harassment includes unwanted kissing or touching, intentionally brushing up against another person or even touching a person's clothing or hair.

In most cases, many overlook how sexual harassment does not only affect women but a large number of men too, however, it is often brushed off. Sexual harassment can also be caused by both genders. This includes people you trust like family members, spouses, friends or even strangers and should be taken seriously regardless. The Women's Aid Organisation website contains statistics of the number of sexual harassment cases from the year 2000 up to 2017 and breakdowns of them based on cases which were reported to the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM).

The number of sexual harassment cases from the year 2000 up to 2017.

The gender breakdown of sexual harassment survivors in 2013 - 2017.

The age breakdown of sexual harassment survivors in 2013 - 2017.

The age breakdown of sexual harassment perpetrators in 2013 - 2017.

Sexual harassment can happen to anyone, and because of this, people should take precautions to protect themselves from such horrible situations. A few tips that could help include being aware that when posting sexual images of oneself online, it could lead to unwanted sexual comments or even worse, people using such material as blackmail. Other than that, when travelling, be sure to avoid secluded spots because perpetrators are known to stalk and harass people in such areas. One more tip is to bring pepper spray along wherever you go, even if you are in a group because you never know what could happen. So, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Photo by Cristian Newman

In some cases, the victims are not able to escape the situation. One victim agreed to share her story but requests that her details stay anonymous. The victim faced her first case of harassment when she was 14 years old. It happened when her uncle made sexual comments about her body, inappropriate jokes and unwanted touching. She did not stay quiet and accept it, so she called for help which scared off her uncle thankfully. Afterwards, she tried telling her parents about the incident, but they brushed it off and told her to get over it. It affected her mental health as she faced anxiety and PTSD. It was at this point that she realised she had to voice out for herself and seek help from other people; thus, she contacted the All Women's Action Society. Her advice to victims is not to be afraid to speak out and take the necessary actions to help yourself.

The next victim that came forward was Ariff bin Julainie, and his story happened back when he was 16 years old. He was harassed physically by a female student who hit his buttocks without his consent. It left him shocked and confused but at the same time offended as to why she did it. He talked to his friends and mother about it, but they didn't take it as seriously as he thought they would because he was not a girl. It didn't affect him as much, and no heavy action was taken after that, but it did make him warier of his surroundings. He adds, "Either way, the situation should be taken seriously regardless of gender. Men should be able to speak out without being belittled or told to man up just because it was not as serious or nothing compared to what women face on a daily basis."

Photo by Mélodie Descoubes (C’est Assez translates to That’s Enough in French)

All in all, sexual harassment is not a topic that should be taken lightly. Society should take all cases of it seriously, no matter who it happens to. If you or someone you know is caught in this horrible situation, who should you contact? The All Women's Action Society (AWAM) provides free counselling services which welcome all people in trouble regardless of one's gender. Their primary focus is towards survivors and victims of gender-based violence (GBV) including domestic violence, rape and sexual harassment. Another option could be the Women's Aid Organisation as they too provide free counselling and even shelter for victims.

Lastly, it is never the victim's fault. One shouldn't blame themselves for what happened or be ashamed of reaching out for help. There are people who are willing to help, listen to your stories and support you no matter what!

By Denisha Vaghasia


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