Sexual Harassment: When A Touch Goes Too Far

Sexual Harassment

Saturday morning on Adenola street. The children play around, a group of them huddled on one side, playing ‘suwe’. Another group decides on teams for a five-a-side football match, with makeshift goal posts made from planks and stones. A third group races up and down the slope of the street.

In a multi-tenanted house( known as face-me-i-face-you), Sandra steps out of her room, wrapped in a towel, with a bucket in hand. She greets Mama Abby, the landlord’s wife, who is doing the weekend laundry at the central tap. She has her bath, and is making her way to her room when Baba Abby, her landlord blocks her way.

“Sandy baby. Fine girl. See as your skin is shining. God really took his time to create you o”. Sandra gives a thin smile, and greets the landlord, as courtesy demands. She continues her walk towards her room, when Baba Abby smacks her on the bum, and licks his lips when she glares at him furiously. He grabs her bosom, sending Sandra into a blinding rage. Neighbours come out to see what the ruckus is about, and soon Sandra recounts what has transpired. However, she gets a shocking reply from one of the men present. “And so?” , he says, even going on to add that she should be glad someone still finds her attractive. The other men present agree, adding to Sandra’s chagrin. The women say nothing, only casting furtive glances towards each other. Even Mama Abby is quiet, and the landlord has a sly smile on his face. Sandra has no choice but to leave their midst. She locks herself in, aware that she has just been sexually harassed, and there were witnesses even, but there was nothing that she could do in her defense.

Sexual harassment, as defined by Wikipedia article, is “bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors”. A lot of people do not know it, but as long as actions or words directed at a person about their sexual nature is not welcome and is uncouth, then it can be termed as sexual harassment. Ideally, it is illegal and punishable by the law. The problem, however, lies in awareness and the setting it is involved in.

” It’s a man’s world” — a very popular saying used to denote that men rule the world. While factions may dispute and debate on the truthfulness of this statement, it would be noteworthy to observe that in many ways, when sexual harassment comes into play, it is indeed a man’s world. In the scenario above, the victim’s dignity is made a mockery of, even though she has been offended, and the excuse is that she should be appreciative of the fact that a man is making advances towards here. It may sound like a typical African thing to do or say, but it is very much a common situation in many parts of the world, especially the western world.

Sexual harassment may include unwelcome sexual advances (the keyword being unwelcome), requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Contrary to popular belief, sexual harassment is not limited to females alone. Men are also subjected to sexual harassment.

More modern and overlooked forms of sexual harassment include cat-calling( making vulgar sounds towards a member of the opposite sex), groping, and most commonly hitting, or touching of private parts of the victim’s body.

Sexual Harassment, more often than not, occurs mostly in public places, especially the victim’s workplace. Matter of fact, most sexual harassment cases have been known to transpire at the workplace more than any other setting. Other settings include buses, trains or other public means of transportation, with the remainder being on the streets or places such as markets, banks, schools and even places of worship.

Sexual harassment has a huge toll on the victim(s). It creates a scene of where there is lack of comfortability, in which the victimized is usually apprehensive and on the perpetual lookout. The oppressor, in most cases, is someone of a higher prominence to the victim, leaving the victim with little or no option. Most times, a “No” is simply not enough.

Strangely, some times the oppressor may not even realise that his or her actions are offensive, or illegal. They may just consider it as them making an advance, as is seen in most sexual harassment cases that occur in bars. It can also occur in instances where the harassed doesn’t even realize that they have been harassed. Subsequently, one does not need to be a direct recipient of sexual harassment to be a victim; one may just be a victim. Also, the oppressor may not necessarily be of the opposite sex; same sex sexual harassment can occur.

Sexual harassment does not even have to take place physically. According to the 2014 PEW research statistics on online harassment, 25 percent of women and 13 percent of men between the ages of 18 and 24 have experienced sexual harassment online.

It is estimated, based on surveys that 79 percent of victims are women, 21 percent are men; 51 percent total are harassed by a supervisor or boss; business, trade, banking, and finance are the biggest industries where sexual harassment occurs; 12 percent received threats of job termination if they did not comply with their requests; 302 of the 2,558 cases in the USA pursued by victims were prosecuted; 38 percent of such cases were committed by someone of a higher rank.

Sexual harassment can have highly adverse effects on the victims, including stress and social withdrawal, sleep and eating difficulties, overall health impairment, amongst others. In severe cases, suicide and suicidal thoughts may occur.

As problematic as sexual harassment may seem, there are ways to prevent it. Adequate orientation of the public on the ills of sexual harassment will play a huge role in curbing cases of occurrence, as the biggest problem with tackling the phenomenon is ignorance. Majority of offenders, as said before, are not aware of their actions being offensive.

As for the cure, psychological counseling is the only suitably path, helping the victimized  cope with any trauma they may be experiencing. Additionally, sexual harassment should be reported to the appropriate authorities. Hopefully, the cankerworm can be curbed and will become a thing of the past.

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