Sexual harassment: any behaviour that is unwelcome and unwanted, often causing feelings of intimidation, humiliation and offence.
Some stories are positive, to highlight that there are good people in the world.
At age 11, I learned what the word rape meant. I interpreted it as ‘something being taken away from another, without permission’. My parents feared for my safety, and banned me from staying over anyone’s house.
At 12, I was catcalled constantly in front of an adult I trusted. He said it was my fault because I was wearing shorts that covered everything that needed covering. I started wearing pants, even in the humidity and heat.
At 14, during a 15 minute walk home in the afternoon, an unknown man in a blacked-out car motioned me toward him, slowing down.
At 15, another man stopped along the side of the road to offer me a ride home. Thankfully, he was a family friend.
At 16, a man at a bus stop relieved himself near me. He said he was waiting for a friend. He then said I must’ve seen many dicks at my age. And since it was 7:30 in the morning, his “size” was smaller than usual. He asked me to go for a walk. I declined. I was terrified to walk back home, in case he followed me. The bus finally came. His “friend” never got off the bus. I honestly didn’t feel like going to high school or catching public transport for some time. No one took me seriously whenever I spoke about this incident.
At 17, a stranger offered me a hug as I was crying at a bus stop. He even gave me a chocolate bar as a kind gesture. He said it affected him seeing people hurting.
At 18, I cried because I wanted to say no.
At 19, I was groped in a crowd, multiple times.
At 19, a guy decided I wasn’t allowed to leave to find my friends. He held my wrist with an iron-tight grip. I will regret that night forever.
At 20, some guy decided it was okay to touch me as I was getting into a taxi.
At 21, another woman saw I was struggling to walk (as I had been drinking most of the night). She helped me to the bathroom and stopped random guys trying to talk to me. Afterwards, she insisted that my boyfriend took me home immediately.
At 23, an old man winked at me and asked me to sit on his lap while I was at a family gathering. I was in shock. No one said anything. I was always taught to respect my elders. I know now that respect cannot be given. It must be earned.
At 24, a stranger asked, “You’re not afraid of me, are you?” while we were alone in an empty car park.
At 24, a group of tradies catcalled me, making loud assumptions about why I was walking around the city at 9PM, on a Friday night. I had just finished a 12 hour work day.
At 24, I’m realising how many other women have similar experiences to mine. It’s not okay.
At 24, I’m so fucking done, taking shit from strangers and people I thought I could trust.
I have lived a privileged life, growing up out of poverty, having access to education and basic needs. Unfortunately, sexual harassment was one of the experiences that nobody could have foreseen or protected me from.
Facts based in Australia:
- Almost 1 in 5 women (18%) and 1 in 20 men (4.7%) have experienced sexual violence (sexual assault and/or threats) since the age of 15.
- In 2016, on average, police recorded 52 sexual assaults each day against women and about 11 against men.
- One in two women had experienced harassment in the course of their lifetime and one in four men had experienced harassment too.
- 38% of women between the ages of 18 to 24, reported acts such as inappropriate comments about their bodies and sex life, indecent exposure or unwanted touching, kissing or grabbing in the last 12 months.
- 4% of Australians have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the last five years, compared to 11% in 2003 (2008 survey).
- For those who did not make a complaint (2008 survey):
- 43% did not think it was serious enough
- 15% were fearful of a negative impact on themselves
- 21% had a lack of faith in the complaint process
- 29% took care of the problem themselves.
The psychological effects:
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare:
- Mental health conditions were the largest contributor to the burden of disease due to physical/ sexual intimate partner violence, followed by suicide and self-inflicted injuries.
- For women who have experienced domestic violence, this can include poorer physical and mental health than women who have not experienced such violence. Increased rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm and illicit drug use than those who had not.
According to the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault (ACSSA):
- Anxiety and intense fear are the primary responses following rape. Some research has found that this peaks at around three weeks after the rape; however, it can last for more than a year for a significant number of survivors.
- Distressing flashbacks or reminders of the assault may occur.
- For some women, particularly from marginalised communities, sexual assault can reaffirm assumptions about themselves as devalued persons (insidious trauma), and about the world being unsafe and dangerous.
- Feelings of low self-esteem, self-blame and guilt can endure for months and years after the assault.
- People may experience emotional shock where they have an exaggerated sense of unreality and disassociation. (SECASA)
According to American clinical psychologists and an employment attorney:
- Sexual harassment has been associated with diagnoses such as depression, anxiety and PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder).
- Somatisation: The normal, unconscious process by which psychological distress is expressed as physical symptoms. For example, a person with clinical depression may complain of stomach pains that prove to have no physical cause. Counselling can be helpful to overcome somatisation.
- Neurotransmitters found in our brains are also found in our gut. It’s a real thing: this is why we tend to get sick when we get stressed, and over time, if we’re in constant stress or if it’s too much to handle, then there are physiological consequences.
- Physical manifestations of stress: hair falling out, hives, weight gain or loss, sleeplessness and lethargy.
At 24, I asked my partner if he would stand with me. And now, I am asking you to do the same.
Women, we must stand together. Men, please stand beside us. Society, we need to do better.
We don’t need protection. We need unity and solidarity. We need voices to SPEAK UP and people to TAKE ACTION. Pull up your friends, if they make inappropriate jokes. Call people out, if they make advances on women, men or children. Report suspicious behaviour especially in regards to children, as they may not trust adults to talk to. Support a survivor, if they share their story.
Change happens with awareness, education and action.
So please, educate yourselves and those around you. Know that sexual harassment and assault is a serious offence and can have dire psychological consequences.
If you or someone you know needs support, Health Direct has compiled a list of services to contact. View the list here: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/sexual-assault-and-abuse-helplines.
Remember, change starts with you.
Image from Pinterest.