On Learning More About Sexual Harassment

This past summer, I wrote about street harassment and highlighted my own as well as my friends' experiences concerning this matter. Since then I have learned, grown and have more to say on this matter.

I went to a colloquium style lecture over the weekend concerning the rhetoric surrounding sexual assault and rape. During the session, a number of misconceptions and myths were discussed and the facts, as far as the research is concerned, made very clear. The discussion was lead by a prevention specialist at the rape crisis center in the Cleveland area. I want to share what stuck out the most to me:

1) 8 out of 10 men are not comfortable with words like "bitch" or "slut" being directed at women. I know what you're thinking; because I thought it, too: "That can't be right." It seems like a rather large percentage of men, and at least my personal experiences made me assume it should be a smaller number. But there's a reason for that. You see, those 80% of men are uncomfortable with those words being directed at women, but because they think they're the only ones in the room who are uncomfortable they often let it slide when the 20% use those words. The other 20% are obviously very vocal but the truth is that they are the minority.

2) We Need A Paradigm Shift When it comes to sexual assault and rape, the conversation is usually centered around the "victim." As the prevention specialist reminded us, crisis centers know what to do for victims but they are not sure what to do about perpetrators. He also spoke so passionately about shifting the paradigm so that we no longer talk about what a victim 'should have done' because these crimes are not something society should ever pin on the victim. Instead, as a culture we must shift our thinking toward prevention and education -- specifically, talking about prevention with and educating the perpetrator by making it clear that it's unacceptable for a perpetrator to exhibit certain types of language, behaviors and/or actions.

3) We Need to Empower the Bystander What does this look like? It will vary. From the Hollaback campaign (which asks people who are being harassed to re-balance the power dynamic by taking a picture of their harasser and posting it online), to suggesting that somebody back off when you see behavior that makes you uncomfortable. Considering that 8 out of 10 men are uncomfortable with derogatory terms being directed toward women (a statistics that's probably the same if not higher for women), that's a (often silent) majority that can really begin this idea of empowering the bystander.

Together men and women can begin to make it socially unacceptable to say and do anything that even hints at the potential of sexual assault or rape. I know it can seem incredibly daunting when it seems like all we hear is the very vocal opposition. But remember, you're not the only one!

More articles in WMC FBomb by Category: Education, Feminism, Violence against women
More articles in WMC FBomb by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Rape, Sexualized violence, Sexual harassment, Title IX



Amanda P
Sign up for our Newsletter

Learn more about topics like these by signing up for Women’s Media Center’s newsletter.