How many more times?

Stop minimizing sexual harassment and start to make it visible

I am going to be a little bit political this time.

Recently, a friend of mine started a campaign about catcalling in public in Italy. One of her dearest friends found herself on public transport with another man having a public improper behaviour. She asked for help from the bus driver and he, without principles, didn’t do anything. Go make a complaint, she has been told.

A disgusted and scared girl had to go to denounce, and lose her time to say what has happened to her. But the story doesn’t stop here. At the police station, she has been pitied by another man that complimented her for her beauty.

Double harassment, zero action.

Only after days of denounces and attacks on social media the major has taken into consideration the letter, written by numerous girls and women of the city, denouncing the unbearable situation they had to deal with.

How many times happened to me

I am a girl, I have been through a similar situation at least 6 times. Sometimes worst, sometimes “better”. I changed my clothes, my habits, my friends, my alcohol consumption. Everything to be as more invisible as I can: not a nun, not a shabby. Not even me.

And I bet every single girl had changed a little bit of her for the same reasons but we don’t even remember it anymore because prevention has become an embedded behaviour. An invisible cloth worn only by women.

In my country, a boy can call me the worst thing and I cannot answer him. At least, I cannot answer him the way I would like and he deserves it. I will be at fault because there is no law to protect me. Wonderful, right?

I remember in high school my class had a self-defence class, especially for women. Can you see what is wrong? It is always our fault. We are not strong enough and we have also to focus on defending ourselves because we were born girls.

Why didn’t boys of my class receive courses about gender equality, gender education and responsibility? They are more potential sexual harassers than girls.

Double Standards

double standards

In case you don’t know, double standards arise when two subjects are treated differently even though they should be treated the same way.

This constantly happens between man and women at home, at work and also inside social networks.

The perpetuation of these double standards is a phenomenon that has been happening for a long time and suggests that the first example we receive in the family.

Women tend to be the most affected victims: scarce education and the difficulty of access to a good level of education. What is the effect of a double standard?

It reduces our credibility and our freedom. It makes every practice and behaviour more complex and less spontaneous. As mentioned before, we women, incorporate prevention and defence into everyday life.

Everything is heavier for us. This simple but impacting speech on the TED platform says it all.

Microscopic sexual harassment

I always thought that sexual harassment was about big, visible and very serious behaviour.

I couldn’t be more wrong. Of course, I do not want to underestimate the pain of victims of grave abuses. I intend to underline the severity of a little and increasingly invisible attitude.

Let’s pretend that most of the sexual harassment behaviours work like the so-called “microscopic racism”. A social phenomenon that is replacing legalized historical racism. Hardly you will assist in (at least in Europe) a murder because of discrimination issues, nevertheless, it is more difficult for minorities to access higher education.

Well, sexual harassment is based on discrimination. About a person’s sex. And it is microscopic because loiters in words, thoughts and little gestures.

If someone touches you without your consent, comments with sexual meaning, question you about your sexual life or make sexual gestures or suggestive body movements towards you, they are harassing you.

Worst scenarios, as you can imagine, are characterized by making an obscene phone call, indecently exposing themselves or sexually assaulting you.

It is a pretty long list, full of shades and on different scales but all unacceptable.

22.9% Of women had experienced a sexual assault and more than half were attacked by their partner or ex-partner

ex-partner harasser

According to a survey conducted by the Guardian: 22.9% of women said they had experienced sexual assault or attempted sexual assault since the age of 16, ranging from indecent exposure and unwanted touching to rape and assault by penetration.

Data were collected by the end of May of last year and are alarming. Imagine girls and women forced to live the lockdown with their harasser.

Even the survey sheds light on the phenomenon of domestic abuse: more half than of women who were victims of rape or assault by their partner or ex-partners.

Keep in your mind that statistics reveal a partial truth and the number of complaints is minimal due to the social stigma.

What can we do to help a victim of sexual harassment?


First of all, you have to be aware that you do not have to solve the problem. The last thing you should try to do is intervene and get revenge by yourself: it can damage your friend and her credibility.

Listen, believe and support your friend. Understanding and assuming a non -judgemental aptitude are essentials: if the survivor feels judged she may stop looking for help. She will feel ashamed and maybe even guilty. Which she is not.

  • Do not rush to provide solutions but give space to them so they feel free to express their feelings.

  • Remember that speaking takes a lot of courage so repays with trust.

  • The survivor is vulnerable at the moment is speaking, be careful with your words: let the survivor know that only the perpetrator is to blame.

  • Avoid curious and insidious questions: you may want to know more but you do not have to decide how many details need to be shared.

  • Ask your friends how you can help.

  • Encourage the survivor to seek medical attention and report the assault without forcing.

  • Respect the privacy of the survivors: no matter how important details are, don’t tell others unless you have his/their consent.

If you or a friend is in imminent danger of being hurt, please call the emergency number 911

Things you can say

  • It’s not your fault

  • I’m sorry this happened

  • I believe you

  • How can I help you?

  • I am glad you told me

  • I’ll support your choices

  • You’re not alone

What I should NOT say to a victim of sexual harassment?

That was so long ago – you need to get over it.

It could have been worse.

Were you drinking?

You have to report it./You shouldn’t report it.

How? What happened?

Did you fight back?

How could that happen to you, again?

How can a girl rape a boy?

Rape can’t happen during a marriage.

It will be okay.

The effect of social stigma

sexual harassment victims-silence
Hiding and denying are efence mechanisms such as hanger and silence

Why are there few complaints and survivors don’t talk? Think about how you react when you hear news about sexual harassment?

How do you react? Do you even react? I think you are going to digest the report as you do with all the other communication you hear from mass media. Maybe, if the survivor has your age, your interest, is similar to you, you will stop and think about it. If it happened next to you, in your city, you are going to start worrying about it.

We are constantly bombarded by scandalous news that we can no longer develop empathy.

Victims of sexual harassment went through trauma. Even if they want to talk about what happened and they overcame it, they have to face fears of not be trusted, not be listened to, or not be recognized as innocents. In the worst case, they lack emotional tools to express their pain.

Their self-esteem has been reduced and they feel vulnerable. When we go through hard times we do not even trust ourselves. “Maybe it is not the way I remember”, “Maybe it was not true”.

Hiding and denying are defence mechanisms such as hanger and silence.

In our culture, all sexuality involves an interplay between exposure and privacy, between control and release, says D.L Nathanson in his article. He explains clearly how common thought associates the loss of control with the loss of credibility.

We can stop minimizing the facts and educate to denounce but there is less we can do if those who suffer do not feel safe.


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