Sexual Harassment: A Necessary Discussion

When one single seminar changed the way we look at sexual harassment

It all started the day this author came across an email from one of her teachers.

It wasn’t the fact that she had received an email from the instructor that caused her to be surprised; this was a fairly common occurrence back in the days when this author had been nothing but a humble freshman, bombarded with emails about different events organized by the administration to enhance the freshman experience.

No. It was the contents of the email that caused her to raise her brow and frown.

The email contained an invite to something called a gender meeting, to be held at the same time but at two different venues around the campus, separately, for male and female students. On inquiring from some seniors, it was discovered that this particular talk was going to be about sexual harassment.

Naturally, this author was befuddled.

Conversations about sexual harassment always proved to be stilted and awkward, filled with long pauses and a very loud silence, with adults filling the lack of sound with words and experiences that had never been heard of but still, very relatable. Why would anyone want to sit through one and a half hour of some teacher talking about sexual harassment, probably having no knowledge of how it feels to have been through it and what it feels like to hear someone reduce the entire experience into clinical words and minced expressions?

This author decided at that moment, that she would not partake in any such discussion. Though it was not to be.

As it happens, this author did have to go to this meeting as the administration, later on, made it compulsory for all students, much to her chagrin. She arrived at the designated auditorium with her feet dragging and her heart heavy but soon she realized how hasty she had been in her judgment.

The auditorium buzzed with a flurry of activity, filled with girls trying to find an empty seat for their friends, settling down. This author quietly settled down in the seat farthest away from the stage and prayed for this to be over as soon as possible. The next ninety minutes, however, proved to be one of those learning moments in life when you can only watch from the sidelines as everything slowly starts falling back into its original place, like a puzzle finally reaching completion.

It started off with the instructor generally introducing herself and asking us to settle down before she could begin her talk. This author expected a typical Powerpoint presentation but was pleasantly surprised when the instructor started off ad lib with the standard definition of sexual harassment and then asked those who had ever been sexually harassed at one point in their lives, to raise their hands.

A few, uncertain hands went up in the air. Scared. Tentative.

The instructor seemed surprised at the number or lack thereof but continued nonetheless.

Sexual harassment, she explained patiently, does not simply refer to an incident where someone attempts to assault you or harm you with their unwanted advances.

Sexual harassment is when someone tries to start an inappropriate conversation with you, through texting and bullying when you ignore or reject their advances.

It happens when someone consciously invades your personal space to intimidate you or when they make jokes about your vulnerability or when they stalk you, catcall and even when they try to pressurize you into making conversation with them.

Sexual harassment, she sighed, isn’t just about physical contact or touch. It’s all of these things that I have just mentioned. Now, how many of you have been sexually harassed at some point in your life.

Almost every hand in that auditorium shot up.

No one seemed to be surprised.

And that day, this author learned the most important, liberating lesson from this formidable lady who had graciously decided to impart her knowledge without coming off as self-righteous or insensitive.

It’s never your fault.

Sexual harassment victims tend to think that they somehow caused themselves to be the subject of such treatment. Maybe, just maybe there was a problem with my clothes. Maybe I shouldn’t have been there at that time. Maybe I could have somehow averted the entire situation.

An endless list of possibilities that will only torture you.

But it’s never your fault. You did not invite such behavior and you cannot hold yourself responsible for the conduct of others. Nothing ever invites harassment, especially not clothing since all humans should be respected regardless of their choice of attire. Be confident at all times, such lowly people tend to pick on those who they regard as vulnerable. Never let the fear of being harassed, chase you away from pursuing your dreams. Stand your ground, be on your guard and speak out even if the person threatens to blackmail you or shame you in any way.

Your self-worth is more important than these ideas about honor and society and shame. You are a human being to be respected and no event can ever take that away from you. This author takes a moment to thank this unnamed lady who sought to create a strength among the sorority and made us feel truly comfortable while discussing something that had great import and value, not only at an educational level but even in the more professional spheres of life.

This author would urge other institutions to take a similar initiative, in order to educate students and make each individual more aware of their rights. She believes that this will not only make students feel secure but will also allow them to look at the subject from a deeper, insightful angle, each one working towards creating a safe environment for everyone to grow and learn in.

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