Sexist stereotyping. Wolf-whistling. Cyberstalking. Upskirting. Sextortion. Sex for grades. At home, in school, at the playground, at parties, on the streets, on public transport or online, sexual harassment has become a “normal” reality in the daily lives of many women and girls across the world, including Malaysia.
International movements like the #MeToo campaign, thankfully, are empowering women and girls to stand up and speak out about their sexual harassment experiences. And in support of survivors everywhere, we’re calling out this pernicious, yet often ignored crime.
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual behaviour that’s offensive, humiliating or intimidating. It can be verbal, written, or physical, and can happen in person or online.
Sexual harassment includes:
• Staring or leering
• Catcalling, wolf-whistling
• Sexual and smutty jokes
• Offensive sexualized comments and innuendos
• Offensive hand or body gestures
• Unwanted touching, grabbing or physical contact
• Display of sexually suggestive materials
• Unwanted sexually explicit emails or text messages
• Non consensual sharing of intimate images and videos
• Unwanted requests for sexual favours
If you’re being sexually harassed, you might feel: • stressed, anxious or depressed; • threatened and scared; • exploited, humiliated, degraded; • guilty or that you’re to be blamed; and • your dignity is violated.
What can you do?
Don’t let shame and/or fear of reprisals shut you up from reporting about sexual harassment. No one deserves, or asks, to be sexually harassed. Everyone has the right to study, work and live in an environment that’s free from harassment, bullying, discrimination and violence.
Whether you’re a witness or a survivor, here are some steps for you to take back the power:
1. Get Informed
Find out if your school, college, uni or workplace has policies and procedures for preventing and handling sexual harassment. If they don’t have a policy, you could ask for one to be developed.
2. Keep a record and save the evidence
Write down everything that happens – when and where it took place, if there were any witnesses, the names of any people who saw what happened, and what you’ve done to try to stop it. Keep text messages, social media comments, notes and emails. This evidence can help if you make a complaint.
3. Talk to the offender
This can be scary, but confronting people — even adults in positions of authority — can work. If you feel it’s safe to do so, consider telling the person to stop in a calm but firm manner that their behavior is unwanted.
4. Seek help
If you’ve tried speaking to the person and they won’t stop, or if you don’t feel safe or comfortable confronting the person, you can reach out to services for advice and guidance.
• All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) Telenita Helpline on +6016 237 4221 or +6016 228 4221.
• Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) on +603 3000 8858 or TINA via Whatsapp/SMS on +6018 988 8058 (24 hours hotline).
5. Report to the Police
If you feel threatened, go directly to the nearest police station to make a police report. Your statements can be done either in Bahasa Malaysia or English. Make sure you have with you your records of past incidences. In an emergency, call police or ambulance on 999.
In Malaysia, the United Nations Country Team #HearMeToo campaign in conjunction with #16days of activism against gender-based violence is calling for laws which recognize that sexual harassment is a form of discrimination against girls and women; and a human rights violation that should not be tolerated.
We’re also calling on all parts of society to come together to challenge sexual harassment whenever we see or experience it. The more of us who say #HearMeToo – the stronger our power.
The time has come to shift the shame back to where it belongs: on the harasser.