Street and Workplace Sexual Harassment may be described as any action or comment that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening and/or harassing. They occur in public spaces and in the field of employment respectively and are forms of violence against women.
Street harassment is considered to be a human rights issue because it limits women’s ability to be in public as often or as comfortably as most men. This form of behaviour ranges from leers, whistles, honks, kissing noises, and non-sexually explicit evaluative comments, to more insulting and threatening behaviour like vulgar gestures, sexually charged comments, flashing, and stalking, to illegal actions like public masturbation, sexual touching, assault, and murder.
Street harassment often begins around puberty. However, while it is most frequent for teenagers and women in their 20's, the chance of it happening never goes away. A 2016 global study found that 79% of women living in cities in India, 86% in Thailand, and 89% in Brazil have been subjected to harassment or violence in public, as had 75% of women in London, UK.
|Socialised to Objectify
In the Caribbean and elsewhere, although rape is rightly viewed by most as socially unacceptable behaviour, men’s sexual harassment of women in public spaces is not so viewed. Instead, sexual harassment is sometimes passed off as a 'compliment', a 'joke', or “only” a trivial annoyance.
Worse still, some persons blame women for its occurrence based on what they were wearing or what time of day they were in public. However, the core reason for its occurrence is the blatant disrespect some males are socialised to have for females. We who are so socialised tend to objectify women and girls; believe they are there for our pleasure and abuse our strength to intimidate them into submitting to our selfish sexual desires.
Our male counterparts and role models - fathers, brothers, uncles, coaches, neighbours, bosses and co-workers - train us from infancy through adult years by the way they behave towards women. We learn to "soot" and whisper "sweet nothings" to strangers from them and perceive it to be true masculinity. Some males mistakenly assume that all females want to be complimented in public spaces and that their choice of clothing is designed so that they may encourage such attention.
Sadly, they fail to seek confirmation for that assumption from their mothers, sisters, girlfriends or wives before launching headlong into unsolicited and often unwanted "conversation" with complete strangers.
The manner in which they proceed to deliver such "compliments" poses a problem as the leers, catcalls, "sooting", pinching, unsolicited hand-holding and other physical contact may instil fear and a sense of insecurity in the person targeted. Moreover it can actually be a criminal offence!
What is scary, and creates a concern that some harassers may be 'closet paedophiles' is that sexual harassment has been recorded as being directed towards pre-teen girls! While harassers start early and can be pre-teen males, the harassers referred to in the linked research were actually adult males.
|#MeToo and #TimesUp
2017 shall go down in history as the year of the greatest number of revelations of sexual harassment and sexual assaults being perpetrated by public figures - men in the media and politics, some of whom the public thought were exemplars. While other years saw persons such as Weiner and Cosby being accused of and prosecuted for sexual impropriety, 2017 gave us all a clearer view of the extent to which such behaviour occurs among the rich and famous.
The confidence and strength of the women who came forward to out their abusers and exploiters (some decades after the abuse) were heralded by Time Magazine. By breaking their silence, these famous women helped pave the way for Olympic athletes and 'unknown' women to do the same.
The #Metoo Movement also helped shine a light on an important social issue - that there were men who were aware of the abuse and exploitation being perpetrated by their peers but did nothing!
As momentum grew, the fallout of job termination, sponsorship losses and contract cancellation spread from the actual perpetrators of sexual violence and workplace harassment to engulf men in positions of authority who had failed to prevent the abuse or stop it after it was brought to their attention.
For those Caribbean males who do not harass females in public spaces, in the workplace or at all, we applaud you. However, we ask you to consider what your responses have been when, as a bystander, you see or hear such behaviour from your friends or strangers.
You may say, "It was none of my business," "I did not know her personally," "I was fearful for my job or my life." or "I just didn't want to get involved".
But do such statements exonerate you? Such laissez-faire attitudes cause us to walk away and permit injustices such as rape, sexual assault, domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls to continue. It is at the root of the growing boldness of criminals in our society - the knowledge that no one will challenge their behaviour.
We encourage you to challenge males in your sphere and those outside your sphere to act more responsibly and to treat all females with respect. In other words, defend them in the same manner that you would defend your own daughter!