It was a busy Friday evening in Nairobi town. That day after work, I decided to take a bus instead of the small matatus to get home. Since it was the beginning of the weekend, I was very excited to get home and relax after a long week of so much to do here and there. Being glad to have found a seat with access to an intact window, I took off my tote bag and positioned myself in a sleeping position.
Before I closed my eyes, a middle aged guy was looking for a place to sit. Our eyes locked, he smiled in a friendly manner and so did I. He then sat next to me. In a few minutes, the vehicle’s engine coughed and our journey kicked off. It was not too long before I started feeling sleepy. So I gave in, closed my eyes and fell asleep. As we proceeded, I felt very uncomfortable to the point that I woke up. I felt his cold hand pressing my thigh.
When I noticed it, he withdrew his hand immediately and pretended nothing happened. He went on and looked the other side. I felt shocked and confused whether to yell out loud for help or shift my body to a different angle. I asked him, “What do you think you are doing?” He stared back at me without uttering a word but gave me the expression of ‘what?’ I began to get really frightened for my safety and started looking around to see if anyone was aware of this happening but no one was. My huge tote bag was probably what hid his hand the whole time.
I immediately got up and began wondering whether to find another place to sit or walk out and take another bus to my destination. Luckily there was an empty seat with a woman sitting on the other chair. I was shaking, embarrassed and humiliated into silence questioning myself why me especially that this was the first time something like that had happened to me. I opened up to the woman who sat next to me and she made an immediate glance at my short skirt then looked at me.
From the look of things, one would conclude that it was my fault. Her casual response later revealed that she has experienced this sort of thing before. Nonetheless, she encouraged me to take a breather and said that it was a good thing I got away from there. She also mentioned that I should be cautious not to sleep in public vehicles and open places. She added that I need to be aware of my dressing when I am in public places (cover up myself when my dressing is too revealing) because ‘these things have become a norm’ and it is up to ourselves to have ways to prevent it from happening.
I never reported it or told anyone else about it. It was not my fault that it happened. I told myself that next time I would be more aware and try to be present in public places. This campaign is an opportunity for me to SPEAK UP and tell my story so that other victims can find courage to do so. I also find it useful to take part in training sessions, like one offered by L’Oreal, to learn how to handle sexual harassment.
Here are tips (5D’s) from L’Oreal’s Paris sexual harassment campaign which you can leverage in a similar scenario;
- Distract the perpetrator – attempt to divert the attention of the harasser away from the victim to diffuse the situation.
- Delegate by asking for help – seek assistance from others who can intervene or support the victim.
- Document the harassment – keep records of incidents, including dates, times, locations, and any evidence, such as messages or witnesses.
- Direct by speaking up – encourage the victim to assertively communicate their discomfort or disapproval to the harasser.
- Delay by comforting – offer emotional support and comfort to the victim after the incident.