Sexual harassment reminds me of the ‘Me Too’ movement. I think a lot of black and brown women in developing countries did not take part. We were all probably quietly thinking, sexual harassment is such a normal occurrence in our lives, where do we begin…well, that is what I was thinking.
Sexual harassment is ‘unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature.’ I had to look it up. If that is the definition, then I may have a story for every month of every year from primary school until now. That is why ‘Me Too’ probably did not ‘rise’ as much in this country or continent. Sexual harassment is the regular (dare I say daily) life of girls and women.
Here is my story, I cannot forget it. It still makes my blood boil.
I was in a Christian university and as I regularly did, I got on the university bus from town taking students to the campus. I sat by the window. I liked the window as I could rest my head and nap for the journey. A fellow student came and sat next to me on the bus. He was an older student, so we politely said hello. The bus got on its way, and soon after, the warm sunshine streaming through the window beckoned me to rest my eyes and I did. I was safe on my university bus.
I woke up to a warm feeling moving up my thigh. My eyes still closed, I realised that my arms were still on my lap – so what on Earth was that?! My eyes flew open and I saw a third hand on my lap – well, on my upper thigh edging to get between my legs. I thought I was imagining things, my mind was racing trying to piece all the information together, what was going on and whose hand was that?
I turned in horror to the older male student sitting next to me – he smiled with a sneer, put his finger to his mouth and whispered ‘Shhhhhh’. His hand on my upper thigh did not move away, it kept on trying to inch closer, trying to get between my thighs!
I was shocked, I was scared, I was confused, I was ashamed. I did not say anything. I slapped his hand away and moved closer to the window but I was not far enough. My instinct finally kicked in and got me to stand up and change seats. I was so ashamed like I had done something to warrant this. I kept silent on the bus all the way to our campus.
He got up, winked at me and walked off the bus and on into life- like he and I were sharing a special secret on this Christian campus. I felt sick, I felt dirty, I felt like a coward. I stayed silent.
I will never forget this incident of many – it changed me and so I remember. I remember to not stay silent again. That creep taught me how to harden my face in public like I am angry, he was (and still is) every male stranger on the street, in a waiting room, in public transport, in a queue, he is probably everywhere – I do not smile at strangers, ever. Once bitten, twice shy.
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.