Opinion: Society downplays the impacts of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is subtle. It’s a very gray area and everyone has a different opinion as to when things cross over into harassment. It can be when someone in power makes you feel uncomfortable in order to get something you desire, a promotion for example. It can also be when you have inappropriate comments flung your way when you’re walking down the street.

As defined by Merriam-Webster, sexual harassment is the uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate. To me, sexual harassment is when you have made it clear an action by another makes you uneasy, but they continue to persist either verbally or physically against your wishes.

It’s important to recognize that flirting and sexual harassment are not the same thing. The difference is quite simple. Flirting is welcome attention and both parties enjoy the company, while sexual harassment is unwelcome attention. Flirting makes you feel good about yourself, sexual harassment makes you feel threatened and bad about yourself. It’s also important to note that flirting can turn into sexual harassment. As soon as one party feels uncomfortable and the other continues with the upsetting behavior–that is when it becomes harassment.

An example of this is when a normal conversation turns sexual against one person’s wishes and unwarranted inappropriate pictures are sent. If someone voices their discomfort, yet the other person continues to send and say things that make it uncomfortable, it turns into sexual harassment. If you reach a point where you dread seeing or talking to someone because you’re afraid of what they might say or do–you are being harassed.

There is an element of blackmail to sexual harassment. It’s hearing your boss say, “If you don’t do this I’ll fire you,” or hearing from someone you considered a friend, “If you don’t send me pictures I’ll tell everyone you did.” These are threats and should be treated as such.

As a woman, taking precautions is a way of life. I never have both earphones in when I’m alone and while I greatly enjoy running, the only time I feel safe on trails is when I’m running with friends. I don’t think anyone should have to live their life this way. I guess what I don’t understand is why we put a bigger emphasis on how to avoid unwanted attention opposed to teaching aggravators to not harass in the first place.

In all unfortunate reality, many women are brought up to be submissive and are told they are the weaker sex. This causes many victims to not accuse their perpetrators in fear of having things like their job taken away or just being turned away because no one cares or believes them. Those in power often have a sense of entitlement and believe they’re untouchable. These individuals exploit their standings by threatening to take their victim’s careers away or stop them from beginning. This needs to change.

Despite being in a progressive time period, women are still being taken advantage of and not many people seem to care. Other than the actual harassment, victims are too often threatened into silence. But when brave souls do decide to speak out about their experiences, they’re often dismissed as liars or of analyzing the situation too deeply. The blame almost never seems to fall on the perpetrator’s shoulders and there is something deeply wrong with that.

Harassers think that what they say and do should be taken as a compliment. When women have negative reactions to having inappropriate comments said to them, they are often called nasty names and are told they are too serious or that don’t know how to take a compliment. In reality, these comments can often be threatening and terrifying.

Sexual harassment is by law a form of discrimination, but these acts are somewhat normalized. It’s almost expected that women will be harassed multiple times within their lifetimes, yet the silence on the issue is deafening. The problem lies within the culture and while the conversation has begun with allegations against famous names such as Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, it’s more important than ever we generate change.

Believe anyone when they say they’ve been harassed or assaulted. But most importantly, treat people with respect.

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