Myths versus facts about harassment

Bipasha Dutta | Published: August 03, 2018 20:25:55

Studies show that one in every 10 girls in the world was compelled for intercourse or had experienced sexual harassment at some stages of their lives.  70 per cent of women in the world endure harassment by their intimate partners (husbands or boyfriends), while this percentage is 53 for Bangladesh.

Harassment is the act of systematic and/or continued unwanted and annoying actions of one party or a group, including threats and demands.

However, our perception about harassment tends to be biased by the existing myths (false belief or idea) of our society, where the fact could be totally different from that of our perception based on the myths. Now let us discuss 10 myths and reality about harassment in our society. These myths on harassment are existing not only in Bangladesh but also in many other countries.

Myth 1: Sexual harassment is a joke. Few women are seriously injured from sexual harassment.

Reality: Even if a person intends to pass their actions as something funny, flattering or a harmless joke, it may still be offensive or damaging to others. It may make people feel uncomfortable, humiliated, or unsafe, and may affect their wellbeing.

Any type of sexual harassment may cause a significant psychological, physical and economic harm. Psychological and physical consequences include depression, helplessness and decreased work, and study performance that may have a long-term effect.

Myth 2: Motives and intent are important in determining what counts as harassment.

Reality: Harassment always counts from the point of the view of the victim. It doesn't matter what the harasser's motive was for the comments or actions. For example, holding hand could be an act of fun or compliment from the viewpoint of the harasser. However, if the victim considers this as harassment, this is harassment.

Myth 3: Some women ask for it, provoke it, want it, or even deserve it.

Fact: Nobody deserves to be harassed. Nobody asks to be assaulted. No mode of dress invites it. No matter what the relationship is between the individuals, harassment in any form is always wrong. It is never the victim's fault.

Myth 4:  If the victim didn't say 'no' to the sexual harasser, it must be their fault. If she doesn't fight back, this means she wanted it.

People who commit sexual assault are trying to gain power and control over the other person. They want to make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the other person to say 'no'. A person does not need to actually say the word 'no' to make it clear that she does not want to participate. Consent is not the absence of 'no', it is a clear, enthusiastic, freely given 'yes'.

Regarding response, every person responds to the trauma of sexual assault differently. They may cry or be calm. They may be silent or very angry. Their reaction is not an indicator of their experience. It is important not to judge a person by the response to the assault.

Myth 5: Harassers are always coarse, nasty, violent men and easily identified.

Fact: Harassers may be perceived as charming and generous people and can have a high social standing. Abusive behaviour may only be apparent to the target. This reality can further confuse and frighten the person being abused, as the public perception of the person is very different from their actions.

Myth 6: A subordinate cannot sexually harass a manager.

Fact: While sexual harassment often involves the abuse of power by a senior manager over an employee, there is nothing to stop an employee, or a group of employees, from harassing a manager. For example, sexual harassment may occur where a female manager is managing mostly men in a male-dominating workplace.

Myth 7: People with disabilities are not sexual, so they can't be sexually harassed or be harassers.

Fact: Despite societal attitude and stereotypes about the people with disabilities, they can be victims or even harassers. Some disabled people (for example, disempowered group) are at a greater risk of being sexually harassed.

Myth 8: Only women are harassed.

Fact: Both men and women may be targets or perpetrators of harassment. Many more women than men are harassed because of gender inequality and power imbalance between women and men in society and the workplaces. Male victims rarely seek help because of embarrassment and fear that they will not be taken seriously.

Myth 9: Sexual harassment policies have banished humour and compliments in workplaces as the male colleagues are particularly scared to compliment the female colleagues for having the harassment policies in the workplaces.

Fact: Humour and compliments still have a place at work; indeed they are often welcome elements. The key is to consider the types of compliment or joke we share to be sure that it is not offensive to others. Only comments or jokes that are disrespectful of some groups or that depend on sexual contents for laughs should be avoided.

Myth 10: If the harassment is not targeted at me, it's not my issue or my responsibility to report it.

Fact: Any kind of harassment (sexual, emotional, and physical) must be reported through the appropriate channels.  People who witness sexual harassment and are not the direct targets, may still be impacted by the actions of the harassers. We do not have to be the direct targets of sexual harassment to make a complaint. We all have a role to play in speaking up against sexual harassment and other forms of sexual misconduct. Even if we are not the targets of the harassment, we have a responsibility to report it to ensure the victim's wellbeing.

Besides these 10 myths, there are several existing myths in our society that contribute to perpetuating the sexual harassment. Let us break the myth, know the facts and act accordingly to have a society fee from all sorts of harassment.

Email: bipasha5767@yahoo.com

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