97%: The Unsurprising Truth About Sexual Harassment
Not all men are sexual harassers, but enough of them are for it to be of grave concern. Women and men are both hurt by the patriarchy but the sexual harassment pandemic is one that exists largely because of men’s actions and inaction. Men can fix their own actions; it is not a woman’s job. Women aren’t mens’ educators or teachers. Men and women need to read, do the work and speak out about gender inequality and human rights so that we can strive towards equality for women and gender minorities.
In my personal experience, I would estimate that no less than half of the men that I’ve been exposed to in my life have sexually harassed me. More than half of them have made me feel uncomfortable. Then there are the normal men, and then there are the gems, for whose existence I’m so incredibly grateful. Now amplify my experience as a woman to all women; 97% of 18-24-year-old women have been sexually harassed in the UK. Imagine how many sexual harassers are out there ruining peoples’ peace, every day.
Women and marginalised genders hold onto so much unspoken baggage. It’s weighing us down daily. It’s a sign of the times that we don’t feel at ease speaking out. Who would you feel comfortable enough to tell? Why would you tell someone; what are they going to do about it? Will they even empathise with you… will they even believe you? 96% of women don’t report sexual harassment (according to a 2021 YouGov survey of more than 1,000 women, as reported by The Guardian).
Furthermore, there is a great underestimation of the frequency of sexual harassment. In Denmark, 80% of women had experienced sexual harassment over the age of 15 in 2012. According to Ipsos Mori’s Perils of Perception survey, the predictive answer among men was 31%. This goes to show that a lot of men do not have a clue about what women and gender minorities go through. Who can blame them when we never talk about it; who can blame them, when they never see women calling out sexist men and sexual harassers because we don’t want to appear to be ‘disruptive’; who can blame them when they’ve never experienced nor seen the elusive sexism and sexual harassment that dominates womens’ lives. Who can blame them when they’re never taught about sexual harassment at school?
A police officer is under suspicion for abducting and murdering Sarah Everard when she was walking home at 9 pm. It’s real-life tragedies like this that remind women of our fear. Opportunists will twist this event to their victim-blaming narratives: ‘(Sarah) shouldn’t have been walking home alone in the dark’.
I can only speak from my experience: the wattage of a space and the actions of sexual predators do not have a causational relationship. Predators can follow women through major tube stations that are well-lit day and night, or down the street at midday. Sexual harassment often happens in rooms and outdoor spaces crowded with people, in broad light. The actions of women are not the problem, the actions of sexual predators are. It’s high time for men to do their part, and read about the statistics, nuances, and intricacies of gender inequality so that they can deconstruct their beliefs.
Likewise, a woman wearing modest clothes doesn’t have a causal correlation with reduced rates of sexual harassment. Clothes have never made the blindest bit of difference to how women are treated by men. A woman’s whole body could be covered from head to toe and yet they still wouldn’t feel comfortable checking Google maps on a street corner, or walking alone in the dark. I let the ‘I won’t be safe in that outfit’ dictate my life, essentially pre-emptively victim-blaming myself. This is because our mothers, fathers, and the entirety of society tells women that sexual harassment is their fault. It needs to change. Researcher Brené Brown summarises in a message to the patriarchy: ‘Don’t expect us to follow the rules once we learn that the game is about protecting your power with our lives’.
As women, we’ve seen and heard so much of others’ experiences, on top of our own. My personal scares have led me to self-inflict a ‘dark night curfew’; even doing something as simple as going to the post office at 5 pm on a winter’s afternoon can result in a creeping car accompanying me as I walk (and run away). Why am I focusing on my actions, as a ‘prevention’ method, over the sexual harassers’ actions that ‘cause’ the issues? Society keeps perpetuating the idea that women have to change their behaviour to reduce the risks. This is not helpful. This will just offload a sexual harasser onto another woman who doesn’t deserve it either. We need an attitude that mitigates sexual harassment, and that starts with men educating themselves, and calling out other men.
We need male and female feminists, allies, and teammates – people who care about this human rights issue (gender inequality) – to do their part. We need men to call out men when they see sexism, racism, homophobia; men primarily listen to men, because we exist in a sexist world. This sexist place can change decade by decade if we all work towards the common goal of equality. If you care about human rights, care about women.
96% of woman in the UK keep their experiences locked up to fester and never report sexual harassment. Despite this, we often find ourselves wanting to be a person people can speak to, to relieve themselves of the burden of such instances. If we started talking about our experiences to women and men that can empathise, then maybe we could encourage others to do the same; we could spark a sexual harrassment ‘domino effect’ discourse on an inter-personal level.
Conversation, inevitably, is still not going to be enough to create change among lawmakers, policymakers, education systems, or top-down change from people in power. Women must start reporting the sexual harassment we experience. Even if it seems futile; even if it’s ‘your word against theirs. Human rights activist, Gina Martin, has encouraged women to ‘paint the picture’. She explains, ‘Report it. Even if it doesn’t lead to a prosecution, it builds the numbers. Force them to hear us even if we don’t get justice’.