There are countless forms of sexual harassment. Generally, it's a behaviour that's insulting, hostile or degrading. It can be verbal or non-verbal, physical or emotional. But it also depends on what you feel – if you feel uncomfortable, scared or violated, it's possible that you are being harassed.
This could mean someone is making sexual comments about your body, brushing up against you, sexist jokes, obscene or threatening phone calls or even inappropriate gifts. The list is endless. To be fair, not every improper joke is harassment – sometimes people can be very insensitive or inappropriate. But if someone’s doing it repeatedly and even after having been asked to stop, this kind of behaviour is harassment.
… between flirting and harassment. Sometimes, harassment is obvious, especially if it's someone you don't know, like a stranger rubbing up against you on a bus. But sometimes it can be hard to tell. Is that distant friend flirting with you, or is this harassment? You have to ask yourself what it feels like.
Flirting feels good and is reciprocal, it makes you feel attractive and is positive for your self-esteem. On the other hand, if you end up feeling small, intimidated, degraded or sad, the line has been crossed. Flirting happens between equals; a harasser is showing you that you are powerless.
It's important to keep in mind that the harassment is not your fault! Victims often try to find the causes for what's happening to them in themselves. But it's not the skirt you are wearing, the road you are taking or the way you are talking!
Harassers usually enjoy being powerful and the ability to hurt their victims. They can be men or women, of any age or status. Anybody can be a harasser, but it's often someone who has power over you. It can be a complete stranger sending you offensive messages or following you on the street. On the other hand, it can also be a co-worker, boss or teacher. Or a friend, or a friend’s family member. Or – and this may seem shocking – your own spouse or partner.
It's super-scary, but the best thing you can do if you are being harassed by a colleague or acquaintance is stand up to them. Try to do it when others are around. You shouldn't worry too much about the harasser's privacy – they didn't care about yours. Try to stay calm, tell your harasser what he or she has done and then say that you won't accept this kind of behaviour anymore.
If you are too scared (and there's no shame in that!), try to get others involved. Have evidence ready, like photographs, emails or text messages, to be prepared for a harasser's denial.
With street harassment, different people have different strategies. Some women try and ignore it, but others say you should stand up to it, shout, even hit the harasser. Standing up to a street harasser can be risky though. The people around you can’t be relied on to help. It's horrible, but other men might even turn against you and side with the harasser.
The best way to fend off harassment is walk tall and claim your space in the street. The more you act like a victim, the more harassers will treat you like one.
Being harassed can have serious effects on you. It can make you avoid certain activities, make you change your routines, like choosing a different way to work, or even make you afraid to leave the house. It can make you feel small, sad and hurt. It can also have very serious effects on your body. You might be getting headaches, have difficulty sleeping or get depressed. These effects can last for quite some time.
The first thing to do if the harasser is someone you know is to confront them. Once you have done that but you feel that it is affecting to a point that you can't cope with it any longer, you might seek help from a medical specialist who can help you cope with what you experienced.
What's the best way to cope with sexual harassment? Have you ever sexually harassed someone, perhaps without realising what you were doing was so bad? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below or by joining the discussion on Facebook.