Sexual Harassment: The Bare Truth & What to Do

“I think I was just sexually harassed but it’s no big deal.”

“I’m scared to make a report.”

“What’ll happen to me if I lodge a report to the authorities?

“How am I to defend myself if they come after me?”

Between 2013 and 2017, a total of 1218 sexual harassment cases were reported in Malaysia and, as we embrace the era of digitalisation, this number increases day by day. According to Ipsos’s 2019 International Women’s Day survey, it was even seen as a major problem faced by Malaysian women. Evidently, sexual harassment has become a normal everyday occurrence and yet reports show that only half of those who have faced some form of sexual harassment have reported or told someone about that incident. It then becomes evident that we must create more social awareness on the matter. 

In light of the V2K telegram group that misused photos of women as pornographic material, sexual harassment has been brought to attention especially on social media like Instagram. While it’s good that many have begun to open up about their experiences and it’s no longer taboo to seek out for help, how many of us truly know what sexual harassment is and do we realise it when it happens to us? 

I didn’t…

Trigger Warning 

The following content contains a true story on sexual harassment. Reader’s discretion advised.

It’s Not Sexual Harassment… I Think?

I remember going out for lunch with a guy for the first time. Everything felt like a normal hangout when, suddenly, I felt his foot caress mine. I felt violated as I’ve never had any other physical contact aside from anyone aside from a handshake. And though I thought it wasn’t a big deal, I even kept this information from my friends and family, I felt violated. It affected my mental well-being as I felt extreme discomfort. It affected me to the extent that I couldn’t even look at him in the eyes. It was only after talking to my friends that I realised I was sexually harassed.

According to United Nations Women, sexual harassment is a toxic unwelcome behaviour that may happen everywhere — your workplace, study area, even your home! 

‘Unwelcome’ is a critical word as it doesn’t necessarily illustrate ‘involuntary’. That means, even though consent may be given, if a person starts becoming uncomfortable when an unwelcome behaviour comes about, that’s sexual harassment too.

Now that you know the definition, it’s important to know how it can happen.

Types of Sexual Harassment

“We’re not raping anyone!”

Many believe that sexual harassment only involves touching or raping a person. Obviously, this is untrue. That’s setting the bar for sexual harassment pretty low, no? 

Here’s how sexual harassment can happen:

1. Body movement & body language: 

  • Through unwanted touching or physical contact

  • Sexual gestures (body movement) towards you

When you meet someone for the first time, it can get awkward if they touch you inappropriately or walk towards you suspiciously. Caution! This could be an early sign of sexual harassment waiting to happen.

Getting uncomfortable leering stares? Alert! This is an easily detectable sign. You might have heard the phrase, ‘eyes don’t lie’ or ‘the windows are the eyes to the soul'. People can control their body movements and speech but it’s hard to hide the intent in their eyes. 

2. Through words:

  • Sexual verbal harassment disguised as a joke or an insult

  • Discussion or requests on sexual matters or fantasies 

  • Questions about your sex life

Feeling uncomfortable when someone questions or pries into your sexual life? Well, no one should be questioning your sexual matters or dig into your sex life. Take heed if someone starts any conversation that makes you uncomfortable.

3. Technology:

  • Receiving unwanted sexually explicit photos, emails, or text messages

  • Having your pictures circulated and misused

Living in the era of digitalisation, the chances of people being exposed to sexual harassment regardless of their age is extremely high. I’m pretty sure that some of you might have received messages sliding into your DMs with emojis requesting for sex or pictures showing private body parts. These are some examples of how predators sexually harass online.

Signs of a Potential Predator

It isn’t enough to know the ways sexual harassment can occur. It’s important to identify early signs and behaviour of a potential predator. 

Here are some signs for you to take note of:

  • When you’re in conversation with someone and they stand too close to you to the extent you can hear their breathing. 

  • Constantly stealing glances at your chest area or lower part of your body.

  • Comment on your attire with sexual intention. For example, “Your curves look good in that dress. I bet it looks better on the floor.” 

  • Asking you to meet in a quiet and isolated place. 

  • When someone puts their hand on your lower back or an inappropriate place.

  • When you’re sitting together and they inch closer to you while putting their hands on any of your body parts.

Once you’ve noticed any signs that could lead to an unwanted situation, don’t be afraid to express your discomfort by saying, “I’m not comfortable,” “Can we go to a public place?”, or be straightforward and just say “NO!”

Here are two possible scenarios that could happen:

Scenario 1

If you say ‘No’ and they immediately stop and apologise, take a few deep breaths and calm yourself down to avoid any overreaction. Why? That person is willing to stop rather than ignore your request so take the opportunity to walk away from the situation and keep safe.

Scenario 2

If you say ‘No’ but they brush it aside and continue what they’re doing, be prepared to defend yourself by looking for any objects that could protect you. If they inflict any harm on you, scream as loud as you can to get the attention of passers-by or kick and punch them so that you can run away.

Tip: Keep a pepper spray or an anti-rape alarm with you.

What Comes Next?

A sexual harassment incident shouldn’t end when the predator stops. As a victim of sexual harassment, your voice and story matters. Here’s what you can do: 

1. Collect your evidence 

The most crucial information is the attacker’s appearance to help speed up an investigation case. Gather as many willing witnesses as you can to support your case. CCTV recordings are also helpful if you’re unable to recognise your attacker’s appearance if you weren’t able to catch a glimpse.

Take it from the victims of the V2K telegram group who called out, reported, and took matters into their own hands.

2. Talk it out

Don’t make the same silly mistakes I did because keeping it to yourself doesn't do you any good. Don’t torture your mental health. Instead, talk about it to someone close and trustworthy to you who will be able to give you sound advice. Cry it out and let them know how you feel. Trust me you’ll feel a burden lifted off your shoulders.

Even if you aren’t a sexual harassment victim, you can still be part of making small but impactful changes. Know of someone who has been sexually harassed? Don’t take it lightly and be brave in helping to face and report the matter. You can also show your support by signing the online petition by All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) to table the Sexual Harassment Bill. I hope the responsible authorities will look into this matter seriously for the safety and security of innocent people. 

No matter how big or small, action is still progress. If we don’t take action now, this matter will never be resolved or stopped.

Nur Sorfina is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Business (Honours) Banking & Finance at Taylor’s University. She is also the Board of Director and Talent Engagement Department Lead of Entrepreneurship & Intrapreneurship Club, a Pals Leader of Introduction to Finance, and a committee member of the Taylors Connect Peer Supporter and YSEALI's KauOkTak.