Another day, another clear-cut case of harassment. I could easily have written another hour, even another minute, and been correct. Harassment, in its many different forms, is all around us and it is all the time; not just sexual harassment but also harassment in the work place, because of political or religious beliefs, ethnic origins, the color of a person’s hair. For some harassment is having people watch them as they walk, looking a little too intense perhaps. It is a cat call in public, or an attempt to go beyond the cat call in semi-private. It is stalking, verbal abuse, denigration, sarcasm and all those other terms we have seen reported which, due to the number of times they are reported, are slowly becoming a normal part of our day. Harassment is also a high-ranking official publicly announcing that an increase in rape reports is not worrying.
If the police aren’t too worried about such things, what chance is there for the rest of us? And, in this particular case, is a rape within a family less serious than rape by a stranger? Can we say the same about other types of abuse? Sure, domestic abuse is not as bad as being beaten up – once – on the streets by a stranger. This, though, is the mindset, and this is why it is so hard to combat abuse and harassment. It is not something taken seriously. We’ll get over it. Until we don’t.
Photo Source: Steven Depolo – Creative Commons
You can be brave and shrug it off, or you can be resourceful. There are far too many people who turn a blind eye – oh, they didn’t mean it that way, it’s just a bit of harmless fun – even when harassment is directed at them or their family. There are those who over-react too, and that is just as bad: an over-reaction is as bad as the boy who cried wolf; eventually no one is going to believe.
You can be brave. Block a mail address or a telephone number so that the person harassing doesn’t get through. Change your own number, hide away from the attacks. Of course, this doesn’t work on the street, in school, in the workplace. An abused woman (or man) in a domestic situation is not going to escape the abuse by calling themselves a different name. You can be brave and let them carry on: the abuser will soon get bored. Don’t rile them up, and they’ll go away. It’s no fun if the target doesn’t react, doesn’t show pain in one form or another.
You can be brave and they will go away, perhaps to start harassing and abusing someone else, someone who isn’t so brave. Perhaps they will be emboldened: the first one didn’t do anything, so we can go a step or two further with the next one. Gain experience, find out what hurts, how far we can go, and then step over the line. That line is the difference between harassment and murder.
Or you can be resourceful. There is good reason help lines are there, why care centers have been built up, why internet providers have abuse departments. They’re not there because a pizza delivery company sent the wrong topping or your grass isn’t as pure as it should be. They are there to help, either with good advice or with immediate assistance. And they are not there so that someone else can do something about it all, not just, they are there so that you can do something. So that you can call in, can report, can have an abuser stopped, blocked, arrested if need be. Because the first person who needs to react to a case of harassment is the person being harassed.
Here in Germany we have a very good law: if there is an accident or a person who clearly needs help, you are legally required to assist to the best of your ability. That assistance could be immediate first aid at the scene of a traffic accident, or it could be a simple call to the authorities so that an ambulance gets to the scene in time to help save someone. The same should go for cases of harassment: you see, you react. You see, you help.
Turn the tables against those harassing and support those in need. It could be you or your family next time. It could be someone you love raped and murdered because someone else didn’t bother reporting the sexual harassment of that nice, quiet boy down the street.
- Viktoria Michaelis.