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Explainer: What Is Sexual Harassment, And How You Can Avoid Sexually Harassing Someone

Be a decent human being who respects every human being around them.

It started as a trickle, and now it’s a full fledged flood. Sexual harassment allegations as part of the #MeToo movement have shaken up several corners of the internet, once again. In October 2017, it was the List of Sexual Harassers in Academia (LoSHA), curated by Raya Sarkar, that named several who’s who of academia and made numerous people – including feminists – uncomfortable. Now, several women have been naming powerful journalists, not-so-powerful journalists, and numerous comedians, accusing them of being sexual predators.

And just like at the time of LoSHA, the Indian #MeToo of October 2018 has several men confused. Is that really sexual harassment, at least one man asks, on every social media post ‘outing’ someone. But isn’t that just normal, they stress, making more and more people wonder where this confusion is coming from.

Well, just for the next few minutes, let’s assume these questions are really, genuinely, born out of confusion and not just an attempt at absolving themselves and their buddies, yes? For the next few minutes, instead of typing ‘LIAR LIAR LIAR’ on loop, read on to understand exactly what constitutes sexual harassment. With helpful, kindergarten-skill-level illustrations, just to make things simpler.

Definition: Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual act that can make the person at the receiving end uncomfortable. Sexual harassment is of many kinds:

1. Verbal harassment: This includes sexually coloured remarks, ‘jokes’ targeting someone sexually, ‘teasing’, obscene phone calls, spreading rumours about a woman’s character, and a bunch of other things.

2. Non-verbal harassment: So many things are left unsaid in love, no? Similarly in sexual harassment. Non-verbal harassment includes a range of things, from staring at someone’s breasts while talking, to sending lewd WhatsApp messages, to pulling out ‘something’ (really, anything) from your crotch in a snapchat. Unwelcome emails soliciting sex, asking someone for nudes because they said ‘hi’, taking creepshots, recording videos of women on buses… Yes, it’s all non-verbal sexual harassment.

3. Physical harassment: This one’s easy. If you touch someone without their consent, or do anything with any part of your body to any part of their body, it’s harassment. Smelling someone’s neck without consent? Harassment. Stroking someone’s hand without consent? Harassment. Putting finger in sleeping woman’s mouth? Straight up assault.

Does that mean all harassment falls cleanly into one of the above categories? It may, or it may not. Sometimes, especially in workplaces, it takes on different forms:

1. Quid pro quo: Where a man asks for a sexual favour in return for a job, or a promotion, or any other professional favour.

2. Hostile work environment: When a man makes a woman’s life hell because she did not agree to do a sexual favour.

All of this is harassment. And how do we know if someone has been harassed? When she feels uncomfortable with what you’ve done.

Doesn’t matter if your “intention” was not to harass someone. I mean, even a 5-year-old knows when they’ve made another person uncomfortable, so we do expect grown men to understand this. It doesn’t matter if you thought of the woman as a sister, a daughter, a whatever-other-familial-relation you think will absolve your behaviour. Doesn’t matter.

What matters is the effect of your actions. So don’t be that guy, correct your actions, and make this world safer for everyone, ok?

This article is republished from The News Minute.

 

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