Tuesday, 23 October 2012
The normality of sexual harrasment.
I have been following the increasingly awful accusations of abuse within the BBC, and thinking a lot about the stories in the sidelines, not the focus on the horrifying criminal sexual abuse allegations but the stories of harrassment within the workplace that weren't spoken of until now. It would be easy to see the BBC as a separate culture particularly in the distant past.We would like to think of it as a different time, and place, removed from our everyday world.With regard to minor sexual harassment/assault this is clearly not the case.
I consider my life to have been a normal one, devoid of trauma, a happy childhood and averagely messed up teenage years and yet if I count the times I have encountered sexual harassment of a fairly upsetting and confrontational nature it amounts to 8 seperate incidents.
Three times- men exposing themselves.
Teacher observing us getting dressed after swimming through hole in the wall (aged about 10).
Girl guide leader's husband exposing himself to me in public swimming pool.
Man masturbating, sitting opposite me in an open compartment of packed 5 'o' clock commuter train ( nobody mentioned it, so surreal)
Man stopping me in busy street to whisper about my body.
Parent of child in my care having an "accidental" grope.
My problem with this is, that in all these incidents I was so embarassed at the time and so shocked that I did nothing, and later accepted it as normal, just something that happens to you as a girl/women. A friend was recently shocked that I didn't realise the "accidental" groping was harassment and was confused as what to do, she imagined I would be assertive and clear and so did I until it happened.While our society in the UK generally condemns paedophilia in the strongest terms, there is still a culture of acceptance of sexual harrasment ( not, shock horror just in the BBC). I never wanted to tell anyone when I was younger and I knew from an early age that nothing much would be done about it even if I did report it. As an adult I have more assertiveness but I was surprised how fear of getting it wrong, fear of upset and conflict, reluctance to confront, still numbed my reactions.
In a group of women we once talked of all the incidents in our lives like the above. Every woman had multiple stories to tell. How can we help to create a culture where it isn't acceptable, normal to have your privacy assaulted ? We do teach our children more than stranger danger now, how to keep their bodies safe, who to talk to if their privacy is invaded.Sexual abuse is thankfully a topic that is discussed now but minor harassment is often ignored. If the culture is still one of apathy and indifference to minor incidents however, surely it is sending a conflicting message to children, particularly girls, that suggests when you grow up, unless it physically hurts, you just have to put up with it.
Tell me what you think.....