There is nothing new in the world of sexual harassment that we haven’t seen before, save the media attention and movements bringing the issue to the surface. As part of our podcast Mini-Series – This is My No, I have been talking with people up and down the harassment spectrum. Both women and men discuss similar experiences regarding men’s reactions during and after sexual harassment. This makes it complicated for all parties. Men that want to step in and help are shunned by other men. And women that want to stick up for themselves are not listened to or taken seriously.
Folks like Hillary Clinton are not helping either when she openly states that her husband should not have resigned but then calling for Trump’s resignation. Or has she? Both Trump and Clinton were consensual (or were they?) and the allegations against Kavanaugh were non-consensual.
Training has been predicated on reporting harassment, but as we know and is well-documented reporting harassment doesn’t always play out fairly or even with due process. Many times the level of retaliation for those reporting and those stepping in feels more committing suicide than gaining relief from the harassment. So, what is a woman to do when men laugh at sexual harassment instead of taking it seriously?
Two Separate issues
The lines have been blurred beyond recognition. On one side of the playground we have we have sex selling everything from hamburgers to cars; showing itself on Instagram, facebook and twitter; and a porn industry pushing the boundaries of normalcy.
We have books like Fifty Shades showing women that want to be dominated; and movies like The Shape of Water where women sleep with beasts and let’s not forget Tom Hanks with mermaids in Splash. On the other side of the blacktop, we have sex as a taboo, where to ask a person on a date more than once; try to hold someone’s hand when you are on a date; or tell a funny joke could ruin your life, marriage, and career.
What gives? Well, the reality is that sexual harassment is unwanted advances. The key, unwanted. Take the same advance/action performed by a handsome, well built, charming, nice and wealthy man or by an ugly, overweight, rude and poor man and the outcome changes. In one case you have harassment, and in the other, you have the perfect match. Seems a bit unfair, right? Not so much, if that good looking wealthy guy were also a jerk, the same action would be unwanted also.
The issue lies in unwantedness. Whether it is in the form of non-physical actions or more aggressive physical activities what we are looking at is unwanted advances/actions. No one likes to be bothered or harassed. And there is a special place when this turns to sexual connotations. Our private lives are ones of our choosing. We come to the office for a purpose, to work. To be professional. To accomplish our goals. And the goal is not or should not involve harassment. So what’s a person to do when the advance is unwanted, and they follow the training protocols and policies, and it falls on deaf ears or worse laughter?
Power, Bullying and Stopping It
Sexual harassment, much like bullying, is about power. I love (sarcasm) this quote from StopBullying.gov “When adults respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior they send the message that it is not acceptable. Research shows this can stop bullying behavior over time. ” Over time??? Seriously?? How much time??? If you know anything about criminology, then you know that severity, certainty, and speed are the keys to correcting criminal behavior. But what happens when adults don’t respond?
When adults don’t respond to harassment, or worse, laugh at the harassment, the harassment doesn’t stop. It becomes more severe than before. It becomes worse than the first time. It moves to the physical harassment.
Whether you like it or not, whether you agree with it or not, there is only one answer to physical, sexual harassment or instead assault and that is hitting back. It is a form of violence. Yes, violence. Sorry, but that is the answer. The thing you didn’t want to hear.
The research is mixed on this topic and as well as it should be. It is mixed because much of it is based in schools, cities, and insurance companies who are risk-averse. There is a dirty little secret among school teachers who are parents themselves. They tout the district verbiage stating that students should not hit back when bullied, yet when they go home and sit at the dinner table, they tell their children to hit back. To fight back. This is the same thing that the FBI has instructed people to do in the face of active shooters. Run, Hide, Fight. The outcomes are the same, and when sexual harassment has escalated to the physical (after reporting it and following policies or even if it is the first action), you are at the Fight stage of the outcomes. You must fight. You must defend yourself. It’s self-defense. And when someone puts hands on you, you have a right to self-defend with reasonable and like kind actions.
So why would teachers who say one thing at work and at home tell their children to fight? One reason, because it works. Striking back hard and decisively tells the harasser that you mean business, that you will not stand for it and that you have the skills and ability to end it here. It makes harassers think long and hard about their choice of victim. Harassers are ego driven, power hungry and lack social skills as well as tact. They don’t like to be embarrassed. They don’t want to look as though they lost control. And they certainly don’t like their ego bruised. That is why it works. But what if it doesn’t work?
What do you have to lose
Let’s face it. If it has reached the physical stage of harassment, you have absolutely nothing to lose by using self-defense, by striking hard and making your intentions known. If you have followed policies and it has fallen on laughing voices or deaf ears, then you don’t want to work for that organization anyway. You are better off somewhere else. Walking away from your job with your dignity and witnesses to the event is more than enough to start your healing process, claim process and much more. You have nothing to lose when it turns physical.
Making your actions decisive
One of the more significant factors in fighting back is being decisive. You don’t want to hit a fly with a hammer. What you want to do is learn to turn it on and turn it off. You don’t want to be the crazy one in the room. So, learn how to be decisive. That means learning self-defense such as Krav Maga, training under stress, developing a mindset for defense and learning how to take counter physical action. You don’t want to use excessive force. You want to use appropriate force: hand on lower back = smacking their hand hard; hand on buttocks = striking them in stomach or slapping their face hard; hand on breast = strike to throat or face; hand on genitals = kick to their genitals or strike to face/throat; and throwing you to the ground, pulling you back by your hair or tacking you = fight for your life.