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Navigating through the Sexual Harassment Minefield

The #meToo movement gripped the world with scores of women coming forward sharing their stories of harassment they encountered in their lifetimes. Particularly disturbing was the fact that there were many men who were famous and powerful like Harvey Weinstein. It transpired he had used his power to harass women and subjugate them with the threat of ruining their careers.

Sadly, such circumstances are all too common throughout the world and Pakistan is no exception. The most recent revelations identify (ex) CEO of Patari, the Pakistani music streaming service. No doubt over the next few days, more facts will be revealed and many providers will cover the story. I wanted to review another angle of the situation these issues present us with.

In most cases, it seems we quickly become judge and jury. Quick to hold to account the ‘perverts‘ and point fingers at the women who ‘must have led him on‘ or ‘took too long to report it‘. We must remember that any situation will never be black and white. What we conveniently forget is the fact that what we are seeing is the ‘big bang’; the culmination of years of abuse, or the opposite, years of misunderstood friendship – the point being we don’t know what is going through the mind of the alleged perpetrators. I hope this isn’t seen as a justification for the wrongdoing – just a prompt to think deeper on the causes of the issue remembering that not all cases are the same.

Whilst many perpetrators will have ill-intent, we can’t ignore the fact that genuine misunderstandings will take place or some boundaries will be pushed inadvertently. I wanted to push the discourse on the subject further than the usual headlines whilst also trying to start a conversation to establish some guidelines for the safety of both men and women.

What is Sexual Harassment?

In plain english, it is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature. There is no hard and fast rule of what the ‘sexual’ element is. The definition is dependent on the victim in question, the situation, and the environment. A male holding a female’s hand at work can be seen as harassment, but the same between friends in university may not be. Again, it all depends on the situation and context.

It must be noted that, the example above is of a physical nature, but harassment isn’t confined to this. It can be anything from sending unwanted messages of a sexual nature, or displaying pictures which the victim doesn’t want to see.

The fluid nature of the issue may cause some confusion. Often messages between two people could be seen as harmless fun/flirting but as soon as the recipient is uncomfortable, the situation changes from two people having a normal conversation to harassment.

Advice for Males

  • Be wary of the context
  • Don’t assume anything
  • If you are unsure – make sure.

Advice for Females

  • If you are uncomfortable with any aspect of a conversation (physical or otherwise), let the person know politely
  • If repeated, escalate the issue according to the situation.
  • If the issue is over SM, keep screenshots and consider reporting under the cyber crime laws.

Looking Forward

We need to start asking ourselves how we can deal with such issues as a nation. There is no ideal quick fix. Remember we come from a culture where such things are taboo and a women coming forward with such allegations will be hushed a lot more than those in a western culture and those who do pluck up the courage to come forward will normally face criticism. If the standard is to interrogate the victim instead of supporting them, we are only forcing those that haven’t come forward to shy away further – this must change!

I believe once a victim feels their voice will be louder than the stigma attached to reporting the issue, only then will they start coming forward. At the same time however, we must develop a fair mechanism where we apply the innocent until proven guilty principle too.

Starting the Conversation

  • What proactive steps can we take to reduce such issues whilst also encouraging victims to come forward?
  • Are you a victim of sexual harassment?
  • If yes, did you tell anyone? 
  • If you didn’t tell anyone, why did you feel you couldn’t come forward?
  • Are you a male who has been accused of harassment but felt it was unfair?
  • For those who work, does your company have a written harassment policy?
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