What to do if...
WiSE up to sexual harassment is a campaign devised by the YMCA WiSE Ambassadors and Anti Harassment Club.
It centers around a simple online quiz, which takes real-life scenarios of verbal sexual harassment and asks participants whether they think it is ‘harassment’ or ‘banter’?
This campaign has been created to raise awareness among young people about what constitutes peer-on-peer sexual harassment and to highlight the impact that verbal harassment can have on its victims.
The campaign helps to start a conversation around harassment and challenge the normalisation of this kind of behaviour, which has, for a lot of young people, become accepted as a daily part of their lives.
What to do if you think you might be sexually harassing someone
Sexual harassment often happens when someone is thinking more about what they want than about how it might make the other person feel. Maybe they feel they have more power over the other person, or even that the other person might like it or find it funny.
Here are some things to think about if you’re not sure whether your behaviour is sexual harassment:
How would you feel if someone said those things to you or spoke to you in that way? How would it feel if you saw someone doing it to someone you love?
Do you know if the person you are saying things towards likes to be spoken to like that? I.e. have you had a previous conversation about it?
Has the person had an opportunity to say no, or have you got the sense they don’t like it? I.e. ignored you or seemed embarrassed? Someone might not feel able to say a ‘no’ or ask you to stop, even if they don’t like it.
Might the person feel scared or intimidated by what you’re saying? You may be intimidating to someone without realising or intending to be. Maybe they don’t feel they can get away, ask you to stop or know if you might be dangerous.
If you are not sure, it is best to stop and think – why am I saying what I’m about to say? And how might it impact the other person?
Remember, most people who are on the receiving end of sexual harassment feel embarrassed, humiliated, upset, or angry. It can also be scary and intimidating, as sometimes sexual harassment can lead to sexual assault.
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What can I do?
We want to emphasize that if you experience sexual harassment or see someone else experiencing sexual harassment, this is in no way your fault or your responsibility.
These tips are to help you feel more safe and comfortable only and to give you some ideas on how to help.
It is not your responsibility to not be harassed, only to not sexually harass others.
What makes someone feel safer will depend on the individual, the type of sexual harassment and the context it is happening in. You should try and make the situation safer for you. For example, if you are in college and someone you know is sexually harassing you what you do might be different to if you are in a park on your own and a stranger approaches you.
Ignore it. This can often feel like the safest thing to do. You do not owe anyone harassing you a response to their harassment, and ignoring it is a safe way of expressing that their behaviour is not acceptable or worthy of engaging in.
Asking the individual to stop (only do this if you feel you are in a safe environment)
You could ask them to repeat what they have said, or ask them to explain what they mean as if you haven’t understood or heard. Asking someone to explain their sexual harassment ‘jokes’, can be an affective way to undermine the harassment.
Reach a safe place – get home, go to a friend’s house nearby, get to a safer public space like a shop or somewhere with a crowd.
Pretend to be on the phone or call someone while you are walking. This may be appropriate if you are not feeling safe or made to feel uncomfortable. Talking to someone else may have the impact of getting the harasser to stop, aswell as giving you support from someone else.
Speak to someone at school/college/uni. Find out where you can go to seek support. Even if you do not wish to take the harassment further, it is still valid to seek support from a service after experiencing harassment.
If your harassment involved physical contact, you could contact the police as this is also sexual assault.
After experiencing sexual harassment you might feel a range of different emotions; numb, confused, silly, scared, normal, upset, talkative, angry.
Sexual harassment is a difficult thing to experience and anything you feel is a normal reaction to something that isn't a normal event.
Consider whether you would like to talk about your experience with others. You might want to do this to seek emotional support, tell others about a place you felt unsafe, or start a conversation with your peers about the experience of sexual harassment. You also might not want to talk about what has happened, or not talk about it straight away.
People often find things difficult to talk about because they don’t think it is big enough of an issue, it is difficult emotionally, they don’t think reporting it will make any difference or they are ashamed or confused about what has happened.
Whether you talk about what has happened is up to you, but make sure to look after your emotional wellbeing.
If you do want to seek support, then you could speak to:
Someone you trust like friends, family, or a teacher
Support services at your school or college
What can I do if I see a peer being sexually harassed?
Again, all of this advice is dependent both on context as well as on individual differences, and these are just some suggestions that would not be appropriate to all scenarios.
Go and join them. Even if you don’t know them, if you see them being harassed and you think they look uncomfortable you can go sit/walk/ or simply ask if they are ok. Not everyone will feel ok with this, so this is very context-dependent.
Challenge the harassers. If you feel safe doing so, you can challenge the harassers on their behaviour. Calling out sexual harassment is one way to start denormalising it!
Talk to them about it afterwards. Check-in with them and offer support. Being harassed can be a difficult experience, and having someone to speak/debrief/rant to afterwards may be helpful for some people
Support them in accessing further support.