What is street harassment about and how does it affect my sex life and relationships?

Check out this fabulous comic by Robot Hugs. It explains pretty well what gender based  street harrassment is all about and how to react when you see someone doing it or telling you about experiencing it.

The comic  covers really well how  harassment and sexual assault are about power and control not sex. Gender based harassment can happen in public or semi-public places, it can be non verbal or verbal. It very often has a sexual element to it and can be threatening, degrading and objectifying and can include fondling, grabbing, innuendo, shouting, stalking, ogling and more. A recent study showed that 88% of women had experienced street harassment and another study found that 65% of women experience sexual harassment every single day or every week. The same study found that almost 90% of men had never experienced street harassment from women.

What experiences have you had being harassed on the street? How did you deal with it?

How has it affected your feeling of safety and being in the world?

Do you feel anxious or fearful before going outside alone?

How have you noticed when you tell people about your experiences they often minimise your experiences or just say “Oh the men are just lonely” or “It’s your fault for what you wear.”

A common problem is when people romanticise the harassment with “boys will be boys” comments or say it’s wrapped up flattery. However when would a friend flatter you with obscenities, threats, exposing themselves to you, stalking, slapping or intimidating you? This also reinforces the gender norm that men have the right to comment on women’s appearance in public.

How have you internalised those victim blaming messages and how has it impacted your sexual experiences and relationships?

If you’ve seen a male friend or a man on the street harassing a woman what have you done or what would you do?

The research shows that  a victim of consistent everyday sexual harassment can go on to have low self esteem and carry a lot of shame around their bodies and sexualities. It can make women avoid ever going anywhere outside alone or fear and generally mistrust men. This avoidance behaviour can make it very difficult for meeting men and maintaining healthy relationships.

Women can also feel significant anger and depression long after these incidents and feel less comfortable with their sexuality and their body.

As our culture often blames women for being victims of these attacks, women may internalise these experiences into self blame. If parts of women’s bodies are being consistently objectified by street harassment then women can become detached from their bodies and interanlise that objectification. This means she starts to identify as her appearance, sexual function or the body part that is objectified. This objectification  can lead to sexual dysfunction , eating disorders, disordered eating, appearance anxiety and disassociation. It can lead to women in a surveilance trap where they constantly monitor themselves that can lead to decreased sexual pleasure and problems with orgasm.

The research shows that in the rare cases that men are sexually harassed by women on the street that they don’t react in the same self questioning and self blaming way that women do. The men studied usually would make quips about the women accosting them as not “decent women” and never showed the same self blame or internalising that women did.

Researchers have noted that the sexual harassment that women experience growing up female contributes to women’s concern about their sexual intergrity. As a sex therapist I’m particularly interested in how this represses women’s sexual potential. The research consistently points out that women who have experienced multiple harassment are often very scared before they leave the house or it stops them from leaving the house. Women are forced to learn coping strategies such as controlling their facial expressions, pretending to go along with the situation during an incident to stop it from escalating, changing their habits and clothing and repressing the incident.

The response to this sexual violence by punishing women for men’s behaviour can be seen in the media (blaming women for walking at home at night when they were victims of rape) in our courts (judges blaming women for drinking alcohol when she was sexually assaulted), our  police (telling women who were touched by taxi drivers that “he was just having a bit of fun” and she shouldn’t have been out at night) and politicians (telling women not to leave the house at night and that their place is in the home..).

Research by Bowman in 1993 shows that aswell as making women anxious and depressed, public harassment may make women less comfortable with their sexualities and ashamed of their bodies.

So please say something if you see someone harassing someone on the street, train, shops or out and about.

Please get in contact for confidential counselling if you’re concerned that you or your partner has been negatively impacted by daily sexual harassment or sexual assault or rape.

2014-07-24-Harassment.pngRobot Hugs