Malaysians should not normalise sexual harassment

By Sarah Sofiyyah and Siti Noriezam 

The pain that the innocent victims of sexual harassment hold everyday is simply unbearable. Although outwardly the victims may show the sweetest and brightest smiles, deep down inside them their hearts are torn into pieces. 

The term ‘sexual harassment’ is not alien to everyone today. You can vividly notice through reports filed in the mainstream media as well as the social media.

Yet, do you understand what is ‘sexual harassment’? Why is this act regularly taking place in our society even though it is a crime?

Firstly, the word ‘harassment’ itself means any unwelcome behaviour or comments made by the other party. 

Emellia Shariff, a consultant in Young Women Making Change (YWMC), defined sexual harassment as unwanted nature or sexual conduct which can humiliate, threaten and degrade the victim itself. She said this during a discussion on the Draft Malaysia’s Sexual Harassment Bill which was featured on BERNAMA TV recently.

But, how do you know if an act can be considered as sexual harassment or not? It is therefore important for readers to know four major types of sexual harassment that exist in the society nowadays.

Perhaps, this information can help readers to easily identify whether you might face one of these situations mentioned below. The information is sourced from Women’s Information Service.

The first type of sexual harassment is under the category of verbal and written form. For verbal category, it is when a person said something which has a remark of a sexual nature about someone’s clothing, body and also about their personal behaviour. 

Recently, there was a news report about the case of sexual harassment that happened in school which involved one male teacher. This case went viral when one of the female students from the school tweeted about her teacher who had joked and trivialised the rape culture.

This case is considered as an act of sexual harassment which is under the category of verbal form.

As reported on Al Jazeera online news, a 17-year old Malaysian student went on TikTok to call out her physical education teacher for a ‘rape joke’ that said “If you want to rape someone, make sure they are above 18”. 

This kind of statement is very disgusting, unfortunately, the statement was made by an individual who had gained respect from society, and rightly he is the one who should play an important role in educating the students in a good way. Yet, he failed to carry out his responsibility.

In addition, there is one action under this category that has already become ingrained in the culture and being acceptable in the society. But the question is, can you guess the action and why that action is considered as sexual harassment?

Interestingly, do you know that the act of unwelcome flirting or cat calling is one of the actions that falls under this category of verbal form. The act of flirting can be considered as sexual harassment when it is unwanted, persistent and when someone goes too far through his saying and making the victim feel uncomfortable. Sadly, people in the society fail to recognise this problem and tend to normalise this culture.

Meanwhile, the example for the act of sexual harassment in written form is when someone is spreading rumours about a person’s personal or sexual life.

The second type of sexual harassment is in physical form. This category commonly happened within the society and there have been many cases reported on this action. As stated by the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), under the physical form of sexual harassment, a person can be found guilty of committing sexual harassment when he or she is doing inappropriate and unwanted touching towards someone or their clothing. Other inappropriate touching includes hugging, kissing and patting without permission.

The next one is sexual harassment in non-verbal form. For this type, it can be considered as an act of making derogatory remarks or showing a sexual facial expression. As an illustration, you can imagine someone looking at your body up and down and they also stare at you sexually and in an offensive manner. 

Indeed, by merely imagining the situation, it is quite enough to make you feel uncomfortable and revolted.

Lastly, sexual harassment can be categorised in the form of visual when a person intentionally shows the sexual object, images, contents, cartoons, and any form of visuals that illustrate the image of sexual materials. 

This type of sexual harassment is very much happening in every society especially in media platform, virtual space and even in the real space where unknown people like to share sexually inappropriate images and videos such as pornography.

Generally, sexual harassment can occur from the same or the opposite sex; thus, both males and females can be the offenders. Even that, there are a number of cases that take place involving women, and it does not mean there are no cases involving men. 

Because our culture’s stigma has been portraying men as strong, masculine and brave, it has made male victims embarrassed and frightened to report to the authorities. Hence, there are a more significant number of victims commonly seen by women, not men. 

Sexual harassment can happen in any place, even the area that you would not imagine can occur, such as in school. 

The Office on Women’s Health views that sexual harassment happened in the workplace, home or even school. 

Is school supposed to be a safer place for both students and workers? Why is it that this place can be one of the locations that such incident happened?

The answer is ‘yes’. There are many cases involving sexual harassment in school although it might be questioning for some of us. 

All Women’s Action Society (Awam) had recently conducted a survey which showed 80 percent of sexual harassment and bullying involved the school authorities and educators. However, statistics from the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) seem to exhibit that sexual cases are inclining from 2013-2017. The information is based on the source from Women Aid’s Organisation.

Even though the graph showed a decline in 2017, it is believed that there is a significant number of cases that are unreported to the police because of the culture of fear and the trauma faced by the victims.

Yet, there is an example of sexual harassment that is happening early this year. A policeman sexually harassed a girl during the roadblock checking. The issue caught the attention of Twitter users and received a massive response towards the matter.

After looking at the bird’s eye view, different people have their own wisdom. Therefore, it can be seen that some of the parties lay the blame on the victims for not dressing appropriately, and some of them denounced the police officers for not minding their own business. 

If we can go back to the definition of sexual harassment, it can be confirmed that the victim was harassed as she received an unwanted statement from the harasser. So, the question here is, who actually should be blamed? 

Perhaps, having knowledge about ‘sexual harassment’ is important before you jump to conclusion and start to blame someone.

Indeed, by knowing all these facts and information, you can see that there are lot of cases involved sexual harassment, yet, this problem has been considered as normal by the public and it explains why it still exists within the society.

Thus, the problem of sexual harassment is adversely affecting individuals, society and the nation. It is clearly showing that Malaysians should not trivialise or normalise all kinds of actions that have the elements of sexual harassment.***

(This is the first part of a three-segment special reports series on sexual harassment written for Feature Writing class)

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