Sexual harassment and the need to address the issues seriously

By Siti Noriezam

Silence is the best option in solving a problem but sometimes it does not work for certain situation. In fact, it does give more harm than good.

This matter has become a dilemma towards those who had experienced sexual harassment in their life. Indeed, there are many victims out there who experienced this problem and yet felt embarrassed to voice out their problem to others or feared to report the matter to the authorities.

As reported in the local media recently, there are over a third of Malaysian women who have experienced sexual harassment compared to one in six men.

Unfortunately, the latest survey carried out by YouGov Omnibus found that only half or 53 percent of the victims have reported or told someone about the incident.

The survey found the main reasons why victims failed to report or tell someone about the incident are due to embarrassment (54 percent), no one to help solve or do anything about the problem (38 percent), and fear of repercussions (26 percent).

Sexual harassment usually happened when victims are alone but it can also happen in public areas. Therefore, what can you do when faced with this situation?

Firstly, when you are alone and need to go somewhere, always remember to tell someone where you are going and who will be with you. This is important so that if anything bad were to happen to you, there will be someone who would know your exact location and would be in a position to rescue you later.

Secondly, always be aware of your surroundings and try to avoid going to quiet places when you are alone. As reported in Berita Harian, dark and gloomy areas can cause a person to become a victim of sexual harassment. 

Besides, do not forget to bring your mobile phone and you can also carry non-lethal self-defence weapons such as pepper spray, pen or anything that can be used to protect yourself during an emergency. 

The cases of sexual harassment involving school students within school environment can be seen from the recent issue about a male teacher who did the ‘rape joke’ during a physical education session and cases of period spot checks carried out in boarding schools among female students by teachers.

Obviously, many considered that the statement by the male teacher was tantamount to verbal sexual harassment. He was reported to have told the male students in class that “if you want to rape someone, make sure they are above 18”. 

Nurul Huda binti Abdul Samad, a teacher from Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Jengka 12, totally disagreed with the statement made by the male teacher.

She said, “The teacher should be a good role model to the students. It is therefore inappropriate for the teacher to act and behave in that way.”

Meanwhile, referring to the issue of “period spot checks” carried out in schools, Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) explained that this is considered a violation of a child’s right and it is against the law as it carried the elements of sexual harassment and sexual abuse.

Nurul Huda shared the same opinion with Suhakam stressing that there are many ways that educators can use to discipline the students. “But doing period spot check is just not the right way,” she said.

“As a teacher, they should always put the dignity of the students as priority.”

She further explained that the teacher must think wisely and seek for the best solution to discipline the students and make them become better and honest persons.

By taking this matter seriously, the first way to prevent this problem from happening is that schools need to have a clear policy that prohibit sexual harassment and that includes verbal and physical forms of sexual harassment.

As Prof. Dr. Ashgar Ali Mohamed of IIUM suggested, the best way to prevent sexual harassment in schools is by conducting a campaign to explain what sexual harassment means, and to provide more information and knowledge on what students should do if they are faced with such situation.

Nurul Huda felt that teachers and educators can play their role to educate the students on this issue and give them appropriate advice on how to avoid from being sexually harassed.

A number of social activists and politicians have raised their concerns on the issues of social harassment and had even called for an urgent enactment of the Sexual Harassment law to counter and address the issues seriously.

Prof. Datuk Noor Aziah Mohd Awal from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) cited that under “Article 28 of Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), a state party is obliged to ensure that schools implement discipline in accordance with the rights and dignity of children.”

She further explained that under the same Convention, “Article 16, 19 and 36 respectively state that a child has a right to privacy; protection from abuse, violence, and neglect; and protection from other forms of exploitation that include sexual exploitation and harassment.”

Every party and a responsible member of the community should therefore play their role to solve the issue of sexual harassment from continuing to happen within our community. As Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “what Allah forbid you to do, you shall stay away and what Allah command you to do, then do it according to your ability”.

Perhaps this would serve a useful reminder for the society to seek measures not only to prevent an increase of abuse cases but to treat the issues of sexual harassment seriously and to deal with the situation promptly. ***

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

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