Will I Ever Feel Safe?: Sexual Harassment in Public
*TW Mentions/Descriptions of sexual harassment
It’s hot. That’s not a shocker since it’s Summer. I step on the bus, beads of sweat glistening on my already darkening skin after waiting for what feels like hours— but was actually probably fifteen minuets. I show my pass and step aboard. The rush of cool air from the rutty bus air condition attacks my face and I start my usual journey to the back. I like sitting in the back corner because I know I can see everybody on board. Today, however, what once was my haven, becomes my nightmare.
I sit down and put my AirPods in, prepared to relax and enjoy the usual ride. As I stare out the window, I see somebody sit next to me in my peripheral vision. I know something is off because there are open seats further away; he could’ve sat anywhere else. At first, I ignore the uncomfortable feelings but then I sense him staring, and I see him moving. Confused, I glance over and I see him pleasuring himself in his jeans. Disgusted, I immediately got up and changed seats.
Despite experiencing it many times in the past, I’ve always had a hard time really defining sexual harassment. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person's sex. Harassment can include "sexual harassment" or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” This is something I have experienced many times whether it be from a family friend continuously performing masturbatory acts in front of me at 11 to a customer telling me he wants to bend me over and fuck me at 19. I have always had to deal with being sexually harassed.
Reportedly, 81% of women experience some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime. I’ve seen evidence of this in my personal life as I do not know a single woman who has not been sexually harassed at least several times. Sexual harassment is a common experience shared by many women and that should not be the case. This idea is also reflected in the British comedy-drama television show, Sex Education.
Sex Education follows Otis Milburn, an insecure 16-year-old boy with a sex therapist mother who begins a sex advice business to help his classmates with their sexual problems. Throughout the series, the characters explore their sexualities and have various sexual encounters. The show also touches on the topic of sexual harassment in a series of episodes in the second season. During which, Aimee, one of Otis’ classmates, gets on a bus and, in a good mood, smiles at the guy behind her. He smiles back but minutes later she feels something on her leg as the guy has masturbated and ejaculated on her jeans. Afterward, she is shown coping with what she has experienced. In one episode, a group of classmates who are women, including Aimee, have to find something they all have in common. They find they have all been sexually harassed at one point or another and it depicts a scene I have experienced in my own life; other women and I, just like the women in the show, discussing our experiences of being sexually harassed.
In an interview with Glamor, the actress who plays Aimee discusses sexual harassment saying, “I think that all women go through some form of micro sexual aggression” and “We’re often trained to think that’s just normal, that we have to grin and bear it.” She continues further saying:
“Unless it is rape, [many of us] feel like we can’t really talk about it or that we have to take it in our stride and even laugh about it. We’ve turned them into little funny anecdotes rather than actually dealing with the fact that might have traumatized us on some level.” It’s as if society has given us a hierarchy of sexual assault, she explains. “If you’re somewhere near the top then it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s okay. You’re allowed to be upset by this one.’ But anything lower you feel like maybe you’re a bit of a drama queen” (Glamour).
This is a sentiment I agree with. All experiences are valid, including what I experienced on the bus that day. I was sexually harassed in a public setting, in broad daylight, and in a space where I previously felt comfortable. Sexual harassment takes away my ability to feel safe and it does so for millions of other women as well. “Sexual harassment can occur in the workplace or learning environment, like a school or university” (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). However, it can also happen in other places. So, it really makes me question, will I ever feel safe?
*You can find additional resources on sexual harassment here.
*Sexual harassment can also lead to sexual violence, you can find more information about how to take care of yourself after experiencing sexual violence here.
Featured Image Via Thomas de LUZE