Volunteer's Blog

Verbal Sexual Harassment: Uncomfortably Normal Thing in Our Society

Volunteer's blog

, (Mening)

Sexual harassment has become normal in our society. This is indicated by the increasing number of women victims of sexual harassment in Indonesia. According to the National Commission on Violence against Women, sexual harassment cases ranks third after rape and sexual abuse. This data is still classified as an iceberg phenomenon because there are still many women who do not report the abuse they experienced. Then what about men? Although cases of sexual harassment against men do not surface, it does not mean that men are free from sexual harassment.
Do you know about sexual harassment case of online ojek (motorcycle transportation service) drivers?

Reporting from VICE, in 2019 one of the online ojek companies in Indonesia received 50 percent complaints of sexual harassment from its driving partners. The victims of this case were men and they did not dare to report it because they felt ashamed (Hastanto, 2020). Not only from strangers, sexual harassment also comes from people close to the victim. Based on the sphere, cases of sexual harassment from personal relationships occupy the highest position. The highest case of sexual harassment in this sphere comes from boyfriends followed by biological father and stepfather/foster father of the victims. While in the community/public sphere, the perpetrators of harassment from close related people more numerous than the strangers. Perpetrators of the close related people are neighbours, friends, and teachers of the victims (National Commission on Violence against Women, 2020).


The proximity of the perpetrators and the victims has made cases of sexual harassment quite complex. In addition, there are victims who cannot deal with sexual harassment behaviour. One type of sexual harassment that is difficult to avoid and ambiguous for some people is verbal sexual harassment. N (34, Sales Executive) shared her experience of verbal sexual harassment when she was in a motorcycle repair shop, “Someone called me and I politely answered him. Then he spoke about his genital and wanted to hook up with me. I considered this person was insane. I just ignored him, paid the bill, and left”. She continued, “In my opinion sexual harassment is considered normal because from offender side, maybe it’s not harassment. The reason they frequently said those words is want to get closer or give praise to someone even though it does not rule out negative intent as well. From the victim side, feeling like being humiliated makes the victim get offended. In essence, it depends on how the victim receives the sentence, it can be a positive or negative thing.”


B (21, College Student) gave another story to us, “I never received harassing word before, but I experienced physical sexual harassment when I was on junior high school. All of a sudden, a stranger hugged and touched me without permission, I was aghast of it”. Then, he recounted his point of view about sexual harassment, “Honestly, I used to say something harassing oftentimes. Now I realize that what I did was actually verbal sexual harassment. It was normal thing to do with my friends. Sometimes I felt like it’s wrong when I saw my friends did that, but I can’t say anything so I just kept quiet. Based on my experience with my friend group, we did verbal harassment because it’s just for fun, to elevate ourselves in the society, and to show our interest for someone we fancy. Sexual harassment depends on people perceptions. Some boys think it is a bait for girls and some girls will think that they get attention by receiving words like that.”


Perspectives on verbal sexual harassment and taking offense can be subjective, but it doesn’t mean you should normalize it when you feel humiliated and uncomfortable in a small talk. It is not wrong if you fed up of receiving words that are felt to be sexually harassing. More clearly, things including verbal sexual harassment according to United Nations are as follows.
• Words intended for adults with nicknames such as doll or girl.
• Whistling and cat calling someone.
• Make sexual comment on a person’s body.
• Make sexual comment or innuendo.
• Direct work discussion towards sexual topics.
• Tell sexual stories and jokes.
• Ask about fantasy, preferences, and sexual history.
• Ask personal questions about social and sexual life.
• Making sounds like kissing, howling, or smacking the lips.
• Make sexual comments about a person’s clothes, anatomy, or appearance.
• Repeatedly ask/invite someone who has shown disinterest.
• Tell lies or spread rumours about someone’s personal sexual life.


Then, how should our attitude towards verbal sexual harassment? We asked Ridcky Vanduwin, Founder and Chair of Resource Center on Gender, Sexuality, and Human Rights Studies Udayana about this. He stated that the response given depends on the situation when receiving such harassment. Reprimand the offender if you feel it is safe to do so. However, if you are in a quiet place or doers do it in group, it is better if you get away from the situation because confrontation is feared will worsen the situation. If you see a friend or other person verbally abused, ideally, help fight. However, conditions are not always supportive to give a reaction like that. The safety of the victim is the most important. Securing the victim to another place or situation will be better.


He also suggested if the victim tells the incident of abuse experienced, listen well. Say thank you for telling the story because talking about abuse isn’t easy. Sometimes, victims need to reopen their trauma memories. On the moment like this, your advice and lecture will not help the victims. At that stage, they just want to be heard. When the victims ask for an opinion on what needs to be done, you can refer them to some institutes for protection of victims of sexual harassment. We don’t need to be the most knowledgeable people to help, just point to capable institutions like Apik Legal Aid Institute and Women’s Crisis Center. In case agencies like these are not in your city, you can contact the hotline or fill out an online complaint form for the National Commission on Violence against Women.


Finally, Ridcky Vanduwin concludes our interview with steps that can be taken to educate ourselves about sexual harassment. He said that the first thing to do was to begin to understand that anyone could be sexually abused. Perpetrators do not know the time, what clothes we use, gender, age, and others. Second, don’t give questions that can trigger victims to blame themselves. It should be reminded that victims need help to get up again to leave their trauma. Always support the victims by hearing their stories and helping them become survivors.

Sources:
Komisi Nasional Anti Kekerasan terhadap Perempuan. 2020. Catatan Kekerasan terhadap Perempuan Tahun 2019. Komisi Nasional Anti Kekerasan terhadap Perempuan, Jakarta
Hastanto, I. 2020. Pelecehan Seksual Kerap Menimpa Driver Ojol Lelaki, Tetapi Mereka Malu Melaporkannya. VICE Indonesia. https://www.vice.com/id_id/article/wxedg5/driver-ojol-lelaki-indonesia-kerap-jadi-korban-pelecehan-tapi-mereka-malu-melapor. [Diakses pada tanggal 9 Juni 2020].
United Nations. What is Sexual Harassment. United Nations. https://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/pdf/whatissh. [Diakses pada tanggal 9 Juni 2020].