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Sexual harassment and a time of listening!

Over the last six months the world has witnessed a swell of women from all backgrounds speaking out and breaking the silence about the sexual harassment they have experienced. Throughout history women have continued to speak out about the injustice and violence experienced, creating spaces to be heard. The power of these voices cannot be overstated. Sexual harassment exists on a continuum of violence that disproportionately affects women, girls and non-binary people, in particularly those with additional marginalised intersecting identities. Every time we find the courage to speak out and challenge these everyday instances of abuse we contribute to the fostering of a culture which stands against all forms of sexual violence.

And sexual harassment is violence. It is abuse. It is a direct and deliberate intrusion into someone’s bodily autonomy. It is the continuous and relentless invasion into our public spaces.

At Rape Crisis South London, we know that these words may seem big, for how can a stare be classified as a form of violence? As part of our contribution to Sexual Harassment Week, we hope to explore why.

The Everyday Sexism Project and #MeToo movement have helped to illustrate that experiences of sexual harassment happen every day. They are constant, and often start early in life. Women and girls are relentlessly bombarded with (often sexualised) stares, whistles, yells, and gropes from around 11 years old. Women of colour, trans and queer women’s experiences of sexual harassment are showing the ways in which sexual harassment intersects with multiple inequalities around race, class, sexuality, age, disability and gender.  Importantly the regularity of this harassment encourages the belief that this harassment is normal. But this should not be normal.

It should not be normal that we regularly alter how we dress for fear of being cat-called on the street.

It should not be normal that we routinely feel scared of leaving the house.

It should not be that we often feel like our worth is contingent on how we look.

It should not be normal that we safety plan on a regular basis, carrying our keys between our fingers as a means of protection as we walk home.

It is because this should not be our normal that it is so important to speak truth to power, and state clearly and assertively that sexual harassment is a form of sexual violence. Every time we use these words and acknowledge the reality of our experiences we are de-rooting and de-normalising sexual violence and harassment. Of course, doing this is so hard. Accepting and recognising that we are harmed on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis is painful. But it is so important we try to do this work and take action.

We know, taking action can also take so many different forms. For some it may be speaking out publicly. For others it may be naming what has happened for ourselves and with ourselves, or with friends and family. Action may be challenging the people in our lives, or strangers. It could also be engaging with groups like Hollaback! London or the Good Night Out Project, organisations that encourage community accountability through equipping people with the tools to engage in bystander intervention to hold perpetrators to account.

Importantly whatever action you take, know that it is OK. Know that your experiences are valid, and that sexual harassment is never OK.

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