A Voice in the Face of Sexual Harassment
Megan loved playing soccer in high school and her team got along splendidly…until they hired a male coach. There was something about him that Megan didn’t quite trust – he set her on edge. He would stand too close to certain girls or touch their necks, stare down at them while they did warm ups, and make inappropriate comments to the senior girls when they were dressed up for game days.
The day he grabbed Megan’s hips and wouldn’t let go, even when she tried to step away from him, was a game changer. Her parents stepped in more directly at this point and demanded a meeting with school authorities. Together they determined that the coach not only failed to follow, but also denied breaching their no-touch policy. His employment was terminated. The team became divided between those who clearly saw this man’s behavior as inappropriate and potentially dangerous, and those who thought too much was made out of a small incident.
Myth or Fact: Sexual Harassment is Rare?
If you answered that it is a myth, according to a study done by the Oregon University, you are correct. Sexual harassment is extremely widespread. It touches the lives of 40 to 60 percent of women, including female students.
Sexual harassment is offensive, often frightening and insulting to women. But many of us have been taught, especially in Christian circles, to be nice, along with the lie that if we ignore harassment, it will go away. Research has shown that simply ignoring the behavior is ineffective, and it will not simply go away.
Angela was working in a local coffee shop when a well-liked professor from a nearby university would come in and make disturbing comments to her. His last round of comments ended with him telling her how he would dispose of her dead body when he was finished with her. Unnerving? Of course it is. She questions herself today why she never reported this incident to anyone.
According to another survey, 71 percent of the women did not report an incident of sexual harassment. Why not? Perhaps it has something to do with another myth our society believes: women who are sexually harassed generally provoked the harassment by the way they looked, dressed and behaved.
However, the same OU study discovered that harassment does not occur because women dress provocatively. In fact, studies have found that victims of sexual harassment vary in physical appearance, type of dress, age, and behavior. The only thing they have in common is that 99% of them are female.
For those of us who work with ladies who have been traumatized by sexual exploitation, we must come to terms with the issue of sexual harassment in our own lives and communities. It is equally important for the men who serve with us to wrestle with the issue in their own hearts. Sexual harassment is a gateway problem in every community that contributes to the global issue of sexual assault and exploitation.
The story in the Old Testament of Boaz and Ruth gives us a wonderful example of a man using his voice to protect a vulnerable young woman in his community. He spoke one empowering statement: “I have ordered the young men not to bother you.”
MI Rep. John Conyers, Jr. recently stated, “It’s not enough for women to speak out on the issue – for the message to be strong and consistent, women’s voices must be backed up by men’s.”
Each of us needs to recognize it, know how to respond to it when we encounter it, and be a voice in the face of sexual harassment. When we do this, our voices will reach around the world having a global impact, helping to end sexual exploitation.
Executive Director, She’s Somebody’s Daughter