March 26, 2021
Worldwide, 81% of women have been sexually harassed in some way in their lifetime. Last August, I became one of the 81% in Pully, by the lake. There, a man of around 30 years old took the liberty to touch me, without my consent. When he had first approached me, I had respectfully and politely asked him to leave me alone. He didn’t accept that. I started to leave to put my clothes back on, as I had gone for a swim and was wearing a bathing suit. He started to get closer to me until he touched me and started to rub his body on mine as if it was normal and acceptable for him to do so as if he had the right. However, that was not the first time I had been a victim of street harassment: I have been catcalled, I have been honked at, I have been approached in the streets and harassed for my number by older men, and the list goes on. This shouldn’t happen.
All of these experiences have led me to live in apprehension of what could possibly happen, and I am scared. Scared because I know that I can be harassed anywhere, at any time, and in any shape or form. Street harassment isn’t just catcalling or honking. Street harassment can be comments on physical appearance, sexual name-calling, following, flashing, grabbing, groping, upskirting, whistling and more… So many girls have been taught by their parents to share their locations when walking alone at night, to avoid sketchy streets, to ask a guy to walk them home, to be careful in public transports. Women live with that fear every single day, and it has been normalized and accepted by our society and it isn’t right.
In addition to that, many people – young men especially – think it is acceptable and “cool” to comment on someone’s physical appearance. But in reality, it is extremely disrespectful and disgusting. Talking about a girl’s ass, how “it’s so hot” and “how you’d like to bang her” is not okay. Calling me a whore “as a joke”, telling me “I look sexy today” and then laughing about it with your friends is not okay. It is in no way funny or flattering. And I feel so disappointed and disgusted to say that, since I arrived at ISL in September 2020, this has happened to me multiple times, in school.
I was once asked by a classmate why I was taking self-defense classes. I told him that, as a woman, I feel like it is necessary for me. To that he answered, in a comedic way “Why? Are you scared to get raped?”. On the spot, I didn’t answer his question; I was too shocked and surprised by this comment, but here is my answer to him now: yes, I am. I am aware that the chances of such a thing happening are relatively low, but that does not change the fact that, after experiencing sexual harassment, and men touching me as if they were entitled to my body, I am scared that it might get that far. I am constantly scared of something happening to me, whether it is being catcalled or groped, I am scared. And the problem is, not enough men are aware of that fear that every girl, every woman has to live with. So many guys think that catcalling a woman in the streets is flattering and that we appreciate it and take it as a compliment. The truth is, we don’t, because as a matter of fact, it does the complete opposite: it makes us feel like objects, it makes us feel bad and lose our self-esteem. This should not happen.
During last August’s incident, the man who harassed me was obviously not going to leave me alone, which meant that I had to figure out what to do, what to say. When I finally found the courage to speak up, I asked him this simple question: “Could you tell me how old you are?” I noticed that I had made him uncomfortable. Since he wouldn’t answer my question, I said “Would you like to know how old I am?” And that’s when he started to move back. His silence showed me that he was entirely conscious of how wrong and inappropriate his actions were. And yet, I am one of the lucky ones. I handled the situation, but I’m certain that I was not the first person this man has harassed, and I know that another girl might not have handled it as well. However, I do not know what this man is capable of, and how far he would actually go. We all know how far and how quickly a situation like this one can escalate.
“Leave me alone” and ignorance means no. No means no, not convince me.