Sexual harassment can mean a lot of things, which makes it very confusing when you experience something horrible. Was THAT harassment? Was it assault? Is there even a difference?
Most importantly: What should I do now?
To help break things down, we’ve created a guide on what counts as sexual harassment, what to do if you experience or witness it, and the importance of reporting these crimes.
What counts as sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment (or sexual assault) is any unwanted, uncomfortable sexual behaviour towards you.
This can include:
· Groping (your bum or boobs, most commonly)
· Standing unnecessarily and intimidatingly way too close to you
· Rubbing up against you
· Making sexual comments towards you
· Leering (staring at you persistently with a creepy smile – you know the kind)
· Taking photos of you (sometimes up your skirt/dress, known as ‘upskirting’)
All of this behaviour is incredibly gross and incredibly wrong, but happens on a daily basis. Sometimes it can happen at school, on the streets, or on trains and buses.
This guide is directed more towards sexual harassment/assault on public transport, but the information and support can be useful for any situation. Sexual harassment doesn’t follow any rules. If the behaviour is making you uncomfortable, wherever you are and however small it might seem, you have every right to do something about it.
If someone is sexually harassing me, what do I do?!
Your fight or flight response is likely to kick in as soon as you realise something is wrong. This means that you might instantly run away, try to fight back, or freeze on the spot.
Don’t be ashamed of any of these reactions. They’re completely natural. But, BTP (The British Transport Police) has some advice if you can take just a few seconds to think about what’s happening and what to do:
· Try and move away, if you can, to another part of the bus or train, etc
· If it’s a busy bus or train and you can’t move away, try to shift your body to displace their movements, or get out of their eyeline
· Text BTP on 61016 telling them where you are and what’s happening
· If you’re below ground on the tube, write any of this information down on your phone
· Try to catch someone’s eye, they might see what’s happening and can support you
It might be your natural instinct to engage with this person but sometimes it’s not safe to do so. It’s best to judge the situation first, if you can take a moment to breathe.
There are stories of women grabbing the perpetrator’s hand and holding it aloft asking, “WHOSE DIRTY HAND IS THIS?!” to shame them, or bluntly turning around and politely asking them to “stop taking photos up my dress, please” or telling them to “get your hand off my bum, now”, but these are very brave reactions – and sometimes unsafe reactions.
The horrible creep has gone… now what?
If you’ve managed to get away, or they’ve upped and left, you now have a few options about what you can do.
The most important thing is to look after yourself. Make sure you’re ok. Have a sit down somewhere, go for a walk, or text a friend. You’ve been through something pretty shitty, so look after yourself.
It’s a good idea to report these incidents as soon as they happen, but it’s totally up to you. We’d encourage you to text BTP on 61016 or call them on 0800 40 50 40, or call 101 if it happened away from public transport. Always call 999 in an emergency.
If you’re nervous about getting in contact with the police, that’s ok. Talk to a friend, family member, teacher, or staff member if it happened on public transport. They can support you both emotionally and practically.
If you don’t feel comfortable reporting what happened at all, that’s ok too. And if you feel in six months’ time that you DO want to report it, you can. It’s never too late.
But what’s even the point in reporting it?
It’s a fair question. Sexual harassment happens all the time (getting beeped at by men in vans, having boring, horrible comments thrown at you by construction workers, boys in school making sexual jokes to impress their mates…) so what’s the point in reporting it? It’s just life?
Nope! No, it’s not. No thank you. Not ‘just life’. No. #no.
Firstly, this behaviour is wrong and your body is yours alone. Nobody should ever make you feel uncomfortable, intimidated, or unsafe with their behaviour. It’s not fair and it’s not right, and contributes to an unequal society.
Secondly, this behaviour could easily lead to something even worse. Reporting what happened to you could help save a lot of harm for others, and bring justice for yourself.
The police will take you seriously. There are many campaigns out there to encourage victims to come forward, like #ReportItToStopIt and Project Guardian.
We want everyone to have the confidence to report unwanted sexual behaviour us.
— BTP (@BTP) April 9, 2017
You can help the police build a picture of this person. Your story, CCTV, and plain-clothed police officers patrolling the areas where these crimes have been reported will all help to find and arrest them.
What if I see it happening to someone else?
You can definitely support a victim of sexual harassment without confronting the perpetrator.
If you’re on public transport, you can:
· Put yourself between the perpetrator and victim
· Make eye contact with the victim so they know they’re supported
· Ask the victim if they’re ok, both during and after the incident
· Ask them if they’d like any help reporting what happened. You can’t force them, but they might be more inclined to report it if there’s someone with them who knows what to do… like you!
· Record any details of the perpetrator – what they’re wearing, what they look like, what they sound like, and what they’re doing, as well as times and dates, and details of the bus/train you’re on
· You can try to take a photo or video of what’s happening but only if it’s safe to do so. Make sure you hand this over to the police, even though it may be tempting to put it on social media
If you’re in public and the victim is on their own then you can stand with them and ask if they’re ok. Again, take any note of who the perpetrator is just in case the victim does want to report it.
Is there anyone else apart from the police who I can speak to?
Yep, there are many organisations (as well family, friends, teachers, and GPs!) who can practically and emotionally support you:
· Rape Crisis can support victims of sexual harassment whoever you are, whatever happened, and however long ago the incident was.
· SurvivorsUK can offer support to male victims of sexual harassment via webchat or text chat.
· Victim Support can give you both practical and emotional support if you’ve been affected by any crime, including sexual harassment.
· The Mix is a charity supporting all under 25s in the UK with any issue. You can speak to their trained team via their helpline, forums, email, or one-to-one chats.
· Childline can support you if you’re under 19. Their support is also available via phone, email, and one-to-one chats.
Experiencing sexual harassment or assault, no matter who it’s from and in what situation, is awful and a complete violation of your body and consent. But there are so many people out there who will believe that it happened to you and will want to support you.
You’re brave, you’re strong, and you deserve only the very best treatment, ya hear?