My timeline on social media has been flooded with the hashtag #MeToo alone with women’s personal stories about  sexual harassment and abuse says Elsamarie DSilva.

This outpouring began when actress Alyssa Milano, a vocal critic of abusive Hollywood media mogul Harvey Weinstein, suggested, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

I constantly wondered if there was anyone left amongst my network who had not experienced any incident of sexual harassment

As I read these stories or just the hashtag on people’s profiles, I constantly wondered if there was anyone left amongst my network who had not experienced any incident of sexual harassment. Alas, not. Sexual violence is a global pandemic affecting  an average of one in three women around the world. Yet, these stories surprise many because the silence around it is deafening.

Many women and girls find it very hard to talk about their experiences because of the socio-cultural norms that allow this to happen daily. Our norms encourage a culture where the survivor is the one that constantly bears the burden of blame, the bystanders do not intervene and may even walk away whilst the perpetrator gets away scot free.

Our norms encourage a culture where the survivor is the one that constantly bears the burden of blame

Despite the vocal outpourings on social media bringing more attention to sexual abuse, in Vizag, India, a woman was raped in broad daylight on a footpath whilst onlookers captured the incident on camera. This makes me wonder if we live in a disconnected world where on social media we sing to the choir but on the streets it is a completely different reality with absolutely no change since #MeToo began.

So how do we progress from a hashtag movement to really making a difference?

Many women and girls find it very hard to talk about their experiences because of the socio-cultural norms that allow this to happen daily

I believe it is important to ensure that ending violence against women and girls is a concerted effort by everyone in society and not viewed as only a woman’s problem. Overall we need people to know how to identify it, intervene in the right manner and help prevent and eradicate this violence. Here are suggestions for how to do so:

  1. Define it: Sexual harassment is an entire spectrum of abuse ranging from non-verbal forms  like staring, ogling and leering, to verbal – commenting, catcalling, unwanted sexual invites, to physical – stalking, groping, touching, sexual assault, rape. There is also online abuse, threats, misuse of pictures and videos and online stalking which make use of technology and social media.
  2. Learn consent: Consent is absolutely critical in a sexual relationship and any lack of it results in sexual harassment. A person has to agree by choice to an activity and have the freedom and capacity to make that choice. Consent can be withdrawn at any time during sexual activity and each time an activity occurs. Consent may be given for one type of activity but not another.
  3. Take ownership: Always check your own behaviour to understand if you are perpetrating sexual violence. Check in with your partner or friend to know if there is consent. If the other person says “no” or “stop”, do not take it personally but accept it as no consent and move on.
  4. Intervene: If you see someone perpetrating violence, intervene. You can create a distraction or disruption, directly tell the person to stop or call for help. Speak to your friends and discuss what is appropriate or inappropriate and do not condone sexual violence.
  5. Offer support: If you know a survivor, be gentle and understanding. Offer help and resources. Do not force advice or action without their permission as it is a deeply personal issue and it takes time for the person to come to terms with it. Let the person heal at her/his own pace.
  6. Report it: Lastly do consider reporting the incident officially. If you wish to stay anonymous, you may record your incident on the Safecity crowd map or mobile app on Android and iOS.
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