A friend of mine asked me, “You were a kid back then. How do you know if it was sexual harassment?” He added, “Maybe the man touched you or kissed you out of love for kids..” At that time I couldn’t counter his argument. I have heard many people say that women mainly misinterpret the intentions of men. They consider every touch by a man as sexual harassment even though the intention of the man is different. But to those people I have one question- do you even know what sexual harassment is? Because if you did, you won’t ask a woman if she was really sure about her interpretation. If you knew about sexual harassment, you must be aware that any touch, be it at any part of the body, that makes women uncomfortable is sexual harassment. It need not be as aggravated as rape or penetration. Even the slightest touch can amount to sexual harassment.
I am not saying this on my own. I have a court order to back my statement. Meghalaya High Court reportedly stated that even the slightest penetration can account for aggravated sexual assault under the POCSO act. "Penetrative sexual assault, for the purpose of the relevant provision, does not require deep or complete penetration. The slightest amount of penetration would suffice for the purpose. The medical examination report revealed penetration...," the bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Wanlura Diengdoh said. The court was dealing with the case of the sexual assault of a 7-year-old girl whose mother filed an FIR of rape by a 60-year-old man. Even though the reports of the hymen of the girl being intact were established, the court found the man guilty under POCSO act and sentenced him to 15 years of rigorous imprisonment.
The statement of the court made clear to many of us that the detection of sexual harassment is a subjective thing. It depends on the person who has been harassed and not on the third party who passes judgment on whether or not the touch was intended to be bad. It is very common for society to assume that women are unnecessarily sceptical of every man. That they commit the mistake of misjudging men more often.
But dear society, living in a country where 86 rape reports are lodged daily, it is not easy for women to trust any man. Reports have cleared the fact that women are especially unsafe within their own houses. According to research, the home is considered the most unsafe space for Indian women. 96.5 per cent of the rape cases were committed by men who were known to women. If women cannot be sure of safety around the men they know, how can they trust unknown men?
Moreover, how can someone else decide whether a woman has been harassed or not? Is it not gaslighting if the third party constantly makes women believe that the touch was not intended to be harassment? Why do people always judge and restrict women when it comes to sexual crimes?
We need to stop defending harassers by hiding their crimes under love or unknown mistake. Do we even know how this mindset affects women’s safety? If we go by society’s definition of harassment, a woman will never be able to spot the warning signs of possible harassment. She won’t be supported if she finds any man sceptical and unsafe for her or tries to oppose him before he commits an aggravated crime. And this will only encourage the man to increase the intensity and frequency of his sexual advances. This happens mostly with girls of small age because their age often blurs the difference between love and harassment. When people kiss kids consensually or non-consensually, it is always considered an expression of love. And because of this girls are not able to understand what good touch and bad touch are.
Even in the case of marriage, marital rape is ignored because it is assumed that no husband will harm his wife by having sex with her. Having sex under marriage is considered a sign of love and somewhat a man’s right and so it is not counted under sexual harassment.
So dear society stop gaslighting women when they raise their voices against sexual harassment. They know the difference between good touch and bad touch. Society cannot decide how a woman felt when a particular man touched her. It is the woman alone who can say whether she felt uncomfortable or not. And stop defining sexual crimes under a single category. A woman is harassed not only when she is brutally raped. She is harassed even when she is groped, eve teased or touched with the wrong intention. In fact, intention doesn’t matter because even if the intention might be right, it will be counted as harassment if it is non-consensual and makes women uncomfortable.
Rape is an intensified form of harassment that occurs when warning signs of harassment are ignored. If a woman will never be encouraged to speak up every time she is non-consensually touched by a man, she will never understand the difference between love and harassment. She will never be able to raise her voice when things get too critical. We also need to understand that every kind of harassment is equally bad. Maybe the way it physically affects women might be different, but mentally the impact is the same. So ensure women’s safety before their minds and bodies of women are badly affected. Don’t wait for anything worse to happen to come into action.
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