People don’t like those who sexually harass or assault people, that’s one of the irrefutable truths of life. We quite rightly look down upon on those who have committed sex crimes and wouldn’t allow them near our family and friends. But what if they are our friends?
In a post-#MeToo world much has been said and written about the role of public figures for allowing these kinds of behaviours to pass under the radar. However, less has been said about the normalisation of this closer to home. A 2017 study found that 79% of 18-24-year-old women expect some form of harassment on a night out. It’s time we talk about how men, especially within their own social group, are unlikely to challenge one another about their actions which constitute the sexual assault or harassment of another person.
The answer to why this happens is very simple, we all like to fit in. It’s not in a human’s nature to raise their head above the parapet amongst a group of friends and actively challenge someone. That’s what we need to change. For too long this kind of thing has been backwards. Any situation where sexual harassment and assault becomes normalised and the person calling it out is ostracised cannot be allowed to happen.
One of the ways in which this kind of behaviour is normalised is the insistence on using an ‘amusing’ nickname for a friend instead of calling their behaviour what it really is. We have all heard people called ‘pests’ on a night out and some even wear that as a badge of pride for their own self-perceived perseverance in the face of being asked to be left alone repeatedly. What if instead we called their behaviour what it really is, sexual harassment. Similarly, the usage of the words ‘handsy’ or ‘grabby’ attempts to trivialise what is clearly sexual assault and replaces what should result in a thorough admonishment for this kind of behaviour.
Another way to excuse this behaviour is to blame it on ‘the drink’ and explain that they’re somehow normally ‘a great guy’. The fact we can ever consider this to be a defence baffles me. As if in some way people become infallible after consuming alcohol. Whilst it is true that after drinking most people do things they may not do whilst sober, most of these are simply embarrassing. None violate the indisputable fact, we all know right from wrong. If after a few drinks someone’s mind turns immediately to groping and harassing people, then it is part of a wider pattern of predatory behaviour that should be
Further to this another often used attempt to justify this kind of behaviour is to claim ‘well, they’re not affecting me’. Honestly, if this is your opinion then you are the epitome of ignorance and self-delusion. To not have a shred of consideration for the impact that sexual harassment and assault can have on someone’s life is breathtakingly short-sighted. To not have any kind of empathy for someone who has potentially had their entire day ruined and will likely continue to dwell on your ‘friends’ actions for a long time should make you ashamed for not only condoning the behaviour, but also for having such a breath-takingly naïve and frankly offensive opinion towards it.
A lot of men reading this will be able to relate to at least a few, if not all, of the examples so far but I think most men would intervene if they saw it happen in front of them, right? But that’s never what happens because it was fine when you left them, right? I mean, you can’t be held responsible for THEY did, right? If you answer yes, then you couldn’t be more wrong. Not only have you excused the behaviour, but you have actively enabled it. If you leave someone vulnerable alone with a person who you think may take advantage of them then you have let them down more than you can ever imagine. It’s your moral obligation to intervene and refuse to leave them alone regardless of who it is, even if they are a far more respected member of the group than yourself.
Confronting someone is more easily said than done and it’s clearly going to be an unpleasant experience for all parties involved. However, we can choose what we deem to be acceptable in society and the fact that this kind of behaviour is so prevalent is a disgrace. We all, me included, have witnessed this type of behaviour but a much smaller percentage of us have ever done anything to challenge it. Acknowledging our own role in this can only be beneficial to changing the entire narrative where people who commit these kinds of acts are shunned rather than those with the bravery to speak out against it. This is the only way to move forwards and towards a world where sexual harassment and assault are no longer considered an obligatory part of a night out.