Is This Flirting or Sexual Harassment?
Unmasked sex drive. Palm on the knee. Playful text message.
All of this will make you feel like you’re in seventh heaven from the right person at the right time.
However, the messages full of ambiguity coming from the “wrong” person and at the wrong time are frightening, and they can make you feel ashamed and uncomfortable.
As the list of women accusing Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein of harassment grows day by day, women around the world are sharing their sad experiences on social media using the hashtag #MeToo.
Understandably, Weinstein had a lot of power; he could blind or ruin the careers of his alleged victims, but this kind of bullying can harm a woman not only at work.
But determining what sexual harassment is and which is the highest level of sexual harassment is not entirely easy, since the line between flirting and annoying harassment is sometimes very thin, and sometimes even blurred.
How can you be sure that you are not overstepping the limits?
“Flirting is essential if you want to start dating someone”, says relationship expert James Preece.
“But here it is important that this happens in the right environment, and not when the person least expects it”, the psychologist points out.
Pris advises his clients – both men and women aged 23 to 72 – “to be careful and flirt in a playful, but not overtly sexual, manner”.
“Be friendly, connect and trust,” he says, and recommends “ending the first date with a friendly hug or a kiss on the cheek”.
When does flirting become sexual harassment?
“When it is unwelcome and persistent”, points out Sarah King of the law firm Stuart Miller Solicitors.
“When a man goes too far, in word or deed, when a woman clearly doesn’t want it”, adds James Preece.
Seeing Min Park, who educates London schoolchildren on sexual behavior and relationships, lists a long list of what she believes to be sexual harassment: touching without consent; feeling of possession; a certain manner of speaking; pursuing a girl on the street in order to get to know each other; admiring whistling; using your position or trust to say something obscene.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines sexual harassment as “unwanted sexual advances, obscene remarks, etc.”
And the UK’s Equal Rights and Nondiscrimination Act 2010 states that this is “unwanted sexual behavior” that insults human dignity and “creates an intimidating, hostile, demoralizing and offensive environment.”
Is sexual harassment prosecuted?
Not too much. “This is not an offense per se”, explains Sarah King.
However, certain acts that fall under the definition of sexual harassment may be criminalized under other articles of the law. For example:
- Unwanted calls and text messages, visits to home or work, photographing someone, unwelcome harassment or constant nasty remarks about someone – under the Harassing Criminal Acts Act 1997;
- Sending obscene, offensive or threatening letters, emails or text messages and posting them on social media – under the Malicious Use of Communications Act 1998;
- Unwanted touching by someone who enjoys it sexually, such as on public transport – under the Sexual Offenses Act.
It should be noted, however, that anyone who is sexually harassed in the workplace is protected under the Equal Rights and Nondiscrimination Act 2010. Such an accusation is considered a civil and not a criminal matter and will be considered in a labor court.
More than half of the women surveyed said they had experienced sexual harassment at work, according to a 2016 study by the TUC Federation of Trade Unions of England and Wales.
What causes sexual harassment?
Xi Min Park, who works for Brook, a charity dedicated to the nation’s sexual health, blames the “sex for sale” approach in the West, which, in turn, breeds permissiveness and blame shifting from a sore head to a healthy one.
Young people are taught these attitudes through movies, music videos, TV shows and accessible pornography, and as a result they begin to think that sending someone their own photograph in the nude is something ordinary and normal, she points out.
Speaking in schools, Xi Ming explains to teenagers that when it comes to sex, they have the freedom to make their own choices.
But she admits that she cares about how poorly informed the children are on the subject, and that many blame the rape victim when asked to consider such a scenario.
In some cases, it is simply a behavior adopted from someone else.
Xi Ming describes an incident when she saw a boy in one of her classes at a bus stop put his hand on her shoulder and begin to squeeze.
“She didn’t look like she liked it, so the next time I saw her, I told her: “You have the right to say no, it’s unacceptable for him to touch you. “I explained to her the principle of mutual consent, and she replied, “But they always hug me.”
Xi Ming who usually works with boys and girls aged 14-17 believes that as long as children from an early age do not know they can say no, the problem will not go away.
In her opinion, it is necessary to start talking about this with them in elementary grades because it is all starts there, according to her own recollections, the boys think that it is very funny – to open a blouse on a girl, to climb up to her skirt, grab her ass or pull her bra strap.
“All this shames and humiliates,” she says.
In her opinion, at an early age, you need to talk about boundaries, and in high school – about consent, about how to understand body language, how to negotiate and articulate certain situations and think before sending someone your own sex photos.
Is there a chance that the legislation will change?
Local pressure is growing.
More than 65,000 people have already signed a petition urging the CCP to reclassify sexist attacks as hate crimes.
In Nottinghamshire, police began registering sexist incidents as hate crimes, and before that, there was no category for such cases.
These episodes are now classified by the police as “incidents directed against women, motivated by the special attitude of a man towards a woman, and involving behavior directed against a woman on the part of a man simply because she is a woman.”
This allows the police to investigate such cases as crimes and help the victims, as well as to better understand the scope of the problem.
However, Sarah King says there are gaps in the legislation and points to the Crimes and Public Disorder Act, which includes offenses such as bullying based on the victim’s religion or race, but not on the basis of gender.
The lawyer believes that a separate article on sexual harassment and harassment will help to better define what is meant by this behavior and create clear boundaries once and for all.