Helping Teenage Girls Identify Sexual Harassment: “It’s Important to Call Things by Their Name”

There are many situations of sexual harassment that sometimes we do not know how to identify. Many times they do not know that what may be happening to them or to their friends may be harassment. An sexual harassment. Yes, according to the experts, it is important to call things by their name.

“When it’s sexual harassment, it’s sexual harassment and we can’t call it anything else,” he told Mayca Sánchez, psychologist expert in gender equality and violence, member of the Official College of Psychologists of Extremadura (COPEX).

“It is important that adolescents and women in general let us know how to put names to situations of harassment that, unfortunately, many are still very normalized in our society. We have to stop normalizing certain behaviors. It is true that things have changed a lot in the last few years thanks to the work of the feminism and movements like #MeToo or the ‘I do believe you‘ (from the case of La Manada) and more and more women and men know how to identify situations of sexual harassment”, adds the psychologist.

And it is that “when we call things by their name is when we can really know what has happened to us and we can then start working on it,” he says Barbara Zorrillaexpert psychologist in intervention with women victims of gender violence and member of the Official College of Psychology of Madrid (COP). “When the woman puts a name to that discomfort she has and knows where it comes from, that is when the year begins to be repaired.” That is, the first thing is to identify it.

Then, it is necessary to repair in two senses. As Zorrilla explains, when a woman has suffered (as a child, adolescent, even as an adult) a situation of sexual violence (either sexual harassment or sexual abuse or assault) and go to therapy to repair that damage, the first thing is to remove the guilt felt by the victim.

“And this guilt felt by the victim is because society or much of society continues to think that if the victim has suffered harassment (also true for other forms of sexual violence such as sexual abuse or sexual assault) is because she has done something: if she hadn’t been dressed like that, if she hadn’t gone home alone, if she hadn’t talked to… This creates a lot of guilt in the victim and no, we can’t re-victimize her. And secondly, in her own personal reparation for her damage: it is important to relate that this damage or that discomfort or symptomatology that the victim feels, has to do with that sexual harassment, “she explains.

When we call things by their name is when we can really know what has happened to us and then we can start working on recovery

“We must be clear that the victims are exempt from all blame. That is, ‘no, this has not happened to you because you have done nothing wrong. You have done absolutely nothing.’ And this is in itself therapeutic for the victim. And that’s when he starts to put himself on the road to getting her back. Therefore, words and language are important,” says the expert.

Because it is important identify or name any type of sexual violence: sexual harassment, sexual abuse and sexual assault or rape”, adds the expert. For legal purposes, according to the new Sexual Freedom Law approved on July 6, 2021 there is no longer a distinction between sexual abuse and assault (‘only yes is yes‘).

What is sexual harassment?

Certain situations of harassment may be more difficult to identify because “this type of sexual violence has been very naturalized, almost legitimized,” says Zorrilla.

However -as we mentioned before- “it was not until a few years ago that things began to change something else: the work of feminist associations and the aforementioned #MeToo movement (which gave voice to many women who were silenced) has helped to identify that this is also sexual violence”.

What do we really call harassment? How can we help our adolescent girls – also other women – to identify sexual harassment? As Sánchez refers, according to the Organic Law 3/2007 for the effective equality of women and mendefines sexual harassment as “any verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature that has the purpose or has the effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular when creating an intimidating, degrading or offensive environment”.

In relation to adolescents and young girls, according to the Macro-survey on Violence against Women 2019of the Ministry of Equality, 60.5% of women aged 16 to 24 have experienced sexual harassment. They have suffered it from a man (98.2% of the cases) and in 34.6% of the cases the harassment was caused by friends or acquaintances; in 17% by someone from work.

Some situations of sexual harassment -according to this report- it would be “insistent or lascivious glances, unwanted physical contact, exhibitionism, sending sexually explicit images or photos that have made the woman feel offended, humiliated, or intimidated” In addition, “sometimes, there is blackmail emotional to the victim. For example, I have this photo of you, so you have to do this,” explains Sánchez.

60.5% of women between the ages of 16 and 24 have suffered sexual harassment and in 34.6% of cases the harassment was carried out by friends and acquaintances

On the other hand, there is the so-called repeated sexual harassment (stalking), this is “when the harassment is carried out by the same person and repeatedly. In such a way that it causes the victim fear, anxiety or anguish. Some examples would be “obscene, threatening, annoying, silent phone calls, which the woman have followed or spied on, that have intentionally damaged his things or have made inappropriate proposals on the internet or on social networks”, according to this survey.

It is important to highlight the weight that the online world currently has, even more so for adolescents. We cannot ignore the fact that “adolescents interact, talk to each other, relate and flirt through the Internet, therefore Harassment situations can also occur (and do occur) on the InternetZorrilla explains.

So much so that according to the study ‘The situation of violence against women in adolescence in Spain’ published in February 2021, online sexual harassment of adolescent girls had increased in recent years.

For example, and according to data from this study -also cited in the infocop magazine– “nearly half of girls between the ages of 14 and 20 say they have been pressured to show sexual photographs” or “14% of the girls say they have felt pressured into sexual activities, the applicants being men in most cases (half of them their own partners)”.

The old myths of romantic love They also still have a lot of guilt in this: “It is important to educate and demolish once and for all those old myths that do so much damage. We must educate and sensitize women and adolescents so that they have healthy relationships,” says Sánchez.

Teach affective-sexual education from childhood

Adolescence is a very vulnerable time, a time of change, where everything is yet to be learned. And to discover. A stage in which there are many fears and insecurities and the role of others, how they see me or how others think about me, has a more than decisive role in adolescents. This is why it can be difficult to observe and identify harassing behavior.

For this reason, it is very important that education is carried out both in schools and, above all, in the family. It is true that they too -and they- have taken in the movements of the #MeToo or the ‘I do believe you’ of 2017 and they have learned that not everything goes and that there are things that are wrong, so bad that they are identified as sexual abuse; but there is still a long way to go.

“Affective-sexual education is key and even more so that it be carried out from when we are small, from childhood,” says Zorilla. “Because besides, If I don’t identify this as harassment, I won’t know how to put a stop to that behavior.a, for this reason it is important that all of us – men and women – be aware of what is harassment and what is not and what is inappropriate behavior, what is a lack of respect, what is aggressive behavior, etc. “. And even better if we establish it since we are little, that we gradually get to know and internalize all that.

In addition, “it is much more useful when the kids tell each other: ‘hey, I think you’re going too far’, ‘don’t go there’, ‘I think you’ve made him feel bad’… Power is much greater when peers are the ones who disfigure these behaviors,” adds the expert.

It is also important to explain that affective-sexual education is not only an education focused solely on avoiding unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases, but also involves the entire affective part of sex as a language, as communication, the emotions that are aroused, etc. For this reason, it is key that this type of education be addressed from families and also from schools. We must speak in order to increase our knowledge“, he concludes.

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Helping Teenage Girls Identify Sexual Harassment: “It’s Important to Call Things by Their Name”