How Can I Deal With Sexual Harassment?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A FLIRTATIOUS stare, a "compliment" with sexual overtones, an obscene joke, an overtly sexual touch—such treatment, when unwelcome and repeated, often amounts to what can be called sexual harassment. Although global statistics are hard to come by, surveys indicate that most school-age youths in the United States have experienced it.

Just what is sexual harassment? The book Coping With Sexual Harassment and Gender Bias, by Dr. Victoria Shaw, defines it as "bothering someone in a sexual way . . . It can be physical (such as touching someone in a sexual way), verbal (such as making unwelcome comments about someone's appearance), or nonverbal." Sometimes the harassment involves crude propositions.

Much of the harassment in school probably comes from your peers. However, in some cases the offending behavior has come from adults, such as teachers. An article in Redbook magazine speculates that the relatively small number of teachers who are actually convicted for sexual offenses "probably represents only the tip of the iceberg."

Women—and sometimes men—were subject to such mistreatment even back in Bible times. (Genesis 39:7; Ruth 2:8, 9, 15) And the Bible made this grim prediction: "There will be difficult times in the last days. People will be selfish, greedy, boastful, and conceited; they will be insulting . . . ; they will be unkind, merciless, slanderers, violent, and fierce." (2 Timothy 3:1-3, Today's English Version) So it is possible, even likely, that you will encounter sexual harassment yourself.

God's View

Admittedly, not all youths are distressed by sexually aggressive behavior. Some may find it amusing—or even flattering. One disturbing U.S. survey showed that among victims of sexual harassment, 75 percent admitted that they themselves had harassed others. Some adults may aggravate the problem by downplaying the seriousness of sexually aggressive behavior, brushing it off as just childish experimentation. But how does God view it?

God's Word, the Bible, clearly condemns all forms of sexual harassment. We are told not to "encroach upon the rights" of others by violating sexual boundaries. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8) In fact, young men are specifically commanded to treat "younger women as sisters with all chasteness." (1 Timothy 5:1, 2) Furthermore, the Bible condemns "obscene jesting." (Ephesians 5:3, 4) Therefore, you have a right to feel angry, upset, confused, and even demeaned when you are harassed!

What Do I Say?

Sharing religious beliefs Letting your Christian beliefs become common knowledge can be a protection

How, then, should you react if someone bothers you in this way? Sometimes a weak or vague response only makes a harasser try harder. The Bible tells us that when Joseph was propositioned by his employer's wife, he did not simply ignore her. Instead, he firmly rejected her immoral advances. (Genesis 39:8, 9, 12) Today, being firm and direct is still the best way to fend off harassment.

True, the one bothering you might not mean to offend you. What looks like harassment may actually be an unpolished attempt to attract your attention. So do not feel that you have to resort to uncouth behavior yourself to halt an unwanted advance. Simply saying something like, 'I don't like that kind of talk' or, 'Keep your hands to yourself, please' may get your point across. However you word it, do not water down your message. Let your no mean no! Young Andrea puts it this way: "If they don't catch on to your kind hints, you have to tell them straight out. It often comes to that." A firm 'Cut it out!' may do the job.

If the situation escalates, do not try to handle things alone. Try talking it over with your parents or other mature adults. They may have some practical suggestions for dealing with the situation. As a last resort, they may even feel it necessary to alert school officials. As uncomfortable as doing so might make you, it could protect you from further victimization.

Preventing Harassment

Of course, it's best to avoid being victimized in the first place. What might help in this regard? Andrea advises: "Never give the impression that maybe you are kind of interested. Others will hear about it, and the pressure will continue." The way you dress can play a major role. Young Mara says: "I don't dress like a grandmother, but I do avoid clothes that attract attention to my body." Rejecting sexual advances while at the same time wearing provocative clothes may be sending a mixed message. The Bible recommends dressing "with modesty and soundness of mind."—1 Timothy 2:9.

Two groups of young people By not associating with the wrong crowd, you may prevent harassment

Your choice of friends also affects how you are treated. (Proverbs 13:20) Rosilyn observes: "When some of the girls in a group like the attention from guys, the guys may assume that all the girls in the group feel the same way." Carla made the same point: "If you hang around with ones who give in to the remarks or who enjoy the attention, then you will get harassed too."

The Bible tells of a young girl named Dinah who associated with girls from Canaan—where women were known for their loose behavior. This led to her being sexually assaulted. (Genesis 34:1, 2) With good reason the Bible states: "Keep strict watch that how you walk is not as unwise but as wise persons." (Ephesians 5:15) Yes, being "strict" about how you dress, how you speak, and with whom you associate can do much to protect you from harassment.

For Christian youths, however, one of the most effective ways of fending off harassment is simply to let others know of your religious stand. Young Timon, one of Jehovah's Witnesses, recalls: "The kids knew that I was a Witness, so that stopped almost all the harassment." Andrea observes: "Telling them you are a Witness makes a big difference. They will realize that in many ways you are different from them and that you have strict moral standards."—Matthew 5:15, 16.

If You Are Harassed

Try as you may, you cannot entirely escape rude, abusive people. But if you are the victim of a harasser, there is no reason for you to pummel yourself with guilt—as long as you have behaved like a Christian. (1 Peter 3:16, 17) If the situation distresses you emotionally, find support by talking to your parents or to mature ones in the Christian congregation. Rosilyn admits that it's hard to feel good about yourself when you are being harassed. "Just having companionship," she says, "someone you can talk to, is very good." Remember, too, that "Jehovah is near to all those calling upon him."—Psalm 145:18, 19.

Taking a stand against mistreatment is not easy, but it is worth it. Consider, for example, the Bible account of a young woman from Shunem. Although she was not really harassed as the term is commonly understood today, she did receive unwanted advances from Solomon, the rich and powerful king of Judah. Because she was in love with another man, she resisted those advances. She could therefore say of herself with pride, "I am a wall."—Song of Solomon 8:4, 10.

Show the same moral fiber and determination yourself. Be a "wall" when it comes to unwanted advances. Make your Christian stand clear to everyone around you. By doing so, you can remain "blameless and innocent" and have the confidence that you have pleased God.

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