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Is Sexual Harassment on the Increase?

by Beth Divine 11 Jun 2018

There are so many cases of sexual harassment in the news these days that it seems to be a regular pandemic. Bill Cosby – formerly loved by most of the world – has recently been found guilty of historic rapes, Jimmy Saville was found to have been a monster after his death, and many celebrities have face charges and arrests for various crimes against (predominantly) women. Prior to this, the Catholic Church was becoming almost more famous for its child sexual abuse than it was for the good works and teachings that it should have been famed for.

Does all this media attention mean that sexual harassment is widespread and institutional? This is not an easy question to answer, because it depends on what you call ‘harassment’ and what you call ‘banter’. Despite the loudly voiced objections of the more misogynist amongst us, it is really easy to tell the difference. Banter is good-humoured and non-threatening – and can still be flirtatious and fun. Harassment results in the target feeling threatened, unsafe and insecure.

The unfortunate disconnect comes when one person’s banter feels like another person’s menace… The fact is, many women these days feel threatened when, in fact, they are safe. This may be because of previous bad experiences, their upbringing, or even simply their sense of humour. It is a fact that women are usually smaller than men, that they are physically weaker and are generally more vulnerable than men. This can mean that a man leaning over to chat to a woman can feel very threatening – even without any intention of sexual menace intended.  Then there are men who do feel sexually possessive of any reasonable looking woman who will become progressively more threatening until the woman objects – at which point he generally backs away, claiming it all to be banter and putting the blame for his objectionable behaviour on the woman…

Unfortunately, women tend to be ashamed of being targeted by such a person, and these men tend to be utterly convinced of their own ‘rightness’ which means that all too often, his nastiness is accepted, and her hurt or bewilderment is dismissed as hysterical femininity or – worse – man-hating feminazism…

Fortunately though, sexual harassment does tend to be on the decline. Decent men are moderating their behaviour as they learn how very threatening bigger, stronger men can be to women: as the saying goes ‘Men fear women will laugh at them. Women fear that men will kill them’, and the only people left treating women poorly are those who have serious issues.   This makes it much easier for negative behaviours to be spotted and dealt with, so a higher percentage of harassment or molestation is found out, while actual numbers of cases are lower.

This is a good thing, making the world a safer and friendlier place for all.