Sexual harassment is any unwanted verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. It can make you feel embarrassed, offended, intimidated or unsafe and shouldn’t be ignored.

Sexual harassment can include:

  • Rape or attempted rape
  • Inappropriate sexual looks or gestures e.g. looking at a person up and down 
  • Unwanted deliberate touching, leaning over, cornering or pinching
  • Unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, remarks or questions
  • Unwanted letters, phone calls, or sending unwanted sexual pictures, cartoons or other sexual images (including online)
  • Demanding hugs, dates or sexual favours
  • Asking questions or talking about someone’s sexuality, sex life or body
  • Making unnecessary physical contact, including unwanted touching
  • Using language that puts someone down on the basis of their gender
  • Spreading sexual rumours (including online)
  • Threatening to fail you in your exam or punish someone if they don’t accept sexual advances (this is known as reprisal)
  • Stalking (behaviour that makes someone feel unsafe including unwanted visits, phone calls, texts, emails or letters, leaving gifts or watching someone’s home/school)
  • Whistling, cat calls, kissing sounds, smacking lips
  • Standing uncomfortably close or brushing against a person

If you’re being sexually harassed, remember, it’s not your fault. You’re not responsible for the harasser’s behaviour — no matter what. It’s normal to see physical and emotional side effects from the experience including anxiety, depression, fatigue and insomnia as well as relationship or self-esteem problems. You need to know your rights and options for action if you’re experiencing sexual harassment.

If you’re experiencing sexual harassment in school, here are some things you can do:

1. Get informed

At school: your school may have a sexual harassment prevention policy, so consider asking someone in the main office, the guidance and counselling teacher or any other trusted teacher about this

2. Keep a record

Write a detailed description of the incident(s) including what happened, where it occurred, when it took place and if there were any witnesses. If you have any text messages or screenshots of the incident(s), keep them saved. These records are important in case you need to get legal assistant on the matter 

3. Ask them to stop

This can be scary, but confronting people — even adults in positions of authority — can work. If you feel it’s safe to do so, consider telling the person to stop in a calm but firm manner. Here are some ways you can say stop:

“When you look at me like that, I feel really uncomfortable. I’m asking you to stop it.”

“I’ve said ‘no’ before when you’ve asked me out, and I’m not going to change my mind. If you don’t stop, I’m going to have to tell the principal about it.”

“I’m going to file a report if you touch me (talk to me, say that, etc.) again.”

“Yes, I do have a sense of humour. But what you’re saying isn’t a joke — it’s sexual harassment. If you don’t stop, I’ll need to speak to our boss the principal

4. Address it

If you’ve tried speaking to the person and they won’t stop, or if you don’t feel safe or comfortable confronting the person, here are some ways you can report the harassment:

At school: you can report harassment to a teacher, principal, vice-principal or guidance counsellor.

At home: Tell your parents, before you decide to file a complaint with your school, let your parents know what is going on. 

5. Change your school or job

Changing your school should only be considered as a last resort, in instances where you know you’re unsafe or have tried to stop the behaviour with no success but even if you decide to do this, you should make sure that you still report so that it doesn’t happen to another girl.

6. Report to the police

In case of rape this is a criminal offence and there are laws to protect you. Do notify your parent, guardian or trusted teacher as soon as possible. If you report this within the first 72 hours you will be taken to hospital and you will be given emergency services e.g. Emergency contraception that prevents unwanted pregnancies and PEP that prevents HIV infection. If you would like to press charges against the perpetrator evidence of the rape will also be collected at this point. Do report the matter even if 72 hours have lapsed and ask for counselling.

7. Speak to a counsellor about this

If you are finding it difficult to cope with an issue of sexual harassment find a friendly counsellor near you and have this conversation. If you cannot find a friendly counsellor near you and you are in need of counselling you can call Aunty Jane for FREE on 08000721530.