By Faridat Abdulganiyi

Itis yet another time to make our votes count!
But who else believes polling units are unsafe for women? I, for one, think so. As a girl, I had witnessed — on several accounts — public scenes of sexual harassment. It was either the guys in senior class waiting down the stairs to watch the wind fan up our flair skirts, the intentional
& unintentional body contacts, the immodest remarks, or the unwanted escorts back home. 
Albeit having little understanding of sexual harassment back then, it did not feel less wrong.

Fast forward to the present; in a society that spares and barely recognises similar misconduct, public sexual harassment has been normalised by the lot. As women, we are objectified and made to believe having the opposite gender come after us is unavoidable; so far, we are attractive.

My opinion, however, is strongly dissimilar. Yes, attraction is natural, but boundaries are needed. No sense of entitlement should be held over another individual based on appeal — especially to the extent of unwanted sexual advances. Sexual attraction is one thing; sexual misconduct is another.

As necessary as it is to exercise our civic duties during the election period, how can you know when you are sexually harassed? It might be the uncomfortable body contacts as you line up in a queue, the unwanted sexual remarks, or the persistent requests for your number. How
can you recognise and handle public sexual harassment?

First, what is Public Sexual Harassment (PSH)?

South West London Editorial

PSH is an aspect of Gender Based Violence (GBV) in public spaces. It involves several conducts that may cause an individual to feel sexualised or unsafe, including several unwanted sexual advances.

The term PSH is used instead of street harassment to highlight that this behaviour happens not only on the streets but also in spaces accessible to the public.

It should be recognised as sexual harassment when an individual experiences, without their consent, any of the listed below.

- Attempted sexual assaults
 — Flashing
 — Groping
 — Invasion of personal space
 — Ogling
 — Sexual jokes or questions
 — Sexual remarks
 — Sexualised name-calling
 — Stalking
 — Whistling

All these are forms through which sexual harassment can occur in a public space. So, at any time, if such conduct is labelled as ‘pranks’ or ‘harmless fun’, know that it goes beyond that.

‘You look sexy’ or ‘you are getting thicker there’; are inappropriate compliments! Not even from a friend or the same gender. PSH may also occur between friends or the same genders (between a woman and a woman; or a man and a man).

Aside from disregarding PSH on account of friendship or gender, the silence of some victims can be linked with Affective Forecasting Error.

As humans, we wrongly predict our emotional response to future events. You may have thought, ‘if that ever happens to me, I would confront and get the perpetrator arrested’! No, that is easier said. There is a huge margin between real sexual harassment and imagined sexual harassment. While confronting the harasser might make a victim feel safe and empowered, another might feel unsafe and helpless.

At this point, you may think, ‘what if I get sexually harassed at the polling unit? What would I do’; Naturally, we handle situations differently based on instincts or our rational consciousness. It is usually startling, and there is no right& way to respond to the harasser in
such circumstances. I might confront the behaviour, and someone else might choose to stay silent, while at your end, you might report to the appropriate authority.
Our responses to harassment are nearly unpredictable, but whichever way it takes, pledge to respond. You have the basic right to feel safe and comfortable in a public space like everyone else. Do not pardon those who make you feel otherwise.

Responding to Sexual Harassment in Polling Units

Rule 1: Silence is a ‘yes’.

Respond verbally in a nonviolent way. By staying silent, a harasser would assume you are fine with whatever they are doing to you. They take your silence as a ‘yes’, which will only encourage their misconduct. Although repeating “stop” counts as a response, read on to discover how to handle a persistent harasser.

Rule 2: Do not laugh it off!
The harasser spanks and passes a sexual remark on your body, then labels it ‘a joke’ No, it is not a joke; it is sexual harassment. Those labels are ploys to have their behaviours overlooked and make you feel less disrespected and/or violated. Laughing it off is permission for them to do it next time.

Rule 3: Take action.

Either you choose to confront the harasser on your own, call a PSH helpline number, involve bystanders or report to the officials at the poll, all that matters is you stand up for and defend yourself. Do not give the harasser a chance to think you are powerless.

Rule 4: Do not lose your temper.

It is no news that polling units get heated during the voting process. So, as much as you can, remain calm and composed. Do not attack the harasser physically or verbally (by name-calling). That may cause them to respond violently, and such outbursts could escalate into bigger conflicts.

How To Handle a Persistent Harasser

  1. Decide on what you want.
    Do you want the harasser to stop whatever makes you uncomfortable, stay away from you or even get reported and punished legally? Decide on what you want.
  2. Be/act confident!
    Undoubtedly, getting harassed is a fearful experience, and it is natural to feel shaken. That is why you need to be or ‘act’ confident. Remain calm, firm and serious. Speak clearly and look the harasser in
    the eye.
  3. Do not apologise.

Do not say ‘sorry’, ‘I want to be left alone’, ‘ I beg you, or ‘stop disturbing me’. No, say what you want and do not be apologetic about it. ‘I want to be left alone’ or ‘do not come close to me’ works.

4. Name their behaviour.
If your harasser is asking a sexual question, ogling or invading your personal space, name it. ‘Stop asking for my bra size,’ ‘stop staring at my chest’, or ‘stop moving closer to my face’. State the behaviour and make it clear that it is sexual harassment.

5. Involve the bystanders and officials.
Identify and report the harasser to bystanders or the officials at the polling unit. ‘That man in a green shirt won’t stop commenting on my body ‘that lady in a yellow dress won’t stop touching my thighs.’
Make sure to name the act. Once others are involved, do not engage the harasser verbally — or in any way.

What If I am not harassed but I witness someone else being harassed, what do I do?

Intervening and becoming an active bystander

  • Approach the person, and ask if they are okay or need help.
  • Stay close and observe the person being harassed.
  • Step in or get help from others.
  • Report the situation.

Ultimately, I believe Public Sexual Harassment are actions that go deep into the soul and burn.
It goes beyond the momentary intimidation and deeply affects victims regarding lifestyle, choice of clothing, hesitancy or fear of being in a public space.

About the Author

Judith Caleb


Judith Caleb is a Blogger, content creator, Social Media Specialist, and the owner of Judith Caleb Media; A digital marketing company that runs social media campaigns, messaging, and content creation for businesses, companies, and NGOs. She is also The Team lead of ELLE (Empowering Ladies for leader and Entrepreneurship) and Host FESTOLI- Festival of Lights. She is passionate about life and its description through various art forms, writings, paintings, movies.

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