Young People Ask . . .
Sexual Harassment—How Can I Protect Myself?
ANITA is a vivacious 16-year-old with a ready smile. She frowns, though, when she describes recent events at her school. “A very popular boy cornered me in the hallway and started touching me inappropriately,” she recalls. “He had got away with this with a number of other girls—they were flattered by his attentions, but I wasn’t! Asking him in a nice way to keep his hands to himself didn’t work. He didn’t think I really meant it.”
Anita’s dilemma is by no means unusual. Sexual harassment was apparently common in Bible times. (Compare Ruth 2:8, 9, 15.) And it is alarmingly prevalent today. “Some men at work have made vulgar comments about my body,” says one teenage girl. But oftentimes the harassment goes beyond mere words. “Some have tried to touch or grab me,” she adds. A teenage girl named René told Awake!: “The harassment got so bad at work that I had to quit.”
One recent survey reported that 81 percent of students in grades 8 through 11 said that they had been sexually harassed at least once. “Of those,” reports U.S.News & World Report, “65 percent of girls and 42 percent of boys said they had been touched, grabbed or pinched in a sexual way.” Yes, boys as well as girls are targets. As the parent of one teenage boy recalls: “I have been shocked at how bold the girls are at my son’s school. From the time he was 12 or so, we have had persistent phone calls, invitations to date, lewd suggestions—you name it.”
It is easy to make light of this annoying behavior. One youth remarked: “Sometimes it’s done in a joking manner.” But it is not a joke to Christians! They know that sexual harassment is often an attempt to lure one into sexual immorality, something that Jehovah God condemns. (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10) Furthermore, God’s Word commands that young women be treated “with all chasteness.” (1 Timothy 5:2) It also forbids “obscene jesting.” (Ephesians 5:3, 4) Christian youths should therefore not tolerate sexual harassment! The question is, How can you protect yourself from being a target of it? Let’s talk about preventive steps.
Ways to Avert Harassment
Develop a reputation for Christian conduct. “Let your light shine before men,” exhorted Jesus. (Matthew 5:16) Sharing what you believe with schoolmates and workmates is one way to do this. When you are known as one who has deep conviction and high moral standards, you are less likely to be a target of harassment.
Watch how you dress and groom yourself. In Bible times certain clothing identified a woman as being immoral. (Compare Proverbs 7:10.) Likewise today, provocative styles may make you popular with your peers, but they could send out the wrong message. You could find yourself attracting the wrong kind of attention from the opposite sex. A similar problem could arise if a girl wears her makeup in such a way as to make herself look older than she really is. The Bible’s advice is that you ‘adorn yourself in well-arranged dress, with modesty and soundness of mind.’—1 Timothy 2:9.
Choose your associates carefully. (Proverbs 13:20) After all, people will judge you by your associates. And if your friends are known to spend a lot of time talking about the opposite sex, people could get the wrong impression of you.—Compare Genesis 34:1, 2.
Avoid flirting. It is true that there is nothing wrong with being friendly, yet staring and touching can easily be misconstrued by the opposite sex. It is not necessary to touch someone in order to carry on a conversation. Practice the Golden Rule and treat the opposite sex as you want to be treated—chastely and with respect. (Matthew 7:12) Avoid trying to attract the attention of the opposite sex just for the fun of it. Doing so can be not only unkind and misleading but dangerous. “Can a man rake together fire into his bosom and yet his very garments not be burned?” asks the Bible at Proverbs 6:27.
If You Are Victimized
Of course, even if some changes in your dress, grooming, or conduct are in order, others do not have the right to put their hands on you or make lewd suggestions to you. And even some youths who have been exemplary in appearance and behavior have been victimized. What should you do if this happens to you? Here are some suggestions.
Refuse firmly. It is no secret that some people will say no to sexual advances when they really mean yes. Aggressors may therefore assume that a halfhearted no really means yes—or at least maybe—until you convince them otherwise. Jesus’ advice to let your no mean no is quite practical in this matter. (Matthew 5:37) Do not giggle or act coy. Nor should you allow your body language, voice, or facial expression to contradict your words.
Make a scene. Sexual predators often depend on the unwillingness of their victims to resist. In Bible times, though, Israelite women were given the right, indeed the obligation, to resist sexual assault. (Deuteronomy 22:23, 24) Similarly today, a Christian should not feel that being inappropriately touched or fondled is no big deal. It is wrong, an assault on your dignity as a person and as a Christian. You do not have to take it! “Abhor what is wicked” exhorts the Bible!—Romans 12:9.
One effective way to halt the misbehavior is to make a scene and embarrass your harasser; perhaps he will stop. Recall the experience of Anita, who was mentioned at the outset. Politely asking her assailant to stop touching her did not work. Anita tells us: “I had to embarrass him in front of his friends by loudly telling him NOT to touch me that way!” The result? “All his friends laughed at him. He was very cold for a while, but a few days later, he apologized for his behavior and later even defended me when someone else tried to bother me.”
If words do not work, you may simply have to walk—or even run—away from the assault. And if escape is not possible, you have the right to use any means necessary to fend off molestation. One Christian girl bluntly put it this way: “When a boy tried to grab me, I punched him just as hard as I could, and I ran!” Of course, this does not mean that the harasser will not try again. So you will likely need to get some help.
Tell someone. “That’s what I finally had to do,” admits 16-year-old Adrienne. “I asked my parents for advice on the situation when a boy I thought of as a good friend just wouldn’t leave me alone. The more I protested, the more persistent he became, almost as if it were a game.” Adrienne’s parents had practical advice that helped her cope better with the problem.
Your parents can also help you to deal with any emotional fallout that may result from the victimization, such as embarrassment, fear, or shame. They can assure you that the assault was not your fault. They may also take steps to help protect you in the future.
For example, they may decide it is advantageous to inform your teacher or school officials of the problem. Many schools in the United States take complaints quite seriously and have well-defined policies for handling sexual harassment among students.
True, not all school officials are sympathetic. “In my school,” says 14-year-old Earlisha, “sometimes the teachers cuss and act worse than the kids. You don’t know where to turn for help.” Not surprisingly, then, when she reported being harassed, she was accused of being hypersensitive. Earlisha did not give up, though. She got together with six other girls who had been pinched and fondled by the same boy. “It took six of us to convince the principal that there was a real problem,” she says. Finally, she was able to get the misbehavior stopped.
Turn to God for support. If being in school sometimes feels like being trapped in a lions’ den, remember that Jehovah God protected the prophet Daniel in a literal lions’ den. (Daniel 6:16-22) Jehovah can help you too. He understands the pressures you face at school. And if the going gets rough, you can call upon him for help—out loud if necessary! Do not be afraid or embarrassed to be known as a servant of the true God. The Bible promises Jehovah’s faithful servants: “He is guarding the souls of his loyal ones; out of the hand of the wicked ones he delivers them.”—Psalm 97:10.
This does not guarantee miraculous deliverance. You must do what you can to protect yourself. Follow Bible principles. Be modest in your speech and appearance. Exercise caution in dealing with the opposite sex. By doing so, you can do much to protect yourself from harassment.
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Do not be halfhearted when turning down improper advances; let your no mean no!