Of harassment and its prevention

While poor behaviour isn't something we can entirely erase, it is something we can address
Representational Image
Representational Imagemsmagazine [Creative Commons]

It might seem fanciful to think we can create a world where all people have the freedom to move through a public space, workplaces, institutions, and domestic life without harassment or violence, so they can reach their full potential. That is something we can all aspire to create. While poor behaviour isn't something we can entirely erase, it is something we can address.

Recently, sexual harassment and violence have received a resurgence in attention after many sex-rackets and rape incidents have been reported. The netizens  got outraged after a series of stories involving alleged child rape and sexual abuse were posted on social media since 1st day of 2023, and are demanding rigorous punishment for the offenders. The number of rape incidents is increasing at an alarming rate in Kashmir with each passing day. Each day, there is news apropos to sexual harassment in any part of Kashmir. Majority of such incidents are not reported due to the fear of reputational damage to the victim and victim’s family.

Often, when we come across an emergency situation or one in which poor behaviour is occurring, it can be risky for several people, including ourselves. This risk may be physical. It may be a threat of violence or of an escalation that makes the whole thing worse. Alternatively, it may be a risk to someone's well-being affecting their social or emotional state both in the short and long-term. Keeping people safe is very much the key to being an active bystander, and that includes yourself.

The ABC approach to safety

We can use the ABC approach to think about keeping safe as an active bystander. The A stands for assess. If you see a situation unfolding, be it in person or online, ask yourself if you can help safely in any way. Remember, your personal safety is a priority. Never put yourself at risk. Also, if an intervention is going to make the situation worse, think about alternatives or how you might work better with those around you, to ensure the situation does not escalate.

Indeed, B is for be in a group. As we have discussed, groups are not always known to us or pre-arranged. They can form tacitly in a situation. It is often safer to call out behaviour or intervene as a group, taking on different complimentary roles or acting in concert to alleviate the risk. If this is not an option, delaying, delegating or distracting may be your best strategies. Part of the assessment will be about the group you find yourself in.

The C though, reminds us to always care for the person being targeted. Talk to the person who you think may need help. Ask them if they are okay. Ask them, if possible, if they even want your help. You will remember from our role plays that asking does not always mean spoken words.

Using body language or texts on a phone can be very effective. It can also be useful to provide distractions which offer an exit view to the situation, if they wish. Be supportive, patient and non-judgmental.

Importantly, if someone discloses harassment or sexual assault, avoid asking them whether they were drunk, what they were wearing, whether they invited any sexual contact, as you might unwittingly imply it was their fault and engage in what we call victim-blaming.

Stick to what they need. Tell them you believe them. Always help them in any way they choose. Part of being caring may be respecting their wish that you do nothing, even if you believe a particular course of action may be best for them.

When someone discloses a crime such as rape, for example, we may want to call the police straight away and send the survivor off to receive health care. This may not be what the person wants, and it has the potential to make them feel disempowered through further depriving them of their lack of freedom of choice.

Be supportive and hold back from imposing your will on them. Often, by giving someone the immediate physical and emotional support, they will feel more empowered to consider their options and potentially take a step further down the line, which transforms them from a victim to a survivor. Being present can sometimes be enough to make a huge difference in the person's life, even though it may feel like a very small action in relation to what is happening or what has happened.

Online care and safety

More and more, we are living our lives and working online. While technology has provided new opportunities to connect and share information widely, it also presents issues around poor behaviour. Action around online sexual harassment and violence and broader issues of discrimination, bullying, and violence are critical. Online sexual harassment and violence involve unwanted sexual behaviour and other violent sexual threats or actions on any digital platform, and many believe cyber violence is growing. It can happen between anyone online, from young to old, public figures to private individuals. It can include various behaviours that use digital content such as images, videos, posts, messages, tweets, pages, and the like. This means they can take place on various online platforms, private or public, including social networking services, communication and messaging services, and entertainment and gaming services.

Poor behaviour can range from poor taste comments that sexualise or harass individuals to non-consensual image sharing or even deep fake pornography. Indeed, the latter presents real issues as people can now make fake explicit videos with apps that swap someone’s face taken from social media or images onto another’s body without the consent of the parties whose images are used. The instances of poor behaviour may be a one-off or may be ongoing. Whatever the content and context, these behaviours can make a person feel threatened, exploited, coerced, humiliated, upset, sexualised, or discriminated against. Notably, experiences can overlap between the offline and online worlds, including offline behaviour such as stalking, relationship abuse, and exploitation.

Parents should note that many children report online sexual harassment by the time they are teenagers. Surveys of 13–17 years olds have shown more than half of children report seeing sexual harassment online. Our ability to build good behaviour and share techniques to address poor behaviour starts early, and parents can model this with their children and teens and discuss active bystander techniques with them. This isn’t just a workplace issue! Effective prevention involves us starting as early as possible with modeling good behaviour online. 

It also is important to outline the laws and regulations in this context, setting out the penalties that may emerge for certain kinds of conduct. There is a range of emerging criminal laws and civil penalties worldwide that means sharing non-consensual images, engaging in online harassment and stalking, or doing certain things with children online could attract penalties for the individual and their organization.

When an online incident happens

When an incident happens online, it is important to support individuals using the techniques outlined in this write up. There may also be risks of further distribution, secondary victimization, and risks to your organization, institution, or workplace and its reputation. Messages and images can be public and private, so what happened may easily wind up distributed now or in the future. This could cause further harm. There are several key issues to consider. If you are made aware of an incident and need to help, you should encourage the victim to report the incident to the police immediately.

Research suggests that sometimes using restorative approaches can be effective in preventing further online harm. These approaches bring the person exhibiting poor behaviour together with the person who experienced it to discuss the incident, along with others who are involved. Be aware that restorative justice may not always be appropriate and work with those who experienced poor behaviour or violence to decide whether they are comfortable with it. If it is not carefully managed, it may cause further trauma. The victim must be comfortable engaging with this process; it should not be forced on them. Discussion may help change behaviour, and for less serious incidents may offer a learning experience; we know this approach often works well with young people. 

If you see any sexual video or image on social media you must contact the online site or service the material is hosted on using an available reporting route to request the content is removed. Service providers should remove any content that breaches their terms and conditions. Support the person and offer to do your best, but don't make sweeping commitments for removal you can't deliver on.

Users are experts on their own use and, therefore, can be a valuable source of information even if they are not fully aware of all the issues that arise and strategies that can be used to keep technology safe and enjoyable. Of course, new technology and services can have a great impact on our behaviour. A lack of awareness may mean that certain behaviours go undetected or unreported, so it is essential to review the risk and usage of technology frequently.

When an incident happens, explore some of the points we raised earlier in the section to think about how you might mitigate the risks and stop this from happening in the future. Most of all, remember, while technology can present risks, it also delivers opportunities. Control measures that we put in place after risk assessments should not disrupt or interfere with the positive use of technology, the internet and social media. It’s important that good use is encouraged and good behaviour celebrated.

Someone has rightly said that If we are to fight discrimination and injustice to women we must start from the home for if a woman cannot be safe in her own house then she cannot be expected to feel safe anywhere. Most of the parents have completely failed to secure their daughters from sexual harassment because either the parents are involved in a dispute or they are indulged in money making. They never watch contacts of their daughters. In most of the cases, victim is sexually harassed either by own relative or someone known to her family. If parents would had taken preventive measures as per the our ethical standards, it would have saved their children from such heinous crimes. I am sorry to say that nowadays parents are becoming careless about their children. They remain busy with unnecessary things and do not prioritise security of their children, which is their pivotal duty.

Sometimes, a daughter tries to share such incident with her parents but due to their harsh behaviour or busy schedule she cannot. Parents must be pro active when it is a matter of safety of their children. I hope to empower you, and for you to empower other everyday people to create safe and welcoming environments for all.

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