Sexual harassment is a reality that most women have learnt to live with. Ignoring it, however, won’t make it go away, but may make it even worse. The only way to deal with harassment is to take it head on and report it to the authorities.
If you’re being harassed, there are avenues for you to report it. Every organisation has strict policies for sexual harassment. In a school or college, it needs to be taken up with teachers or the principal.Law enforcement has special cells designated to dealing with harassment. There are many non-profit organisations that help women fight gender-related violence, both physical and mental.
Few victims survive gender-related violence, without it leaving an impact on their psyche. It is easy to fall into the trap of guilt and self-blame. Any person who has been harassed must always keep in mind that it is not your fault. Nothing in a person’s dress or demeanour can be construed as ‘asking for it’.
The first reaction to harassment is often withdrawal. Most victims usually bottle up their feelings and shut themselves from friends and family. It’s important to convince them to talk about it to someone they trust — a friend, someone in the family or a professional counsellor. Having a support system can help her deal with the trauma.
Confiding in an outsider also provides an objective view, which helps victim resolve the conflict within and snap out of any feelings of guilt, self-doubt or estrangement.
Yes, safety comes first and it cannot be neglected. It is imperative to take every necessary measure for your personal safety. But at the same time, it’s important that people who have been harassed don’t let that experience take over their lives.
Not travelling in a bus, not going to work or avoiding meeting people are not the answers. Avoidance and withdrawal only reinforce the trauma and make it much more difficult for you to move on. Try to engage yourself in activities, don’t let go of your routine, and try to restore a sense of normalcy to your life as soon as possible.
(Dr Parikh is Director, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare)