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The Prevalence of Gender-based Sexual Harassment in the contemporary era

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

*Content Trigger Warning: If you have been a victim of sexual harassment or assault, please seek professional care*. Please contact the sexual assault hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE(4673).

I will discuss the grave issue of violence against women, specifically sexual harassment in offline and online settings. Without a shadow of a doubt, violence against women is an extreme human rights violation that impedes women's sense of safety, dignity, and ability to realize their full potential. It should go without saying that VAW is a human rights issue. It is a barrier to fully achieve the aspirations of equality, peace, security, and human development. Violence against women denotes any act of gender-based violence that is likely to result in or is potentially expected to result in physical, sexual, or psychological harm and suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty that occurs in public and private settings(Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1979) In all, it is an issue that disproportionately impacts women solely based on their biological sex and because of traditional societal norms on our perception of women.

The sign in the picture is a cardboard reading "Silence is Violence".
Silence is communicating complacency during violent acts.

My source of inspiration behind my interest in this topic stems from a few factors. First, I have firsthand experience of being a victim of sexual harassment in various public settings from men of all different age groups in my life. A second factor that piqued my interest in this area is because a few countries, such as the United Kingdom, are looking into criminalizing the act of gender-based street harassment, which men commonly perpetrate.

Getting harassed by adult men can be a scary, uncomfortable feeling. I recently experienced street harassment in a doctor's office, of all places. According to researchers K. Fairchild and A. Rudman, "stranger harassment, also known as street harassment, is "the act of being the recipient of unwanted attention from a stranger that is sexual in nature, which can compose of physical, verbal, and nonverbal harassment." I am very curvy, and it is one of my best assets. Unfortunately, it can work against me because it sometimes gives grown men the green light to make inappropriate comments directed at me or give me weird looks, which is unacceptable under any circumstance.

The word "safety" is painted in bright, fiery colors to send the message to end gun violence and gender-based violence.
Safety is a basic human right.

I conducted additional research to understand the prevalence rate of violence against women, which I found was sobering and unsettling. VAW is a global phenomenon that disproportionately impacts women and girls, regardless of their country of origin or background. 1/3, or roughly 35% of women, experience some form of gender-based violence globally, which is either through physical violence, sexual violence, or non-partner sexual violence. The research informed me that women endure harassment in public spaces and the virtual world. According to UN Women, about 33% of women in Canada have been victims of unwanted sexual harassment in public. Another disturbing statistic is that over 90% of women in Ecuador, most notably those living in urban areas, have dealt with sexual harassment.

*I do not own the rights to this video* Source: YouTube

Researchers Alisha C. Salerno-Ferraro, Caroline Erentzen, and Regina A. Schuller from York University and the University of Toronto, respectively, have conducted a study to ascertain women's personal experiences of being the victims of male-perpetrated sexual harassment on online social media platforms, such as Twitter and through dating applications, such as Tinder. The article, written by the researchers mentioned above, highlighted the ubiquity of sexual harassment against women online. Although social media presents many advantages, it can be a goldmine for predators and strangers to prey on women and girls. Researchers Henry and Powell define technology-facilitated sexual violence as "a range of criminal, civil, and harmful sexually aggressive and harassing behaviors with the use of online communication tools." They posited that there are several propelling motivating factors on why sexual harassment against women occurs. Violence against women has always been traditionally driven by unequal power relations between women and men. Since the beginning of history, society has believed men to be superior, bold, and capable of being leaders.

In contrast, women, on the other hand, were deemed to be inferior and were expected to be submissive and docile. The superiority-inferiority dichotomy has played a considerable role in the manifestation of discrimination and violence against women. A second motivating factor the researchers attributed to the ubiquity of sexual harassment in both public and online settings could be due in part to the male gaze phenomenon in which men/boys feel unduly entitled to women's bodies, which manifests into the sexual objectification of their bodies. Society has programmed men/boys to seek constant gratification to have sex with women. There were a few findings from the "Young Women's Experiences w/Technology-facilitated Sexual Violence from Male Strangers" research study I would like to share:

  • 84% of the female respondents, 318 participants, revealed that they received sexually inappropriate messages (318/381=83.4 or 84%)

  • 74% of female respondents disclosed that they received sexist remarks or comments, which is 281 participants (281/381)= 72.4 or 73%

  • 70% of female respondents, 265 participants, stated that they received seductive behavior and come-ons. (265/381=.695)

  • 64% of female respondents, 245 respondents, stated that they had received unwanted sexual attention from men on the Internet in general. (245/381)

The bottom line is sexual harassment is egregious and highly uncomfortable for women/girls to endure. Sexual harassment, whether it is online or offline, can impact women/girls can produce long-lasting effects that can compromise their overall well-being and health. Anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD), and depression are examples of conditions that can potentially occur depending on the severity and frequency of an incident.

*I do not own the rights to this video* Source: YouTube

To close, I implore my readers, namely men/boys, to become effective bystanders and speak out against any inappropriate behavior you witness in both public and private settings. Also, please respect people's boundaries and space. If a young woman shows that she is not interested in someone, I ask you to respect her feelings.

Sources: Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1979

United Nations. (2020). Gender equality. United Nations.

Salerno-Ferraro, A. C., Erentzen, C., & Schuller, R. A. (2021). Young women’s experiences with technology-facilitated sexual violence from male strangers. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 01–26.

UN Women . (2020). Recommendations into Action brief covid-19: Safe cities and safe public spaces for women and girls: DIGITAL library: Publications. UN Women~EVAW COVID-19 briefs.


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