Should women go public when sexually harassed?

This post was in my draft folder but after hearing about yesterday’s online sexual harassment fiasco in Amman I decided this is the best time to move it from draft to publish.

First of all I would like to commend on the girl who decided to go public about this repeated sexual harassment thing. Knowing the culture in Jordan I would say she is a brave woman who deserves full support.

Here are two stories about women who decided it to break their silent:

Story I

I am not very sure what my age in this story was but I still remember some details clearly for some reason. I was around the age of 12 or 13 more or less. While playing with other kids outside our apartment building, a girl in her late teens or early 20s called her 16 or 17 year-old brother, who was with us, from the balcony. She told him something about the barber whose shop is opposite to our building. It seems the barber made it a habit to stare at the girl and annoy her with some smiles and gestures whenever she goes to the balcony to hang out the washed clothes for drying. The sister finally decided to seek help by telling her brother and telling him about the barber. Of course this led to a quarrel between the brother and the barber. At that time I blamed the sister, I thought she should have not told her brother. But I was a kid. The girl had it being the prey and wanted retaliation against her predator.

Story II

I heard the following story from my aunt who is a practicing lawyer now. One day while returning back home from the university she felt someone was following her. She was walking in the downtown during the day time. She tried to walk faster and slower to make sure whether he was following her or not. As a man I would be agitated and anxious if I knew someone is following me for no reason so how about if it happened to a girl. When my aunt was sure he was following her she stopped near a policeman, who happened to be there, and told him about the guy and asked him loudly to arrest him. She wanted other people in the street to hear her not just the policeman. My aunt thought that when she makes a scene she would get help from the people in the street but what happened was something shameful. The people who gathered tried to calm her down and tell her that there is no need to go to the police satiation. She told me the people told her all kind of excuses as if she was the oppressor not the victim. They told her that if she insisted in taking him to jail she has to go to the police station and it is not good for a girl to go there. They told her that the forgiver is an honorable person (in Arabic, Elmsameh kareem) and many other excuses. The strange thing is not only men who were talking her out of taking this guy to jail but women as well. Anyway, when the policeman saw she was persistent he took the guy in his car and she followed them in a taxi to the police station. I forgot what happened next. But I am very proud of my aunty. I believe she only were able to do that because her father (my late grandfather who was a Mufti and a religion teacher) taught her that women are no less than men and that she can defend herself any time because her voice needs to be heard. Unfortunately in Jordan, some other fathers or brothers would scold their daughter or sister if she does what my aunt did. They would think of her retaliation as a disgrace and that the girl would brought to them a public embarrassment because first she made a seen in the street and second because she went to the police station.

If a woman does not want her daughter to be harassed in the future like her she should break her silence now. Also, men need to show their wives, sisters and daughters their full support when the women decide to break that silent. Don’t let your daughter or sister feel ashamed defending herself. You should encourage her to stand up for herself and live with more confident.

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27 thoughts on “Should women go public when sexually harassed?

  1. Good Morning.

    You did the right thing publishing this post than leaving it lying on your drafts. Yes the girl who went public with her story is very brave, not only because she spoke up when all the other girls kept it to themselves, but also because she broke the social norm of silence in those unorthodox situations if one may say.

    Sexual Harassment comes in many shapes and forms and shouldn’t be practiced in our country, region or the world for the matter. I hope more girls speak up on their experiences, and if anything, you are right, I hope men would appreciate those brave girls and tell them to speak up rather than silence them with shame.

    Great post, keep it up.

  2. If a woman does not want her daughter to be harassed in the future like her she should break her silence now

    هاد هوه بالزبط اللي كنت عم بحاول أحكيه,, بس مش عارفه اصيغه

    أحيييك ع هيك مقال

  3. Ok, brace yourselves for what I’m about to say will most likely not please many, but I ask that you please consider it.

    First, we have to define what sexual harassment is and when it should be considered a crime that deserves punishment. For example, you mentioned that the barber in the first story used to whistle at the girl. Well, I’m gonna ask the obvious question that for some reason nobody in Jordan every thinks of: so what? So what if he whistled? Let him whistle until he runs out of breath. What would happen? How does that affect the other person? Are women so weak in Jordan that whistling at them will cause such big trouble? Do the women feel annoyed by it? Probably, and that’s fine and probably normal, but being annoying is NOT really a crime, or is it? Even gestures, what harm will they do if they were simply gestures? I grew up in Jordan then lived most of my adult life abroad, and now I’m back. I have lived in our society, and in other societies, and it irritates me how women in Jordan let other people so easily control how they feel about themselves.

    In the US, no woman would pay attention to a lewd comment from a passer by or a stranger at a bar because she knows and understands that no matter what somebody else says, or even does, is not going to change WHO SHE IS and WHAT SHE IS WORTH! Only she decides how good, strong and honorable she is, all with her choice. That is why to her, a stupid comment from “an asshole,” or even the sexual advance from a stranger, under no circumstances can be considered an “attack” on her (what pathetic attack?!), and under no circumstances can she be considered a “victim.” Do we ever say that an elephant was the victim of an attack by a house fly? No.

    In Jordan, for many reasons, this is not the case. Unfortunately, Jordanian women seem to have developed a very low self-esteem. They have an embedded belief that they are NOT in control of who they are as individuals, and what they are worth as human beings. All of that, to them, is in the hands of the men in their society. They [the men] decide how they live, how they feel about themselves, and how society views them? Their honor [the women], doesn’t even belong to them, it belongs to the men in their families; they decide whether they want to keep it and defend it, or tarnish it and then expunge it from their families’ records. And this is what was on full display yesterday, unfortunately.

    A Jordanian woman allowed herself to forget that only she should hold the keys to determining what her honor is worth, that she alone (with her choice and action) should determine the image society has of her, and that no one else, not even her own parents, can bring to question her honor in the absence of her own choice and will, and she played along in the same game that the males in her society set up, followed all the rules, and called herself and many other women like her poor “victims,” why? Because some idiot asked them to have pity cyber-sex with him, and they simply said “No.”

    1. When we were little we used to hear a story from our grandmas about that little boy who used to go shop for him mom, and each time he snatched an extra egg, or a couple extra tea bags etc. and brought them to him mom who always smiled and never told him it was wrong,
      the boy grew up as a thief and got involved in a theft that lead to a murder and was sentenced to death. when was asked for his last wish he asked to bring his mom and cut her tongue, as if it wasn’t for her silence he wouldn’t have been there now.

      it is nothing about self esteem or lack of it, your silence to wrong doings, no matter how trivial you see them, would be a pathway for bigger and major mistakes. the barber who used to whistle to that girl, had she ignored it as you suggest, he might have had interpreted that as acceptance of flirtation and could have harrassed her closely next time she was passing by his place. Or her silence would have been an indication for him that women like that and he could do it to others too.

      same applies to the street silly guys and of course to our case it hand. Had the first girl spoke out and said that she was offered cybersex, he would have stopped then where the damage would have been repairable. the silence of the first victim (not blaming here) lead him to think he could get away with it with others and kept trying his luck.

      so, YES women and men, should not keep their mouths shut for any wrongdoing.

      1. Hala, what happened yesterday was not a woman sending a guy a signal or “protecting” other girls from him. First, the guy himself and what he did do not constitute a “threat” that people should feel the need to protect themselves and others from. What happened yesterday was a public lynch mob, going after a guy in the ugliest of manners. Why? Because he asked a woman to have sex with him. And I repeat the same question I asked about the whistling: so what?

        Well, reading your comment, I see the answer, and it proves my point. You said “had she ignored it as you suggest, he might have had interpreted that as acceptance of flirtation and could have harassed her closely next time she was passing by his place.” Notice how this plays right into the rules that our male-dominant society has placed around women? When women can’t or shouldn’t “ignore” even the silliest of behaviors from men, because the men will interpret them as “acceptance” and even invitations for more daring advances.

        Let me ask you a question: what would have happened if the lady from yesterday simply sent the guy a private message stating the following points:

        1- A rejection of his solicitation for cyber sex
        2- A reminder that his solicitation is actually considered a crime in Jordan
        3- A declaration that the lady does not subscribe to the values represented by the man’s solicitation and that she believes the act to be a dishonorable one
        4- A demand for an apology for insulting behavior
        5- A demand that the man has no further contact with her
        6- A threat that any further contact will be met with escalation with parties who have authority over the guy like his family or his friends, or even that it will be escalated through legal channels

        All of this could have been communicated to him directly and discretely. All of it would have been within the bounds of reason, and all of it would have been sufficient to resolve the matter between the two parties. Such a measured response would have demonstrated the woman’s strong and confident character. Instead, what we got was a bullying lynching mob targeting one individual with all sorts of crazy accusations, a shit storm of ugliness so bad it probably needs to be outlawed itself! And all of this why? Because one man’s values did not match or mesh well with the values of a woman he approached in private.

        But that wouldn’t have been a fun way to end things, would it? Women wouldn’t have been able to play victim one more time if this incident didn’t come to light like this, would they? And some random girl in Jordan wouldn’t have been able to share that while she wasn’t one of the man’s “victims” she “felt” their “pain,” and that he had “hurt women ALL OVER THE WORLD” with his “shameful” act. Oh for God’s sake people. All of this because the guy asked a woman to have sex!

        1. I do not see that we disagree a lot here, in my post, the end of it, i said BOTH MEN AND WOMEN should defend themselves i didn’t only mean to discuss women, but was merely discussing the examples at hand,

          regarding your other solution for this particular case, yeah, i guess you are right that would have been an option. but Alas, nothing can be undone now.

      2. To further make the point clear. My comments do not say that such behaviors should necessarily be ignored, nor do they say that not ignoring them is wrong. What my comments say is that:

        1- Women in Jordan have allowed themselves (their image and their actions) to be defined by the males in their society, and

        2- The reaction to this incident was wrong, and played right into the problem mentioned in the previous point

        If you can take those two points from what I said, and only those two, then that’s good.

        1. Jordanian Liberal and Hala,
          Thanks for the interesting discussion.
          I would like to bring to your attention that according to the girl in mind she actually told the harasser many times to stop it offline and she only went public after his repeated harassment and that as far as I read he did it with many other girls as well. So, doing what she did was her only way.
          I agree with J. Liberal regarding the first story. Being annoyed does not make one a victim. There is a distinction between sexual harassment and flirtation but even in the west this line between the two is not very clear. But at least it should not be crossed once a woman explicitly shows her disapproval of the situation.
          In our culture it is a shame for a woman to go public that she had been sexually harassed. My point, regarding women in Jordan is that they should not be afraid and as you mentioned they should not have a low esteem. Although, I disagree with you that they developed this low-esteem by themselves. I am not sure how long you have lived in Jordan but ours is a masculine culture. Unfortunately, many families teach girls at very early age to be silent.

          1. Jaraad, although JL had some interesting points, it does seem that the gender power differential does not come into play at all.

            The offense came through mis-use of social media. She did try to deal with it privately. He was enjoying quite a bit of affirmation as a personality on social media, and misusing his influence, and she had had enough. There was no entrapment or set-up.

            I work with sexual abuse victims who are silenced by direct and implicit threats of using the male-weighted honor culture to to continue their abuse. I am very glad that this generation of women has had enough and is calling it out when they see it.

            1. Kinzi, yes it is important to mention that she tried to solve the problem privately. And people who don’t know the guy, or that he publicly admitted his abuse to many girls not just one, may felt things went over board without knowing the whole story.
              A feedback from someone with your expertise in such issues is always helpful. Thanks!

            2. Again, I ask: why do you consider this an offense? The mere solicitation. Do you know that in Jordan, the fact that this is criminalized is only the product of sexual discrimination. Had it been a woman asking a man, there would have been no crime according to the law. Interesting, isn’t it?

              I also have to ask another question: why do you think the guy’s social media status had anything to do with it? How did he misuse it? You don’t need to be a celebrity to be able to send someone a private message asking them for sex. What unfolded proved that regardless of the guy’s status, she was easily capable of not only rejecting his indecent proposal, but to also pretty much destroy the guy (he’s even lost his job now).

              Finally, I want to reiterate that I’m not advocating that women ignore and don’t confront men who harass them or simply annoy them. I am only advocating that women think carefully about the way they react. In my opinion, the way the girl reacted in this case was completely unreasonable. It wasn’t the only way she could make him stop annoying her. To make matters worse, some of the things that were said clearly showed just how ridiculous the way we approach the topic of male/female relationships in our society has become. I am referring to the cries of horror at the “crime” this man committed and the “hurt” he caused for “all the women of the world.”

              1. Please read my reply to Naddoush below it addresses some of the points you mentioned.

                Regarding your second question, I don’t know. I think girls involved might better answer this question.

                Regarding your first question, I don’t know about the state law. So, I don’t know if such offense is criminalized or not. But in a country that is also ruled by tradition the offense is criminalized according to our culture.

                “Had it been a woman asking a man, there would have been no crime according to the law.” Are you sure about that? I doubt it because in the case of adultery the punishment is the same for men and women.

                I do understand your point about the girl’s reaction. I understand that things may have went overboard a little bet. But I don’t think she did anything wrong. The escalation happened not because of her but because of the guy’s reaction and other people’s reaction as well.

                1. Here’s a link to the law: http://www.lob.gov.jo/ui/laws/search_no.jsp?no=16&year=1960

                  read article (306), you’ll see that it discriminates between adult men and women. By the way, remember that what happened in this case was not adultery, yet for some reason people still anchor their thoughts on adultery when treating this one case. Interesting too, don’t you think?

                  As to what the girl did, and what others did too, it also is punishable by Jordanian law (article 188 of the same law), and I personally believe is ethically (maybe not morally) wrong as well. Now, please be careful as to not interpret that as me saying that responding to such unwelcome advances is wrong; it is the particular response in this case that I’m talking about (in essence, the I’m going to afda7ak in front of everyone response). You can read my reply to Hala about what I believe the girl should have done instead.

                  1. Thanks for the link. Yes, it is interesting. I now need to read it all 🙂
                    I read your comments and I understand your points but you have to keep in mind that this is the first such case in Jordan. It is a situation were we can’t all agree on the same thing.
                    I am a teaching assistant in a university here. Before entering the class room I had to attend Preventing Sexual Harassment Training and pass its test. I don’t think we have such thing in Jordan. This issue is more complicated than it looks even for a country like the US with all its complex regulations and laws.

  4. The answer is yes women should. Any form of unwanted sexual advancements is considered illegal,the victim suffers and the offender ought to get punished for his misdeeds, it is as simple as that.Yes it is hard to define what constitute sexual harrasment and what not but I think that we all know it when we see it.

    1. I agree. In general, in Jordan we like to forgive the offender more than punishing him. You can see many examples not just in the case we are talking about here. I think it is a behavior worth studying and analyzing.
      Thanks for participating in this discussion.

  5. I agree that what was done was despicable and wrong – but I also think that the response and public lynching was way out of hand. If this person deserves to “die and burn in hell” as it states in the comments on his blog – I am not sure what the punishment for harsher crimes should be…

    That being said – for me this incident sparks an intriging discussion about sexuality in Jordan (or the Middle East in general.I have written about this issue before (http://ananaddoush.net/2010/01/25/the-virgin-post/) regarding all the problems young girls gets themselves into because they are sexual beings. Are we only to blame the indivuiduals for their wrong doings here – or are society and tradition also to blame?!

    1. In the past 10 years, I have read some of the most offensive and weirdest comments on different online pages (YouTube, Facebook, newspapers, etc.) So, for someone to write burn in hell is nothing new here or unexpected.

      As I mentioned in the post, I was planning to publish this post before this recent incident. So, my goal, mainly, was to talk about the importance of speaking up against sexual abuse regardless of how to do it. Now, regarding the recent incident some people believe that things went overboard and others believe it is justified. My opinion is that the offender made things worse when he tried to communicate via twitter and his blog.

      Thanks for the link. The subject is worth revisiting.

  6. http://muslimmatters.org/2011/04/25/sexual-harrassment-a-muslim-problem/

    The Effects of Sexual Harassment on the Victim

    The effects of sexual harassment vary from person to person, and are contingent on the severity, and duration, of the harassment. However, sexual harassment is a type of sexual assault, and victims of severe or chronic sexual harassment can suffer the same psychological effects as rape victims. Aggravating factors can exist, such as their becoming the target of retaliation, backlash, or victim blaming after their complaining, or filing a formal grievance. Indeed, the treatment of the complainant during an investigation or litigation can be brutal, and add further damage to their life, health, and psyche. Depending on the situation, a sexual harassment victim can experience anything from mild annoyance to extreme psychological damage, while the impact on a victim’s career and life may be minimal, or leave them in ruins.

    1. I guess this is one essential point of view that we overlooked here. The effects do vary from one person to person and therefore the victim’s retaliation would vary as well.
      Thanks for your feedback and for the link. The link sounds very informative. I need to read it soon.

  7. I am not of the religion in question, and have never been to Jordan, but my view is reasonably simple.

    If a someone (man or woman, and not just with regards to sexual harrassment) feels uncomfortable with the actions of another, even if it is something as small as a whistle, should have the right to defend themself.

    Regardless of religion, race or sex if you don’t stand up for yourself – then why should anyone else?
    It may seems selfish, but you should come first to you.

    Great post, and great debate 🙂
    Good job.

    Tom

    1. Thanks for your comment. You are right that one has the right to defend him/herself if was annoyed by even a whistle.
      Glad to hear other people’s opinion about the subject.

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