When you are thinking about sexual harassment, how does the typical victim look in your mind? A young woman, attractive, long hair and a lot of skin showing? This would be the stereotype that the majority of people have in mind. Especially in the past weeks different incidents happened, where female victims were being harassed and/or abused. It is a fact that more women compared to men have to experience sexual harassment. In a nationally representative study conducted by the University of Chicago in 2019 81% of the
women and 43% of the men stated that they experienced any kind of sexual harassment and/or abuse in their life.
This is an issue and also the reason that we started this series in the first place. As we already discussed, victim-blaming behaviour still happens way too often, especially to female victims, which is horrible. Harassment and abuse are never excusable and one should never blame a victim. However, when discussions about this topic arise, the majority seems to think that only women have to deal with experiences of sexual harassment and abuse. Although almost half of the men reported incidents in the study above, the topic still is hushed up and not being talked about. We interviewed Adam, who was willing to open up about his experiences and how they influenced his life.
With this interview, we are not stating that the incidents that happened in the past are trivial. They are not. They are awful and it is even worse that victims still have to fight for the recognition of their story. We show solidarity, empathy and compassion to every person who had to go through experiences of any form of harassment and/or abuse of any kind.
RABBAZ: Could you tell us, what exactly happened to you like when, where, and by whom?
Adam: There is not THAT ONE specific experience that I had. I am working in a club and in a bar, before that, I was working as a tour guide in Spain. Especially when alcohol is involved people tend to lose their inhibitions. So I experienced almost every form of harassment, starting with verbal statements in form of invitations to clean the flat while being naked or comments concerning my bottom to ending with an unconsenting touch of my arms, torso, bottom or even genital area. I also know of other people who are
working in areas where alcohol is involved, that hands land in areas where they do not belong or where words are being said that would be an absolute taboo vice versa.
RABBAZ: Do you remember how you felt in these kinds of moments?
Adam: It varies. I think it is difficult because it is socially not frowned upon. Reactions like „Just be happy about it“, „It is not that bad“ or „Take it as a compliment“ are not that rare. But of course, you do feel strange. The weirdest feeling for me personally is, when I am confronting the person about her action and her reaction basically says that I should not be like that because it is normal. I can only judge from my male perspective, which of course is biased and limited. I know it is happening to a lot of women, too […]. However, there is a lack of acceptance that it is not okay for women to harass men.
RABBAZ: So you were aware that you experienced harassment in these moments?
Adam: Yes. You tend to ignore verbal harassment, until it happens more often and in a row. But when it happens in form of unsolicited touch you do realize it. In the beginning, I tried to ignore it, but it tends to increase. First, one is only stroking over the arm or chest. But boundaries are difficult to set, especially when working in gastronomy. But when the bottom is being touched and things are said, my personal boundaries are crossed.
RABBAZ: Did you look out for help and who was helping you?
Adam: Yes I did. Personally, I find that the inhibition threshold to get help as a man is extremely high. When you as a man report that you are being harassed, you often receive reactions like „Yes, a woman has touched you, just relax. That’s not so bad.“ If someone gets too touchy, then I am also getting help, but it happens very rarely that the person is getting kicked out. A lot has to happen for that. The focus in bars or clubs is more on women. The tolerance for sexual harassment is still way too high and a lot more should be done, but it is very one-sided. Men get kicked out for less than women, from my perspective. Especially when men experience sexual harassment, it tends to be socially trivialized. No matter who the assault comes from, and no matter who it is directed at, that’s just sh**. As soon as a person feels uncomfortable, a line has been crossed.
RABBAZ: When we are talking about sexual harassment or sexual abuse, we often think that it is only happening to women. What do you think could be reasons for that? How did the people that you were opening up to react?
Adam: I think that, on the one hand, the media tend to convey the idea that women are more likely to be victims. That is probably also the case. The cases are probably also more serious. The social expectation for men is the ability to defend themselves and women are still considered the „weaker sex“. A lot is related to societal norms and gender constructs, in my opinion. Sexual harassment and violence is, I think, a taboo subject for men because it is also interpreted as weakness. […] Try to find men who are willing to say that they have been beaten up by a woman, even if it is just in their own circle of friends.
RABBAZ: How are you feeling about it now? Did the incidents change your perspective and your behaviour? Are you more sensitive when you notice that people in your surrounding are being harassed?
Adam: These incidents did not throw me off track for weeks, nor were they dramatic enough for that, in my eyes. Since I made a conscious decision to work in the gastronomy,, I also knew what to expect and therefore I deal with it differently. Yes, I pay more attention to it in my environment. If I see a friend of mine being treated badly, I am asking if everything is okay. I know that it can affect other people completely differently because of the severity. I know that people are completely thrown off track or are more preoccupied with it.
RABBAZ: Have the incidents subsequently accompanied or influenced your private life?
Adam: No, I would not go that far […]. The incidents do not have a great impact on my private life or my psyche, but I perceive other things differently and I am more sensitive.
RABBAZ: Did you ever blame yourself or felt guilty and why?
Adam: Yes. I think guilt is an extreme word, but I have been thinking about whether I acted in a way that was too friendly or whether my shirt was too tight. I wonder if I provoked the behaviour myself or if I did not draw clear boundaries. You also wonder if you should adjust your behaviour. I did that for a while, too. But then I realized that even if I behave „normally,“ it does not make a difference. Assaults are happening regardless of your own behaviour […].
RABBAZ: How do you feel when you talk to male friends about this, how empathetic are they?
Adam: It depends on what has happened. If I were to tell my friends about incidents like the one with the picture, then everyone would probably laugh about it. If it is verbal, then people are more likely to say things like „Yeah, be happy, it is chill, I would like to have that too“. But if it is physical, then there is more acceptance. Of course, that also depends on the person. Someone who has already experienced it himself deals with it differently than someone who had no contact with it at all.
RABBAZ: Did you ever see the people that harassed you again? Do you think there should be more negative consequences?
Adam: Yes, I sometimes see people again, for example when I am going out. I probably do not even recognize many of them anymore, because you do not always notice them in the club, for example, or you can not assign them to the person.I think the consequences should be stronger, but at the same time, it is difficult to draw boundaries. Where is the line between flirting and sexual harassment? In my eyes, the boundaries are fluid, because it also depends on the person. It is a very sensitive topic, but for me, physical harassment is even worse than verbal harassment. Physical assaults should be made more of a social issue so that people adjust their own behaviour. Your behaviour is based on a certain norm in which you were socialized. If you do not address this issue at school, for example, it also leads to you taking your norm from somewhere else. I think the topic needs to be taken out of the taboo zone it is currently in and given more social attention.
**Adam received unsolicited pictures with nude content which is a form of harassment.
Interview: Ilka Reichelt
Illustration: Julia Küttner