Sexual Harassment is Not a Private Issue

Despite the fact that it appears our society is working to address these issues, sexual harassment and sexual violence continue to be pervasive social problems. As societies across the globe continue to “evolve” and appear to become a better place for women and transgendered to live, we see an ever present glass ceiling, a term coined by feminists to describe the appearance of equality but not actual equality. The appearance that society is improving for women allows sexual harassment and sexual violence to go undocumented and therefore unnoticed. Shame, blame and fear are some of the driving forces that prevent women and the trans community from speaking up. Additionally, laws that fail to protect victims and free predators, means as citizens of the world we must take sexual harassment and violence into our own hands to ensure we are documenting, tracking and creating safe spaces for victims to speak up and be heard. Apps such as the Harass Tracker operating in Beirut, Lebanon is one example of how we can continue to collaboratively take action in the vacuum of government and cultural aid on this issue.

One of the leading reasons why victims do not report sexual assaults is because victims are often not believed and even shamed. The contemporary sexual violence culture is centered around victim blaming, and calling survivors’ integrity in question. For example, a Huffington Post poll says that 70% of sexual harassment incidences at the workplace go unreported. This silence is fed by fear of being reprimanded because survivors know their claims will always be questioned. Discoveries like the Harass Tracker and other wiki forms of documenting sexual assault do not call the victim’s experience into question, resulting in a more accurate account of what is really happening in our society. With accurate data on the issue we can then begin to tackle the unjust laws and regulations most countries have which fail miserably at protecting victims of sexual assault.

In the United States, our sexual assault laws clearly show how the male patriarchy that dominates our government wants to keep sexual harassment and assault a minor crime, which leaves little room for victims to be protected or feel heard. Ariana De La Torre’s Medium article, Don’t Tell Me I’m Not Worth Your Protection, takes a closer look at California’s judicial system and how it is one example of society protecting predators and exposing victims. De La Torre points out that drug induced rape, domestic violence and human trafficking are viewed as non-violent crimes in the California justice system. This appalling approach to criminal justice facilitates a bleaker reality for citizens that are most vulnerable to sexual violence. Not only is it difficult for victims to come out, once they do, they know the people who assaulted them will receive a small slap on the hand and even get released early.

De La Torre explains how victims are being further unprotected by the recent Proposition that passed, Prop 57, which will push to have nonviolent criminals reach early release. The proposition is considered a win for thousands of nonviolent offenders that will not be trapped in the systems for minor offenses but given California’s judicial distortion on what they consider non-violent, rapist, domestic abusers and human traffickers will be reintroduced into the public. And to the perpetrators, it implicitly communicates to them and the rest of our society, that their crimes are more tolerated. This is one more example of how survivors of sexual crimes continue to be let down by the criminal justice system. It is also a reminder to our society that we must take matters into our own hands if we want to protect those vulnerable to sexual violence. It is necessary to confront this injustice and spotlight the the magnitude of its occurrences by using wiki type documenting to create safe spaces for victims to tell their story.

The first issue lies in acknowledging that sexual violence is a problem. In Lebanon, like many countries around the world, the silence of the victims creates a space where victims feel isolated and the rest of society is unaware of the issue. Knowing that silence harbors violence and also aware that laws and society do not create a safe place for victims to speak out, three Lebanese women designed this tool for survivors to report harassment and pin the location. Harass Tracker strives to produce data to serve as scientific evidence to enable a productive conversation to confront this ever present problem. Once we understand the magnitude of the issue, the conversation becomes real.

Lebanese women hold a sit-in at Martyrs Square, Beirut, August 18, 2014. A new tracker will monitor and combat sexual harassment against women in the Lebanese capital.

When victims are given a space to document their stories, not only does it provide an important data for change, but it takes the horrible incident out of the shadows and validates it, it makes it real. Poet, human rights theoretician and activist, Corinne Kumar highlights in her writing,

Women all over the world are finding their voices in their anguish, their anger, making what has been private sorrows into public crimes.

Wiki forms of documentation, such as the Harass Tracker, creates a virtual space for women and other victims of sexual violence to find their voice by taking power out of the hands of those who have been long ignoring and covering up such crimes and brings this violence to the forefront of our society.

It is clear that government and male patriarchy has worked long and hard to ensure that victims of sexual violence do not come out and those that do will experience the shame of not being heard or the fear of knowing their perpetrator will not be persecuted. We as a global community, must strive to create wiki type forms of documentation that validate the victim’s story and documents the incident to enable us to have more ammunition to fight the battle against sexual violence and to shed light on the issue. Victims are discovering that the best way to shatter the glass ceiling is to tell their story in virtual spaces where they can do so anonymously and safely.

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