Sexual Harassment and Relationships
A Project Empowerment collection of essays on stalking, catcalling, toxic relationships, and sexual assault. Trigger warning: Discussion of sexual abuse, assault, and stalking.
Sexual Harassment and Relationships:
Table of Contents
Click on each item below for the PDF version.
By Sofie Hansen
Toxic relationships are far too common. Take these statistics, for instance:
- 60% of people who have been in relationships report that it was toxic.
- 1.5 million high schoolers have reported being in a physically abusive relationship.
- 76% of high school students have reported being in an emotionally abusive relationship.
One of the most prominent issues relating to toxic relationships in high school is the usage of social media. On social media it is easy for older men to prey on young people, especially the people that they consider vulnerable or at risk. This process is called grooming, and it affects a lot of young people. A majority of these relationships are extremely toxic as the groomers main way of keeping the teen under their control is through manipulation. They target minority youths because in the groomers mind it is easier to manipulate them and make them their victims.
Social media plays a big role in this as it makes it easier for the groomers to have access to the teens. This has been exacerbated by Snapchat’s new feature, Snapchat+, if a person chooses to use this feature then they have full access to see where their friends have been in the last 24 hours. It is important that if you or someone you know has Snapchat they should turn their location off using the settings in order to protect their privacy from groomers and other people who are looking to control them.
Another important thing to keep in mind when talking about toxic relationships is how romanticized they are by Hollywood. In movies and books the trope of being in a toxic relationship that then ends in a situation where the feminine character fixes them can be seen very often. This creates an unrealistic narrative in teenagers’ brains, it should be emphasized that this trope is not realistic and it should not be expected in anyone’s life. A celebrity who has made it clear that toxic relationships should not be entertained or normalized is Demi Lovato. This conversation has been sparked recently because Lovato just released a song titled 29, the song addresses her relationship with Wilmer Valderrama who was 29 while Lovato was 17. In the song Lovato addresses how wrong the relationship was and how inappropriate it was for a 29 year old to be dating a 17 year old, this song is used to show young people that relationships that have a big and inappropriate age gap should be a major red flag.
A relationship that is toxic can also lead to physical abuse and the relationship should be ended before it gets to that point. Counseling is an important resource for those in toxic relationships, but a more accessible resource is thehotline.org. This site has resources such as hotlines, safety plans, local solutions, as well as help identifying abuse.
A Letter to My Stalker: or, how society makes me feel like it’s my fault I was stalked.
Here is what it looks like to be stalked:
3 missed phone calls.
“Hey! You haven’t picked up, are you okay?”
14 missed texts.
“What’s going on? Are you mad at me?”
“Where are you? I don’t see you at work today.”
Someone at work.
“You’re late. You always get here fifteen minutes early.”
Someone who calls to see where you’re going to be.
“I know you were supposed to be here!”
Someone who waits for you at work.
“Your coworkers said you weren’t going to be in tonight.”
Someone who is always there.
“But you mentioned working tonight a few weeks ago.”
Someone who will never take no for an answer.
“I just wanted to stop in and say hi!”
Someone who knows your entire schedule.
“Oh, seriously, now you don’t want to be my friend?”
Someone who knows who you’re with.
“It’s not fair. You’re just like everyone else.”
Someone who is always there.
“I thought we were friends.”
“You know, I had a chance with you.”
Even when you don’t want them to be.
“I thought you cared about me.”
Even when you said for them to leave you alone.
“Thanks for reminding me that I’m useless.”
Even when you’ve said you’re not interested.
“I’m so sorry, you know how I’m like.”
Even when you’re busy.
“I’m so sorry if I said something that pissed you off.”
Even when you’re scared.
“Everyone says I’m a horrible person. I guess they’re right.”
Even when you’re told to appreciate the attention.
“I thought you were different.”
Even when you’re told it’s your fault for leading Them on.
“I guess I’m the problem here.”
Even when you know you’re trying to think of what you did wrong.
“If I was dead, you’d be happy.”
So it’s your fault.
So you led them on.
So boys will be boys.
So you know how they are.
So you should’ve said something.
So you could’ve been nicer to them.
So you thought you were just friends.
One in seven feminine individuals has been stalked. More than fifty percent of these cases occurred before they were twenty five. I was seventeen when I was stalked. They were a freshman in high school. I’d like to say that I feel like it wasn’t my fault, but I don’t. We were paired together in a show. I thought we were just friends. I was being myself. I was friendly and talkative and nice. I called people ‘dear’ and ‘love’ at the time. I don’t do that anymore. I think I’m afraid to.
Okay, that’s not true.
I know I’m afraid to. I don’t want a repeat of last time.
I was seventeen years old when I was stalked. I think it was my fault. I think I was conditioned to think it was my fault. My parents didn’t think it was my fault. They thought that I was just trying to be friendly. I think that’s what I was trying to do too. But that’s not how They took it.
They were young. Of course They were young. They were just a kid. Kids always look up to the older kids. I should be flattered that They thought I was one of those cool older kids. Don’t you remember the kids you idolised at fourteen? I do. I still look up to them.
More than eighty percent of the people who report stalking new the person in some way. I never knew that it was such a high number. For some reason, I always pictured stalking as something that’s faceless. An admirer of a celebrity in a different country. I guess I never thought it would happen to me. It did, though.
I didn’t realise it was stalking at first. Sure, I joked about it, because I was annoyed that this kid I did a show with was still trying to talk to me, but I was still talking to Them as well. It didn’t really hit me that something was really wrong until other people pointed it out. They were always there. They called me, every morning, at the exact same time.
I thought we were just friends for a really long time. Okay, it wasn’t that long. It was about a month. And then it got scary. I was at work; They’d be there. I was at school; They’d call in the morning. I’d be at home, doing homework; They’d call to hear about my day. They said They loved me; I thought it was just a part of the show. I never really learnt how I was supposed to handle the situation.
I didn’t block Them until They said something racist.
To everyone reading this, don’t wait until They say something racist. Don’t wait until They say something homophobic. Don’t wait until They say something sexist.
It’s not your fault that someone is stalking you. It’s not just acceptable. It’s not just a lonely kid who wants to be your friend.
The moment you start feeling uncomfortable or unsafe, say something. Don’t ignore it. Don’t wait until you can bow out gracefully. I’m lucky that I didn’t get hurt. I’m lucky I only had to deal with stalking.
Their feelings are not your problem.
It is not your fault that someone is following you. Being nice and being friendly and being kind and being sweet are not signals that say that you like someone. Being a good person does not mean that you’re interested. Ignore twitter. Ignore Instagram. Ignore them. Ignore Them. Don’t listen to people who diminish your feelings. It’s not your fault.
It’s not your fault.
Don’t tell yourself that you were too friendly. When you said you weren’t interested, They should’ve taken it for what it was: no. Don’t wonder if you should’ve been meaner or if you should’ve been nicer. There’s nothing you could’ve done differently to change it. It is not your fault because you were friendly. It is not your fault because you were nice.
Stalking is sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment is never the victims fault.
Stalking affects one in seven women, and one in eighteen men. It is not your fault.
No matter what people say, it is not your fault. Friendliness is not an invitation to be harassed by someone. It’s because of this that I’d almost like to apologise to my stalker: I’m sorry that society told you that friendliness is a reason to pursue a person. I’m sorry that society told you that being told no was a sign to keep harassing me.
Here is what I’m not sorry for, and here is what you shouldn’t be sorry for either: block their number.
Sexual Assault and Harassment
sexual assault (v): nonconsensually touching any part of someone’s body in a sexual manner with any object or part of the body
Sexual assault is a type of sexual violence that includes rape, attempted rape, groping, coercion, incapacitating an individual in order to have sex, and more.
On average, an American woman is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds . While most women have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime, transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals are more likely than any non-transgender individual to experience sexual assault .
Sexual assault happens at an alarming rate, and it is past time we stop it.
Sexual Assault in Schools
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) , 15% of feminine individuals age 12–17 have experienced sexual assault. Feminine individuals between the ages of 16 and 19 are 4 times more likely to experience sexual assault than the average . Most feminine individuals within this age range are still in some sort of schooling, whether in university or secondary. This means that feminine individuals who are still in K–12 schooling are at an increased risk for being sexually assaulted at home.
In many schools and homes, modest clothing is seen as a way to prevent sexual assault. In situations such as street harassment, however, feminine individuals are harassed regardless of their outfit . When the idea that clothing can prevent sexual assault and harassment manifests itself in schools, it often results in Title IX violations that stigmatize feminine individuals without fixing the root problem. For more information on dress code reform and Title IX, please visit the Ruth Project’s main website.
“My college is known as one of the state’s party schools. It’s not uncommon for groups of girls to go out on most nights of the week, either to frat houses or off-campus clubs. Every time I’ve gone out, I had to be careful not to become incapacitated, and to take care of my friends who were. I had to be wary of men in the club and where their hands were. I had to make sure every single one of my friends got home safe. And while all of mine did, I know there were other girls who did not.”
For many––almost 40% of women––college is a natural next step after high school . However, many college campuses have problems with sexual assault and harassment. For instance, women are 3 times more likely to experience sexual assault if they are on a college campus . However, only 20% of these students reported to law enforcement, primarily because they believed it was a personal, not a legal, matter .
On college campuses, fraternities in particular are known to be primary sources of of sexual assault . Men who join fraternities are 3 times more likely to sexually assault someone . Women in sororities are 74% more likely to experience rape or sexual assault than other feminine individuals on their college campus .
With all of these issues in schools, it is time to change the narrative around sexual assault. As young activists, it is our job to drive that change and bring about positive repercussions in our schools and communities.
Sexual assault advocacy has helped create and support numerous support resources for survivors. For feminine individuals who are school aged, Title IX is their primary support.
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Title IX is a federal law that applies to institutions that seek federal funding, including schools and universities. Each of these institutions is required to respond to sexual assault cases brought by individuals on their premises; if they do not, or do not provide adequate resources, the institution may be legally pursued by the government . Remember, if you attend a public school at any level, you have support through Title IX.
haphephobia (n) – a rare and specific phobia of touching or being touched, often accompanying a fear of sexual assault
Many survivors of sexual assault experience some sort of mental illness or unease as a result. For example, RAINN highlights depression, flashbacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as the primary mental health effects of sexual assault .
In very rare cases, sexual assault survivors can experience haphephobia, or an intense fear of touching. Among the 10 million adult Americans diagnosed with phobias, haphephobia is so rare that researchers don’t have an exact number of persons who suffer from it.
While a phobia of touching is extremely uncommon, a general feeling of unsafety and unease around men is common among feminine individuals, regardless of their experiences with sexual assault. One Gallup poll found that 34% of feminine individuals feared being sexually assaulted, compared to 5% of men . In an everyday scenario, 45% of feminine individuals simply do not feel safe walking around their neighborhoods at night .
These statistics reveal a startlingly common but all too familiar reality for feminine individuals: We are scared. We are scared to walk alone at night; we are scared of the chemical integrity of our drinks; we are scared to wear clothes that are too short or too tight; we are scared to be alone around men. We are scared of sexual assault.
So while haphephobia is rare––the fear feminine individuals face is not.
Sexual Assault and Reproductive Rights
For many feminine individuals, sexual assault, and the fear that accompanies it, is a fact of life. However, recent activism and advocacy has propelled sexual assault to the forefront of the feminist docket.
For instance, organizations like the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) and the Sexual Assault Victims Advocacy Center (SAVA) provide resources and support for survivors. These groups work with lawmakers and lobbyists to get important legislation passed that give more legal rights to sexual assault and harassment survivors. Criminal statutes of limitations are crucial issues for sexual assault advocacy groups since many survivors do not feel comfortable reporting to law enforcement . RAINN hopes to expand statutes of limitations to ensure that every survivor receives justice when they are comfortable. To learn more about statutes of limitations, click here.
Sexual assault advocacy organizations also work to prevent abuse from happening in the first place. According to the Centers for Disease Control, sexual assault prevention starts with education . By creating a culture of support, acceptance, and activism, we can all work together to prevent sexual assault. For resources on prevention and support for survivors, friends, and family, click here.
If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual assault, call the sexual assault hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
 RAINN Sexual Assault Statistics
 RAINN Child Sexual Abuse Statistics
 Elle Article on Women’s Clothes While Being Catcalled
 Statista Data on Women in College
 RAINN Campus Sexual Assault Statistics
 LA Times Article on USC’s Sexual Assault Problem
 Guardian Article on Sexual Assault in Greek Life
 RAINN Mental Health Impacts of SA Statistics Gallup Poll on Fears of Sexual Assault
 Stop Street Harassment Statistics
 RAINN Statutes of Limitations Article
catcall (v): make a whistle, shout, or comment of a sexual nature to a woman [or feminine individual] passing by
In the most basic sense, catcalling is sexual harassment. Many women and feminine individuals, especially in large metropolitan areas, experience catcalling on a daily basis: In the United States, 65% of female poll respondents had experienced street harassment, with over half experiencing “extreme harassment” like touching or grabbing .
One recent study showed that 84% of feminine individuals had experienced catcalling by the time they were seventeen years old .
Catcalling is one of the most common forms of sexual harrassment, one which men are more likely to see the practice as acceptable. In a YouGov poll, 20% of male respondents believed that catcalling was a compliment [x]. What’s more, 2% of total respondents said that catcalling was “always appropriate” . These statistics demonstrate why catcalling is such a widespread problem: Feminine individuals are stigmatized for being catcalled, while those who catcall are let off by societal perceptions of the practice.
“I ran cross country and my entire team ran in shorts and sports bras because it’s hot in Florida. Male drivers on the roads we ran on seemed to take it as an invitation to honk and yell out their windows (one man in the passenger seat had his entire upper body out of the window to yell). This happened regardless of whether my teammates were in groups or alone, if they were wearing shorts or not, or if they were freshman or seniors.”
Many feminine individuals, including myself, have experienced catcalling for as long as we can remember. For many, the frequency of catcalling interactions has made them fearful of walking alone or near men.
A Gallup poll from 143 countries found that 45% of women do not feel safe walking around their hometown at night, compared to just 27% of men . Think about your own hometown: Would you feel safe walking alone at night? Maybe you or someone you know carries pepper spray or a whistle with them. Perhaps you only walk in groups, being careful not to walk on streets that are too dark.
This is the reality for feminine individuals worldwide. Unfortunately, catcalling has grown into an egregious problem that threatens feminine individuals’ safety but is not taken seriously as an act of sexual assault.
The Dress Code “Solution”
My school uniform consists of a shin-length pleated skirt, tights, and a long-sleeve button down shirt and we are told we must wear it to avoid male attention. It feels like the burden of men’s lack of self control is placed on our dress instead of the perpetrators themselves.
In many schools, dress codes are seen as a way to prevent sexual harassment like catcalling. However, dress codes stigmatize the problem of sexual assault further rather than preemptively solving it.
In the 2017–2018 school year, over half of high schools were found to have “strict” dress codes for their feminine students . Often, these dress codes are stricter for feminine-presenting students, exemplifying both the ineffectiveness and misogyny associated with them. Organizations like the Ruth Project are working to dismantle sexist dress codes and instate a gender-neutral and inclusive dress code for all students.
Outside of school settings, sexual assault and catcalling against feminine individuals is often excused based on the clothing they choose to wear. From hijabs to clothes for clubbing, feminine individuals have been targeted by street harassment regardless of their outfits .
We all know––and it’s time for society to know, too––that it’s not the woman’s fault, it’s their catcaller. The only cause of catcalling is catcallers.
Feminine individuals all over the world have been victims of catcalling. If you have experienced catcalling, know that you are not alone, and that it is not your fault. The resources below can help inspire, empower, and support you in standing up to street harassers.
 Stop Street Harassment Statistics
 Elle Article on Catcalling
 AJC Article on Sexist Dress Codes