Episode 138: "What if you sexually harass someone by accident?"Support the show
On today’s episode, we’re answering a question from local teens about sexually harassing someone by accident.
This is Jessica Skultety, Outreach and Prevention Manager at Safe+Sound Somerset. We are Somerset County, New Jersey's lead domestic and sexual violence response organization, providing services at no charge to survivors for over 40 years.
Today's question from local teens is: “Dear Ava, What if you sexually harass someone by accident?”
This is a question we’ve started getting from teens after we explain what sexual harassment looks like. A lot of people really don’t know what sexual harassment really is, or they think it’s completely normal. Sometimes people are embarrassed or upset because they didn’t realize anything before. They also might not realize that it was wrong and likely caused harm.
Some of these actions could be:
-Unwanted sexual comments or gestures, including catcalling, whistling, or calling out to someone about their body or about sex
-Showing someone unwanted sexually explicit photos or videos
-Spreading photos, rumors, or jokes, or sending unwanted sexual messages
-Touching, grabbing, pinching, or pulling clothes in a sexual way, without their permission or after they’ve said “no” (which is also assault)
-Asking someone out over and over again after they’ve said “no” and
-Non-sexual jokes or comments about someone’s gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation
If you DO sexually harass someone, whether on purpose or by accident, there are several things you can do and think about. The first step is to recognize that it was harassment. Remember that impact is more important than intent. Maybe you only intended to ask someone out a few more times and convince them to be with you, but the impact is that that person is more anxious and put off by your attempts than ever. They might be distrustful of other relationships now that they’ve gone through this experience. This is just one example of something that could happen.
Here are some things you could do. First, you could try to apologize. Make sure it’s a real apology, and that it’s short and to the point. For example, you could say, “I realized that I was wrong when I… (insert action here). I’m sorry that I may have hurt you, and I won’t do that again.” But keep in mind that the other person may not want to accept your apology. Or, they might even stop you from apologizing in the first place. That is their right. Don’t push an apology on them. They might not feel safe or comfortable around you now, and it’s your responsibility to recognize that and take a step back.
Also, know that there might be other consequences to your behavior. Other people might get upset with you, or you might have broken a rule at school or work. Hold yourself accountable for your actions and tell the truth.
If you’re still coming to terms with what you did and want someone to listen, we recommend finding a professional counselor to talk to. As you move forward through your life, make sure that you are not doing the same actions that you realize are harmful.
Another thing you can do is educate yourself about sexual harassment and assault, and how common they are. Spread this information to your friends and family. Believe survivors of sexual violence.
People make mistakes, and sexual harassment can be a life-changing one for both parties.
To speak with an expert about relationship or sexual violence, call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-685-1122 for supportive listening, information, and safety planning.
Want to “Ask Ava” a question? Visit our website at www.safe-sound.org/ask-ava. Thank you for listening today. Join us next time here on Ask Ava.