……he stood behind me innocently in the queue for library registration then I felt it; hard, pressing on my back it took a while before I realised what it was, a disgusting violation; I will never understand why I stayed silent even though I walked away…. I let him go just like that to harass another victim…
When it comes to sexual harassment, every parent must think of how to have conversations with their children about inappropriate behaviour so they can identify what’s good and what’s not. I was very happy to come across some info at my children’s nursery about the meaning of pants and thank NSPCC for the work they do.
So PANTS means:
P – privates are private
A – always remember your body belongs to you
N – no means no
T – talk about secrets that upset you
S – speak up, someone can help
Sometimes I don’t understand myself. I have a problem with speaking up. I am content to let my thoughts run wild whilst staring quietly. Sometimes the quiet exterior hides a million questions and emotions. I have had to catch myself lately. Started a new job a few months ago and found myself being very quiet during meetings. I was taking information in (some of the time) but to appear more engaged (and as a strategy to stay awake as a mum of 2 under 5’s), I have taken to speaking up even if I don’t need to. I find it helps others appreciate that I am there and trying to contribute and it keeps me awake. I am not bothered about people’s reaction so much, so I have started to speak up and guess what, it’s not bad at all! I am happier quiet but realise that speaking up is always a good thing. There’s something wrong if you can’t talk about something with anybody or someone specific.
I was new to Kano and as a Christian girl brought up in the middle belt. I was alright. I could understand their Hausa (for the most part) even though it took me a while to understand English spoken in class to my shock. I felt like a fish out of water. Away from home in a state where the norms were different. There was some fear. Wondering if it was OK to go out at certain times of the day and changing how I dressed to go out on certain days of the week. It was hard to get my school registration done and did not get fully signed off until almost exam period where I had to find contacts who spoke to other people and I got a note before I was signed off. I did not have a single friend at the time. Everything felt strange!
On that fateful day, I was standing in a queue and as you would, I did not question the presence of someone lining up behind me. It was library registration and it dragged on and on. I was standing quietly when I felt something on my back just above the buttocks. I did not worry, shifted slightly after all, in a queue you brush up against each other. I felt it again, shifted then again, shifted then got out of the queue to stare at the person standing behind me. A picture of perfect respectability; what can I say, there is brushing up against someone and there’s blatantly poking someone with something. This picture of respectability was not respectable at all. The next day was a repeat. Registration was on and the same person slipped in behind me ‘brushing up’ against me. I shifted and shifted and then walked away. There he was, standing brazenly looking at me straight! He did not budge, there he was with his problem waiting for the next victim. I walked away quietly.
Weird, we did not know each other, he was not toasting me, not being friendly, not saying a word, just getting behind me in queues and doing the dirty. Sinister! I am sure I was not his first nor last victim, he knew how to fish for the right candidates, he knew we would all keep quiet.
Over the next few weeks, I saw him in queue after queue, I carefully avoided him, but I don’t think I ever said anything. I just kept quiet and stared at him in a horrible way. I never reported him (that’s another matter as there was no one to report to). I wonder how many other ladies he harassed or what kind of man he has become. Have I helped keep a monster on the prowl? I am so sorry now to think I could have done something to stop another person from being harassed. I was not even thinking that way at the time.
What I wish I knew at the time;
– Abusers seem to be able to recognise the vulnerable. Feeling lost, alone, quiet, not reacting immediately? You are perfect prey.
– Don’t be afraid of reacting immediately. Speak up if it safe to do so; talk to the person to stop.
– We need systems of reporting (even informally maybe not to the police if you are scared) so we can identify abusers for the sake of other ladies. I am wary of this point because as a mum of 2 boys, I shudder at the thought of false accusations which we have read about in the news. How girls don’t get their way after a dalliance they consented to and they resort to false accusations which impact the lives of young men so negatively. I want EVERY real victim to be believed but I would hate for ANY innocent man to be accused of wrongdoing. I am not sure what we can do about this….
I wish someone had taken the time to tell me;
– Don’t get drunk when you go out; it makes you vulnerable, an easy target (I imagine some parents are more like, ‘if I ever hear that you are drinking, I will be furious’).
– Take responsibility for your own safety. Move around in a group, no matter how you like someone, avoid meeting alone secluded till you get to know them well. Tell someone where you are going and how long you will be out. Don’t go home with someone you just met at the club!!
– Speak up when faced with inappropriate behaviour.
– Check your attitude; always appear relaxed and confident, be mindful of being stalked. If someone is walking on the same side of the road with you at night or very early when there is hardly anyone about, cross the road just be sure you are not being stalked, if they follow, cross the road again and you might try again before you act.
– Keep your phone well charged (avoid unnecessary browsing whilst out) so you can make calls when you need to in desperate times.
What stories do you have to share with us? I know hardly any woman can say they have never experienced some form of sexual harassment and I know my experience is not as serious as what some have encountered