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11 tips for dealing with sexual assault and harassment

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Being a girl can be beautiful- we get to enjoy make-up and dresses with no stigma attached to it. We get to live longer, enjoy our boyfriend's clothes and in most cases, we’re not the ones that have to think of stupid pick-up lines.

But there’s the dark side of the moon as well. Women and girls get to experience a significantly higher percentage of sexual harassment and assault. In fact, 82% of all juvenile victims are female, while 90% of adult rape victims are female.

We have all been reminded of this recently with the Hollywood sex scandal surrounding Harvey Weinstein and others, as well as the unfolding sexual harassment scandal surrounding the Houses of Parliament. Be it day or night, public transport, work or club, women are vulnerable. This is well known, and yet it is still shocking to hear how long some people can get away with such outrageous behaviour.

As such we wanted to come up with some advice to help any readers who ever experience sexual assault or harassment.

Unfortunately, there’s no 'list of rules' to follow to avoid sexual harassment and assault. But we have put together some advice on how to deal with such a situation if it occurs.

1. Be attentive

It might seem a bit obvious as many of us girls already have a set course of actions when leaving home but: avoid dark streets and walk far from corners.

Stay as far away as possible from bushes and other objects that can prevent clear view. Do not go through parks and others nature spaces later at night unless there’s no other way around.

Don't wear headphones! 

Listen to the sounds around you, if you see someone walking towards you, make a note of their features as they come closer.

2. Take precautions

Different girls use different methods. If you really have to walk home alone, bring a pepper spray with you. Alternatively, hold a key between your fingers or pretend to have a conversation on your phone.

Don't stare down at your phone! 

The light will blind you, as well as distracting you from paying attention to your surroundings. Put the phone next to your ear and act out a conversation or call a friend and make them have a chat with you. 

3. Don’t talk to strangers

Ok, I know this has been THE RULE since kindergarten but it is equally important as an adult especially later at night-do not stop to talk to strangers. Not even if they’re only asking for directions or time.

It might seem rude but I’ve talked to my male friends and a lot of them agree that they wouldn’t stop a girl on the street as they realise she might feel intimidated.

4. Know the definition of sexual harassment and assault

Sometimes, we are not sure where the borders are. Was he just being friendly while he danced with you in the club or was his hand around your waist too much?

Any unwanted sexual behaviour is sexual harassment!

It can begin with words, him pressuring you, manipulating you or even making jokes that are inappropriate. When words turn into actions, it is sexual assault.

Any unwanted sexual touching is assault. Rape is a sexual assault as well. So, if you did not specifically agree to take part in any act of a sexual nature it is sexual harassment or assault.

You have the right to raise your voice and seek help.

5. Remember key phone numbers

Know your country’s emergency number as well as local police numbers. Research what organisations help victims in your community.

Even if not for yourself, it might be helpful for a friend.

6. Try to attract the attention of others in the area

Though we hope you never experience any kind of sexual assault, if it does occur try and get the attention of others in the area by shouting and making as much noise as possible. Additionally, try to defend yourself if possible, though never put your life at risk.

Focus as much as you can on the person in order to take in and remember descriptive features for later on in case you report the crime. Lastly, make sure you get medical treatment as soon as possible! Doing so will check your physical wellbeing and support your case if you decide to report the crime.

7. Talk to someone

You might not be ready to talk to the police at first. It is absolutely normal and understandable. However, talking to someone close to you can help you analyse the situation and start working towards healing.

It will take time and is a highly individual process but it is always easier if you can trust someone. While some of us are blessed with good friends and close family, there are other options as well- such as charities, organisations and helplines who have people ready to offer support.

Last but not least- when you’re ready, talk to the police. Do not forget that the person who assaulted you deserves to face consequences for their actions and they might be putting other people at risk.

8. Don’t be afraid of your feelings

It is normal to be scared, sad or angry. You could even feel ashamed or disappointed and try to reject what happened. Everyone is different and has their own way of coping with pain, but do not think you’re not right to feel whatever you feel.

In truth, there is no wrong or right way to cope. However, in order to understand your emotions completely and interpret and cope with them in a safe way, it is a good idea to seek specialist help.

There are people out there who have been trained to provide professional support and help you go through what happened while prioritising your mental health above everything. It is always a good idea to reach out and see if they can help you, especially if you are struggling.

9. Never blame yourself

Don't ever think it is your fault! Neither sexual harassment nor assault are ever the victim’s fault.

Your outfit was ok. Even if you drank a bit too much it wasn’t an invitation to anyone. The fact that you couldn’t say “no” does not mean you said “yes”.

That fact that another human being couldn't act with courtesy and respect, but instead chose to take advantage of your vulnerable state, is a reflection of them, not you! 

10. Share with the world

If you’re ever ready, do speak out loud, not just to your friends but to social media and your wider circle. In the times we live in, we need to realise that sexual assault happens, and can occur in a variety of circumstances. Every story is important in raising awareness of this issue, and reminding people of just how many men and women are affected.

There are of course people who value their privacy and won't want to share their story, but never hide it out of fear that it is shameful or degrading- it isn't! It actually means you dealt with something traumatic and have been able to come through it stronger.

If you’re ever ready, do join the likes of so many other men and women who have found the strength to address the issue of sexual harassment and assault.

11. Keep living

Get out of bed. Go out to the club again. Go meet your friends. Face the world and find the little moments and things that would make you happy. Pursue your goals. Be the amazing human being you are.

As much as we believe in all the points, as said before, there can hardly be a guide to an individual’s life and experience. The best we can do is talk, and keep talking, until our society accepts that children should be taught to not harm others.

In case you have been a victim of sexual assault, or know someone that has, we have included some useful help points to look up:

Rape Crisis Helpline: 0808 802 9999 (12-2:30 and 7-9:30)

NSPCC Helpline: 0808 800 5000 (24 hours, every day)

NHS Choices – Sexual Abuse Referral Centres (SARC) - offers help across the country after rape and sexual assault https://www.nhs.uk/Service-Search/Rape%20and%20sexual%20assault%20referral%20centres/LocationSearch/364 

Victim Support Helpline: 0808 168 9111

Women Against Rapewww.womenagainstrape.net

The Survivors Trust Helpline: 0808 801 0818

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