Don’t Ignore Harassment!
On this Valentine’s Day we built something to disturb the people of Aveiro. Something to raise awareness of Sexual Harassment, a problem often ignored and normalised in our society.
Estimated reading time: 2 minutes and 55 seconds
© Helder Berenguer
On this Valentine’s Day, as on all the other days of the year, pickup lines were in the air. It might seem something normal or harmless but, in reality, it is something that affects people daily, especially women. Pickup lines are one of the most common forms of sexual harassment.
According to an international study by IPSOS, made in 2021 and involving more than 14 000 participants from 15 countries, 80% of the women questioned have already experienced sexual harassment in public spaces. But what is harassment? The Portuguese Association for Victim Support classifies it as all unwanted behaviour of a sexual or moral nature, manifested verbally, non-verbally or physically, intending to disturb or constrain the victim, creating an intimidating, hostile and humiliating environment.
With sleeves rolled up and to raise awareness for this problem, Agora Aveiro took to the streets with another guerrilla action. How many times have we come across pedestrian crossings that have been cut off because of construction work, how many times do we have to make a detour because of fences and barriers that block our passage? But, if this bothers us and gets in the way, imagine spending your life hearing pickup lines, feeling uncomfortable and even threatened on the streets of your city. “So much good meat and I’m fasting”, “Hey hottie, join the fire over here” * - these pickup lines may seem harmless, a joke that doesn’t hurt anyone but, in fact, they’re not. These comments, in addition to discomfort, create fear in their victims, an atmosphere of intimidation and hostility. These types of behaviour should not be normalised and accepted, they should be fought against. So, we left some advice created by Hollaback, an NGO working on the issue of harassment. Advice on how to act when we witness a situation of harassment. From creating a distraction for the harasser by asking the time, pretending to know the person being harassed by putting yourself between the victim and the harasser, or even, intervening by calling the harasser’s attention to their actions.
In addition to this street intervention, our volunteers were distributing somewhat different love letters - letters with “Tips to Stop Sexual Harassment”. Often this advice places the responsibility on the victim - “Don’t walk alone in the street”, “Avoid wearing that kind of clothing” - as if it was up to the victim to avoid being harassed. Our advice, on the other hand, was focused not on the victim but on the harasser: “Whenever you feel like saying a pickup line, cover your mouth”, “If you are in a life and a woman comes in, don’t harass her, look in the mirror and make faces”.
According to the same study done by IPSOS, 73% of people have witnessed sexual harassment in public spaces. We must all be part of the change and fight this problem. Don’t use language that objectifies women, don’t normalise pickup lines as harmless jokes. If you witness any situation of harassment, don’t be indifferent, support the victim and be part of the solution.
* These are loose translations of the original sayings.