Open Up

What is sexual harassment? How do you define “harassment”? How does our society define “sexual harassment”? What if victims can’t prove the offense? What if our existing laws fail to charge the perpetrator? What if offender slips away and holds grudge against the victims? What is the price to pay if one opens up? What if the price is his/her job? What if people blame on victims instead of offenders? There are a lot to worry if a victim considers opening up his/her stories.

If you’re an active Facebook user like I am, you probably have read about sexual offenses that an employer committed to his employees. It was unsettling to read those posts written by victims but it was more disturbing to see some people’s victim-blaming comments. I was enraged, overwhelmed and heated that I couldn’t even think of any idea to start supporting these women. Fortunately, an influencer started a campaign to raise awareness by sharing stories of sexual harassments, with the hope of legally charging perpetrators in the future, so people started sharing their experiences by using this hashtag #ဖြင့္ေျပာပါ.

Not associating with any organization or any company allows me to be outspoken about this issue very freely and I’m taking advantage of it, so here’s my story.

Growing up in a middle class family, both my mom and dad worked to make ends meet while living with my grandma’s apartment with uncles. Since both parents went to work everyday, my uncles usually babysat me like every free/jobless family member would do. So I grew up playing around my uncles, inhaling their cigarette smokes, tasting a few sips of their beers and giving up my cartoon programs for their boxing matches at 6 pm. We were one noisy family with my uncles teasing my cousin and I, and we would cry out too loud that my grandma would get pissed and raged.

Little did I know that there was a fine line between teasing and harassing. There was one specific uncle who would just pull down my pants with elastic waistband for his own amusement. He must have enjoyed my embarrassed reaction as I pulled up the pants or he must have enjoyed the sight of my small vagina or he must have enjoyed it when I asked for help from my grandma and mom who couldn’t take their eyes off the telly or he must have enjoyed the feeling of me being helpless and him being superior. Even though such acts happened in front of many family members, everyone ignored me, in fact, scolded me for shouting instead of stopping that uncle from harassing me. It was unbelievably casual.

Looking back at it, what scared me was the uncle who enjoyed offending little kid, what scared me more was other adults not stopping him, and what scared me most was the fact that my parents or grandma did not have the idea that taking a kid’s pants off was a serious offense that could result in self-esteem issues for rest of her life. For one, it’d be just an uncle teasing his niece, but if you think carefully, an uncle is trying to expose a girl’s private part, making her feel embarrassed, and enjoying it. How awful was that? And how horrible was that when no one stopped the man?

This experience from my early days is an example on why sexual harassments and assaults are happening casually in workplaces like this CEO from a nonprofit. These casual offenses are fundamental roots of workplace harassments. Offenders, like this CEO, will use “family like workplace,” “treating like one’s own sisters” as shields to cover up their disgusting, dirty deeds. It’s a shame that we grow up in families that accept harassments as a form of being friendly and teasing. It’s a shame that we live in a society where harassing, assaulting, molesting others is embedded in our lifestyles.

According to the stories shared online, even family members of these victims initially thought this CEO treated his employees like his younger sisters and was just being friendly, and some even blamed victims for being overly sensitive. These comments made by family members show that we, as a society, have very limited understanding on the difference between teasing and harassing, which in consequence, leads to perpetrators casually committing the crime and no charges is pressed against them.

Why do men think that they can just do stuffs like those to young women? Why do men think that they can just get away with what they do to girls? Because they grow up, witnessing their uncles taking off their sisters’ pants and saying it was just “teasing.” Because they grow up, seeing adults not stopping the perpetrators. Because they grow up, watching lame movies that portray rapists casually rape weak girls and getting away with the crime they commit. Because they grow up, learning that it is okay to disrespect women. Because they grow up in a society that institutionally, traditionally, culturally discriminated women.

How do we stop them perpetrators?

My little brain doesn’t know the ultimate solution but I know that our society needs to reflect on our inappropriate habits, outdated traditions, double standards, and drop some silly customs completely if needed. We need to prioritize one’s physical safety and mental security regardless of any relationships because we have seen in the news that even immediate family members rape underage girls.

One thing I have learned from my experience is that while asking for equality, dignity and respect for adult women in workplace, I believe that young girls also deserve to be treated with respect as well. Only by nurturing the practice of respecting girls in early ages, boys will grow up to become gentlemen who treat women with respect, not like unprotected weaker objects they can casually take advantage of.

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