Ask Asad: I reported sexual harassment and now fear backlash – what should I do?

I know I have not done anything wrong but I am afraid my harassers will come back to hurt me


Asad Shafi February 20, 2017
CREATIVE: AAMIR KHAN

Hi Asad,

A few days back when I was leaving my workplace after a 12 hour shift, I came across three men on a motorbike smoking cigarettes. They made lewd comments when I passed by them and since this happened within my office premises, I decided to call them out and make them realise their mistake. My office is an institution accessible to general public and these three men were outsiders, not fellow employees as I had initially thought.  

I decided to report the incident to our security staff and by the time they reached the place, two of the men had already left. The security guard took hold of the third man and made him call his accomplices back. When one of them finally arrived, the security guard started beating them – their identification documents were confiscated and their parents were informed about their activities. They begged for mercy and apologised. After keeping them for several hours, the security staff asked me what they should do next; as they had apologised I told the guard to let them go because they have learnt their lesson.

Now, I am scared these harassers will come back to hurt me or worse, kill me. I know I have not done anything wrong but I am afraid. What should I do to overcome my fear? Do you think they will come back some day with bad intentions? Did I do the right thing? Please, help me.

Survivor of Harassment

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Dear Survivor of Harassment,

You did the right thing. You stood up for yourself and refused to be harassed. You sent a clear message to the harassers and everyone else involved that you are not willing to take things lying down and be harassed just because you are a woman. Not many women in our country have the courage to do this. You should be proud of yourself.

The anxiety you are feeling about your actions having negative repercussions is absolutely natural. When we stand up for something that we believe in or against something wrong – and we are in the minority because most of the people around us aren’t doing that – then there are moments in which we do become doubtful and start wondering if we did the right thing or not; if it would have been better to have taken the easy way out and let things be as they were.

But letting things be as they were doesn’t solve or even minimise the problem. In fact, it only aggravates the problem because the perpetrators then start believing they can get away with it and this, more often than not, leads them to intensify their efforts to harass. Confronting them, like you did – although scary – was the right thing to do. It sent out a clear message to them that you are a person of character and strong-will who is not willing to take things lying down. You will take a firm stand and fight back for your basic rights of safety and dignity.

Also, although letting things be might be the easy option, it leaves us in inner turmoil knowing we didn’t do the right thing - side effect: we start feeling guilty about it. Therefore, feeling slightly wary after doing the right thing is definitely better than the anguish we feel for not doing anything.

So please do not doubt your actions, don’t be hard on yourself and don’t blame yourself. Feeling scared after such an incident is absolutely normal. Just remember, what you did was right. Kudos to you for that.

One more thing. All bullies (harassers) are cowards. And the best way to deal with bullies is to confront them and report them to authorities – the way you did.

Then again your concern about the harassers returning to take revenge from you for reporting them to your workplace’s security is absolutely valid and shouldn’t be ignored. You could take some precautions to avoid some untoward incident in the future.

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For some time, try to have someone, preferably a male figure – friend or family – escort you to work and back. Keep this up for a few weeks or at least until you feel completely safe coming and going to work on your own, and feel that the situation is better and there is no more danger.

As this incident happened in the vicinity of your workplace, bring this incident to the notice of the higher management of your company and ask them to take steps for the security of the company’s employees, especially women when moving around on the premises.

When the incident took place, you reported it to your workplace security and they took action against the harassers. Now approach the authorities (police) and let them know that such an incident happened and it was taken care of by your company’s security. Doing so will have dual benefits. One, the police will become aware of incidents like this happening in your workplace area and will hopefully patrol that area more for intruders. Second, your workplace security, because of the involvement of police, won’t treat it as a one-off incident and will be compelled to make their premises more secure.

What I understand from your letter is that the harassers were young guys who live with their parents. As the parents of the harassers were called in by your workplace security, get the contact detail of the parents and get in touch with them. Warn them; tell them that if you ever feel threatened by the harassers again, you will be reporting their sons to police. This should act as a deterrent.

To recover from the emotional trauma of this harrowing experience, I would suggest the following.

Take some time off from work

Taking time off from work might be helpful in recovering from the trauma of being harassed. Not going to your workplace for a few days will give you time for yourself. This will allow you to calm down, compose yourself, relax and start feeling better.

Travel

If possible, travel. Try to go somewhere your surroundings will change completely. Doing so would help a great deal in taking your mind off this situation and will help you relax. You will come back refreshed and ready to deal with your daily life with renewed vigour and confidence.

Socialise more

Spending more time with friends and family, whose company you enjoy and who are always there for you, will help you cope better with your emotional anguish. You will be surrounded by people who love you, care for you and most importantly want to see you safe. Hanging out with them will make you feel safe and will result in you feeling better and being less nervous.

Talk to a therapist

Hopefully you won’t feel the need for this but if, in a few months, you still feel afraid about what happened talking to a therapist who specialises in harassment trauma will be helpful.

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Over here, I would like to address all the readers and make a request. When you see someone, especially women, being harassed (harassment is when someone behaves in a way which makes someone else feel distressed, humiliated or threatened. It could be someone you know, like a neighbour or colleague or it could be a stranger, for example someone on the bus) then please intervene and try to stop it. Ignoring it and moving on because it doesn’t concern you is not the right thing to do. Today it is someone else. Tomorrow it could be you or someone from your family. Therefore, fulfil your social responsibility and help out someone when being harassed.

You have no idea what your help might mean to someone in that situation and what a long way it might go in helping them. In some cases, your intervention might make the difference between life and death. So don’t shrug it off thinking your help is insignificant. Just help! Thanks!

Also, intervening to help someone who is being harassed doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to physically stop it yourself, especially if the situation is hostile and dangerous. Intervention could also be in the form of a phone call to police to let them know that someone is being harassed and requires help.

Take care and stay safe!

Asad

Asad is a counsellor, life coach, inspirational speaker and a personal-development expert. He advises on social, personal and emotional issues. You can send him your questions for this weekly column at [email protected] with “Ask Asad” mentioned in the subject line and provide as many details as possible.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Express Tribune.

COMMENTS (1)

Saad | 4 years ago | Reply Just wondering, how did he deduce that the harrased was a woman and not a boy? It may very well be a boy being harassed as well. But then again, when you write your own stories and answer them yourselves, you know how to refer to a third person.
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