“Helping you gain control over the things you want to change”

Fiona Nicolson

Welcome campaigns against sexual harassment of women and girls

I am very pleased to see that the Mayor of London, the Mayor of Manchester and the central government have launched campaigns against the sexual harassment of women and girls. All the campaigns include videos, which are being widely shown, and which show clearly just how unpleasant, damaging and unacceptable this behaviour can be.

They are all hard-hitting. They need to be if we are going to take the issue of sexual harassment against women and girls seriously. We need to stop it rather than just talk about it.

Sadly, I am sure that each one of these videos, will ring bells with nearly all women. I say sadly because it shows how widespread the problem is. However, there is a positive side to this as well. The more women and girls recognise they are being harassed when they are, the better. It damages self-esteem, self-confidence and general happiness if we suppress how we feel or avoid the emotions that such harassment sparks. Knowledge is the first step in stopping sexual harassment and then dealing with the damage which it has done.

Missed opportunities because of sexual harassment

For too long low-level sexual harassment has been regarded as normal or at least as something which women and girls just have to put up with. Nearly all women and girls structure aspects of their lives so they can avoid sexual harassment. They dress in certain ways, they take certain routes home after a night out, they watch how much they drink, they avoid certain places. At work or school, they may plan out whole days to avoid someone they feel is dangerous to them. They may miss opportunities to network at work or college because they fear unwanted attention and so damage their career prospects. Often these actions are something women and girls do not think about, it is just part of being female.

I know from my clients that one of the problems is that harassment is so common that instances of it often go unrecognised, downplayed, or regarded as impossible to stop. Coercive control in abusive relationships, workplace harassment and the like often pass unidentified.

Identifying it when sexual harassment happens

I see a familiar pattern. My clients can be aware that something is wrong, that their self-confidence and self-esteem have taken a dip, that they feel more anxious and perhaps are not sleeping well or drinking too much. They know that something is causing these problems in their lives but often find it hard to say exactly what.

And I find that far too often at least part of the problem is that these clients are being harassed in some part of their everyday lives. For some of these clients, there is a cruel twist, they have been sexually abused at some time in their lives and the fear of it happening again governs much of their current behaviour. They end up living narrow and constrained existences because of these unresolved fears.

Getting the issue out there in the open and being talked about is essential. So, the initiatives being taken at high levels of our society are good.

Any campaign which says this is not acceptable, that impinges on our freedom and wellbeing and is damaging to our mental health, our sense of self, our careers, and our social lives are welcome.

The need to change attitudes to sexual harassment

At last, the message is coming across loud and clear that the real change which is needed is in the behaviour of men and boys not of women.

Showing examples where men are behaving well and not allowing their friends and workmates to behave badly towards women is key.

Changing attitudes in any society can take time, but it can be done. In our society in the last decades’ attitudes towards things such as drink-driving and smoking have altered hugely.

We are at the beginning of this journey. We can change things and it is good to hear that the message is being heard in government at all levels.



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