Am I Next? Teenage Girls and Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment. You have probably heard that word come up before, causing awkward silences or sudden gazes at the ground to avoid conversation. I always knew it had a negative connotation and made people feel uncomfortable, but never truly understood what it meant. So, what is sexual harassment? Merriam Webster defines sexual harassment as, “uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate (such as an employee or student).” It can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, but as a teenage girl I want to bring attention to how we are especially susceptible to sexual harassment. Data suggests that 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18, compared to 1 in 6 boys (National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 2021).
It is hard to accept that girls my own age are ideal targets for sexual harassment (Psychology Today). Over the years, gender equality has greatly improved, but women today are still viewed by some as inferior and easy prey. Meanwhile, it is a common misconception that all teenagers put themselves at risk by acting reckless and naïve. Many movies and TV series falsely represent teenagers, mainly showing us partying, having sex, or drinking underage. However, as a teenage girl, we are so much more than these labels and assumptions. We are resourceful, independent, and capable of standing up for ourselves. Look at the women in the #MeToo movement. They were sexually harassed, but showed bravery and courage by speaking out for their own health and safety, even if it meant putting their careers at risk.
It is less frightening to step forward knowing that you are not alone. If we combine our voices, they will have a much more powerful impact on the world. It can be difficult to tell someone you have been sexually harassed, and even more difficult if you are being blackmailed or threatened, but this is an important step in getting help. Open up to people that you trust, or be the person someone feels safe coming to when they need to talk about these things. Speaking up is especially important, not just because sexual harassment is a terrifying experience, but because it can leave victims with severe mental health impacts such as PTSD, anxiety, or depression. According to a study that observed the relationship between mental health and sexual assault, 80 percent of teenage girls struggled mentally after being sexually assaulted (The Guardian, 2021).
I have anxiety and know the toll it can take on someone. Your nervous thoughts are always nagging at you, your heart starts racing, and your palms get sweaty. Your throat begins to tighten, your stomach churns, and an overwhelming sensation of fear spreads rapidly throughout your body. It is difficult to concentrate on the things that used to bring you pleasure, such as school, hanging out with family and friends, or pursuing your hobbies.
Therapy is a good way to get help and should be made more easily accessible to everyone. In the beginning of my own anxiety, I would have panic attacks where I did not know what to do and felt helpless. Anxiety feels like a weight sitting on your shoulders, constantly dragging you down. Every time you overcome one worry, another takes its place. Once I talked to a therapist, I not only felt supported but I was a happier person knowing there was someone who understood me. No one should have to deal with anxiety because they were sexually harassed, especially because it was not their choice.
To create real change, society needs to take action against sexual harassment. Schools need to dedicate more time to the issue. In addition, they should provide students with valuable information and resources we can use if we ever find ourselves in this type of situation. If we are mindful of each other’s boundaries and treat everyone with respect, we will not only begin to battle sexual harassment, but build stronger communities and a better world.
This blog is part of a series developed through the Teen Talk Writing Internship. The internship was carried out remotely during early 2021 with a group of high school students who have participated in the Teen Talk High School sexual education course. The ultimate goal of the group was to build connections between students as they worked together to exercise their writing and health advocacy skills.