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Sexual harassment: where does it start and how do I defend myself?

For many of us, the line where a pick-up ends and sexual harassment begins is not clearly defined. Especially when alcohol is involved, we women smile far too often at one or the other male misstep that is actually absolutely not OK.

You have to be very clear: Even at festivals like Carnival or when celebrating in a club Not okay if someone gives you a pat on the bottom or makes a suggestive to obscene remark.

When something like this happens to us women, we are often inclined to overlook it. Because the situation is uncomfortable enough for us. Or because we prefer not to establish any (further) contact with the perpetrator (or, better said, the perpetrator). But we're not happy with it.

And the question is also: Isn't it counterproductive to just accept it like that? Ultimately, we feel doubly bad.

That's why in this article we explain to you where exactly sexual harassment begins. And we tell you the best way to react in case of doubt, be it at work or in everyday life.

Sexual harassment: that's what the law says

Sexual harassment is a criminal offense. This is proven by Paragraph 184i of the Criminal Code (StGB), which states the following in the exact wording:

(1) Anyone who physically touches another person in a sexually determined manner and harasses them as a result will be punished with imprisonment for up to two years or with a fine, unless the act is threatened with a heavier penalty in other regulations.
(2) In particularly serious cases, the imprisonment is from three months to five years. A particularly serious case is usually when the act is committed by several people together.

However, the offense will only be prosecuted upon request. This means that the person who has been harassed has to report it himself in order for it to be prosecuted. Otherwise nothing happens. So she has to report on the incident, which is not always pleasant, and in case of doubt, if there are no witnesses or physical traces of the assault, testimony against testimony. This can overwhelm the victim at first and lead them to refrain from reporting.

How is sexual harassment defined?

The exact definition of what sexual harassment is can be found in Section 3 (4) of the General Equal Treatment Act (AGG):

"Sexual harassment is a disadvantage (...) when the aim is undesirable, sexually determined behavior, including undesirable sexual acts and requests for them, sexually determined physical contact, comments of sexual content as well as undesired showing and visible attachment of pornographic representations or causes the dignity of the person concerned to be violated, especially if an environment characterized by intimidation, hostility, humiliation, degradation or insult is created. "

According to the Anti-Discrimination Agency, the following things are definitely prohibited:

  • unwanted sexual acts such as oppressive physical closeness
  • the solicitation of unwanted sexual acts, e.g. B. "Sit on my lap!"
  • Sexually determined physical contact ", including (apparently accidental) touching of the chest or bottom or unwanted neck massages,
  • the unwanted showing or sending of pictures or videos with pornographic content
  • Intimidation, hostility
  • Exhibitionism, immoral exposure
  • the threat of sexual violence
  • sexual coercion, physical violence, rape

That is also sexual harassment

But: sexual harassment starts much earlier than the cases described above. This is also a nuisance that you should not / have to accept:

  • Suggestive remarks about a cleavage, a short skirt, the "bubble butt" etc.
  • Questions with a sexual content (e.g. about sexual preferences, intimate things such as intimate shaving or genital piercings.)
  • Comments of sexual content, such as obscene jokes or sexual innuendos,
  • intrusive, unpleasant looks, whistling afterwards
  • inappropriate nicknames (e.g. "sweetheart", "sweetie" etc.)
  • inappropriate invitation (e.g. "Let's talk to me after work ...")
  • lewd, obscene words and gestures
  • Insults like "bitch" etc.

Sexual harassment often occurs in addictive relationships such as at work. Many keep silent for fear of losing their job. According to surveys, more than half of all employees in Germany have already witnessed or been victims of sexual harassment.

How can I defend myself?

Most perpetrators are well aware that they have crossed a line. Sexual harassment is always a power game too. Your counterpart will know that too. "Now relax" or "That was a compliment" shouldn't lull you or make you feel insecure. If you have experienced harassment as such, trust your perception.

Many women also tend to blame themselves, whether because they were figure-hugging or because they think they might have sent the wrong signals to the other person. All that should be left out. Otherwise you make yourself the perpetrator when you are the victim. Even if you had sent certain signals of interest to your counterpart, that would not be a reason for him to exceed your limits.

The problem: As a rule, the whole situation as a victim is extremely uncomfortable and you really just want to get out of the situation.

Let's take the case that a colleague comes too close physically, for example, grabs you by the chest. The first reaction is certain: Get out of here and quickly forget. Some women even wonder whether they just imagined it and the touch was purely coincidental. But this is wrong. You should really take your courage and speak to your colleague openly about it. "You just touched me. I don't want this. Please don't!" Otherwise nothing will change in the situation and from now on you will go to work with a stomach ache.

Here's how you can respond to sexual harassment:

In the event of harassment in public spaces:

  • Distance yourself physically (if possible) and verbally and address the perpetrator: "Stop it. I don't want that!"
  • Or you get very specific and explain how the whole thing went down: "I feel you are sexually harassed by you. Don't do that!"
  • Sanctions make clear: "I will not take this any longer. If you do not let that, I will report it."
  • If you don't dare to tackle your adversary alone, you should seek help. First of all, by creating publicity, i.e. by speaking louder so that bystanders are aware of the situation. Or you actively speak to someone close to you to see if they can help.

In the event of harassment at work:

  • If a colleague or supervisor harasses you, you should clearly point out the limits and speak to them about them.
  • If the harassment repeats itself, you should create a memory log and note down all incidents, with place and time. So the perpetrator cannot claim that all of this is just imagined.
  • Basically, you shouldn't get involved in long discussions, but instead, if possible, end the situation, e.g. leave the room or contact other people.
  • In the event of harassment in the workplace, you can also ask your supervisor, works council or staff council for help. The employer is obliged to take action against sexual harassment in the workplace.

You can also find out how to react to sexual harassment in the workplace and who to contact on the website of the anti-discrimination agency. Here you can also download the most important facts as a pdf.

There is also under the number 08000 116 016the help telephone for women from the Federal Ministry for Family and Civil Society Tasks. Victims as well as relatives, friends and colleagues can get advice here.

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