Sexual Harassment By Anonymous

This piece first appeared following a call for submissions in the Young Feminist Network by ESSL newsletter for the Month of August 2020

I’m sure many of us have had some experience with it no matter where we live or how old we are. Specifically referring to the culture in Sri Lanka, we tend to keep these things secret — and that’s one of the major mistakes we make.

Here, we are constantly being told “That’s just men being men!”,

“They’re just boys playing around!”,

“Don’t take it seriously, just ignore it!”.

That’s the attitude we are shown, so naturally we start to fall into that same pattern. Well, that’s clearly the problem isn’t it? We can’t keep blaming the previous generations for not being open enough about these conversations while keeping quiet ourselves. So now I’m going to explain my worst experience with sexual harassment.

When I was 16 (I’m currently 18), I went to a materials store to find material for a dress with my mom and grandma. Not that this has any relevance to the incident, but I was wearing high waisted jeans and a sleeveless top. As we kept looking for different material, the sales guy convinced the three of us to see how the colour would look on my skin. Keep in mind that he took us to the lower floor that looked a bit like a basement, to show us more material. He made me turn around and then tried to tuck the material in my jeans from the front, and tried to put his hand in way deeper than he needed to, but since I was wearing high waist jeans that obviously was a failed attempt. Me, being in denial that a man (probably) in his 40s could be so disgusting towards me, a young girl, decided to ignore it and convinced myself that it was probably a mistake. Then he asked me to turn around, facing away from him, and held the material in front of me, covering my entire body from my mom and grandma. He then slipped his hand through the back of my jeans, lower and lower. He kept doing that continuously with every different material we tried. He didn’t have any more opportunity that than though, since my jeans were high waisted, and didn’t really get to reach much further than my hips. But it still traumatized me to the point that I couldn’t even move. I was frozen. I wanted to shout and turn around and slap him or just do something. But I couldn’t even speak. I wanted to cry but it was like my tears weren’t allowed to leave. I was so shocked and confused as to what happened, because it was the first time I’ve ever experienced it firsthand. The most I could gather myself to do was walk a few steps forward so he couldn’t touch me anymore, but even then, I was shaking. At one point he was about to lift my top up but I moved back so fast and my mom stood up to come check on me, so he took his hand back down. Eventually it was over and it didn’t progress into anything more; but it was still disgusting and I just wanted to go home and have a shower because I felt so violated.

After that, I stayed quiet. I regret not saying anything there and getting that man in trouble. But I was terrified because it was just the 4 of us downstairs and I didn’t know what he’d be capable of doing. After we left, I told my mom about it and she started to cry and apologize for not doing anything about it even though it was not her fault. It was nobody’s fault but his. But I foolishly blamed myself for so long — for failing to step up and do something about it.

On the surface, it seems like such a minor thing as you read it. But only someone who has been through it can tell you how traumatizing it is. I spoke so bravely on social media about sexual harassment and about encouraging women to step up and speak out, but I never realized how hard it would be…I never understood the depth of it all until it happened to me. I wish I could tell you what was going on in my head at that moment, but it was blank. I wanted something to happen but nothing did. I felt like a coward for not stepping up for myself, but I had no guts to fight back while I was in shock. I regret it to this day, because judging by the confidence that man had in what he did, I could tell he had done it before and would do it again. But what’s done is done. I understand that in that moment, I was helpless. Mentally. Physically. Emotionally. In every way possible. And it’s okay that I failed to defend myself that day. But never again.

There have been countless other incidents that have made me fear for my own safety, like people following me all around the mall and until my car; but listing them would take ages. So, I’m going to leave with a message.

For anyone out there, regardless of your gender, I know it’s not as easy as it sounds to speak about you experiences with sexual harassment. You may think it’s not important enough to bring to anyone’s attention. But don’t ever think “other people have gone through worse, you’re nothing special”. Trauma is trauma, and it cannot be compared. Talking about it (when you’re ready) will allow others to feel that, hey, you’re not alone; that it’s okay to talk about it. That it’s not your fault.

Image Credit —



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Everystory Sri Lanka

Everystory Sri Lanka

Everystory Sri Lanka (formed in 2018) is a collective of young Sri Lankan feminists identifying as a storytelling collective.