Sexual harassment is never your fault

Yesterday, while I was waiting to cross at an intersection on my walk to school, a car that was turning the corner slowed right down, rolled down the passenger-side window, and a man in the passenger seat shouted, “Hey, Sexy.”

Good morning to you too, sir.

Naturally, I turned the other way and ignored him, holding my breath until the car drove away. I learned a long time ago that diffusing sexual harassment with silence is much easier, and much safer, than responding with the aggression I feel.

But this post isn’t about diffusing. This post isn’t about how scary it is to be sexually harassed. This post is about something much more serious.

As the light changed and I began to cross the street, I looked down and thought, “Maybe I shouldn’t wear knee socks with a skirt when my winter coat it so long. It looks a little scandalous.”

And then I proceeded to mentally slap myself for thinking such a thing.

Here’s a lesson that the world is trying to learn but is nevertheless learning very slowly: sexual harassment is never your fault. What you are wearing, where you are walking, what time of day it is, whether you’re out alone, does not matter. There is absolutely no condition that could lead you to blaming yourself for being sexually harassed. None. You are always the victim and you are never responsible. Please don’t forget that.

Victim blaming has been a hot topic in the news lately, particularly through the Jian Ghomeshi trial, and Kesha’s legal battles with Sony. There are a lot of articles and opinions flying around the internet and everything can seem very complicated. But the important thing to remember is that when a person opens up about a traumatic experience and we say they’re wrong because they, in some way, put themselves in the situation, we are threatening to silence all victims of sexual assault and harassment by making them feel they can’t come forward without being blamed.

The day I walk to school with a big sign on my backpack saying, “Please shout sexual profanities at me from your car,” is the day I may claim responsibility for being harassed. But until then, I am not asking for it.