Why It’s So Hard To Speak Up About Sexual Harassment

The women of Hollywood have banded together to form the Time’s Up – an initiative to fight against sexual misconduct in the industry. Members include Kerry Washington, Emma Stone, Natalie Portman and Reese Witherspoon, and already, they’ve raised $15 million in legal defense funds. In support of the movement, attendees at the Golden Globes are walking down the red carpet tonight in black and wearing Time’s Up pins. 

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, we were all astounded by the number of women who came forward with their stories of sexual harassment. But getting the conversation started is just the first step: We now need to understand what constitutes sexual harassment, how we can take action against perpetrators, and what we can do for the women who speak up.

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I was at the base camp of a mountain range, and the temperature had dropped below 10°C. I had brought along a sleeping bag I last used at my polytechnic orientation camp. It goes without saying that the flimsy material was useless against the biting cold.

In comparison, my travel partner – whom I had met on a travel forum online – had brought along a down feather sleeping bag. “You’re going to die in that stupid sleeping bag of yours,” he chuckled. “Just share with me, lah.” We had shared his sleeping bag earlier on the trip, so I thought nothing of it.

Later that night, I was jolted awake by a hand over my vagina. I lay there in the dark, frozen, thinking it might have been an accident. After all, the sleeping bag was meant for one person. But then I felt two fingers pressing down over my thermals, circling my clitorial region and wandering all over. There was no way he wasn’t aware of what his hands were doing.

It has been almost a year since it happened. I’ve replayed that incident in my mind a million times, going over every little detail, thinking of the different ways I could have dealt with it better. I could have told him off. I could have told him that what he did counts as sexual harassment, or maybe even sexual assault.

But instead, I just told him to stop (which he did, and then kicked me out of his sleeping bag soon after) and left it at that.

I spent three more days with him, till we reached the end of the trail. We parted ways as soon as I could. I did not confront him about the base camp incident, although my mood was visibly affected for the rest of the hike. He eventually asked why I was “giving off such bad vibes” towards the end of the trip, but I still found myself tongue-tied.

Why is it so hard to speak up?

Till today, I don’t know why I reacted so… meekly. I’m a writer for a women’s magazine. I’ve been told that I don’t take sh*t from people. And I strongly believe that sexual misconduct should be called out. So why was I so conflicted?

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