Trigger Warning: This series of articles discusses sexual harassment and assault.
Does sexual harassment happen on Malaysian campuses? To answer the question, in 2017, IGNITE, in collaboration with the UNMC Feminist Society, set out to launch a survey to uncover some dark secrets from students and campus staff… and the results were shocking.
We gathered statistics from several local private and public tertiary education institutions. The results may not be comprehensive of Malaysia, and there are still unheard of situations from other local and private institutions which could be potentially worse. Most of the respondents were between 19 – 34 years old. 69% were Malaysian and 31% were non-Malaysian. From our survey, we discovered that about 16% of females have experienced sexual harassment on campus, while a staggering 57% have experienced it off campus.
In fact, a separate study in 2011, revealed that 75.1% of undergraduate students at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) claimed to have been sexually harassed. The number of female students who were sexually harassed were almost double that of male students.
This reflects the insufficient effort to educate, promote and reinforce gender equality in the nation and on campuses in general. Reinforcing security will serve to bring down the cases of sexual harassment but will not do anything to change the perceptions people have of men and women that accompanies these instances of sexual harassment.
Therefore, IGNITE wishes to present our mini-series – “Sexual Harassment and the Culture of Misogyny on Campus” throughout the next few weeks. This is to enlighten and educate our readers on the severity of the issue with 5 hard-hitting articles on how damaging the culture of misogyny and toxic masculinity can be on individuals. We also take a look at the concept of consent and modesty. So, brace yourselves on what’s to come in the following weeks.
Firstly, let’s talk about sexual harassment.
In our survey, we had included 2 definitions of sexual harassment by:
a. World Health Organisation (WHO)
Any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in ay setting, including but not limited to home and work.
b. US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Sexual harassment is any form of verbal or physical abuse of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment can include sexual advances and sexual requests, as well as offensive remarks about an individual’s sex. It is important to note that while the majority of sexual harassment cases are experienced by women, men can also be victims of sexual harassment too. Furthermore, sexual violence can also occur in marriages and dating relationships.
To illustrate some examples, the University of Michigan had attempted to categorise sexual harassment into 3 parts (all examples are taken from the website):
Indeed, there are many more examples (ie. stalking, cat-calling and wolf-whistling) other than the ones that are provided by, some still being deliberated. For instance, wolf-whistling, which should be included under the category of unwanted sexual statements, continues to be a topic of debate on whether it should be included in the context of sexual harassment.
We were sad to note the perceptions of certain people in our survey who seemed to trivialise rape and sexual harassment. We received inputs like “Arab N****r College of Feminazi Rape (Men’s Campus)”.
Unfortunately, sexual harassment is yet to be considered as a crime in Malaysia, but seen as an internal problem to be solved in the workplace instead under the Code of Practice on the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace 1999, introduced by the Ministry of Human Resource. Thus, the call for a comprehensive Sexual Harassment Act that protects both sexes from sexual harassment in Malaysia has been highly emphasised and raised.
Changing Perceptions of Sexual Harassment in The Public Eye
Here’s a question: how would you react if the public laughs or belittles you after witnessing a sexual assault happening to you?
That was what happened to a 20-year-old local student, who was molested at the Masjid Jamek LRT station on December 4th, 2017.
What was even more shocking was the public’s response– bystanders laughed when the assault happened in front of them, claimed a user on Twitter who is a friend of the victim. Clearly, the incident shows that many individuals are still unaware of what constitutes sexual misconduct, or in this case, unable to comprehend the severity of their actions in condoning sexual harassment.
Such news of sexual harassment is not new anymore, but if the public continues to treat the issue lightly, then it is women like these who will continue to stay silent and be scarred from such experiences.
Fortunately, with social media platforms on the rise, the fate of many “silenced women” have changed when the recent #MeToo movement has been stirring an uproar since late October 2017 when it was made famous by actress Alyssa Milano.
Suddenly, women (and men) were voicing out their experiences through the #MeToo platform that allows millions worldwide to unite against sexual harassment. It was not like they were not able to voice about their experiences before, but the hashtag movement had certainly pushed many countries and their relevant authorities to change how sexual violence was handled.
In fact, #MeToo is starting to leave a significant impact on how campuses handle issues of sexual harassment. For instance, a professor in China was finally removed for sexual misconduct- all thanks to the hashtag movement.
So, although we won’t be seeing immediate results to eradicate sexual harassment any time soon, we can only hope that with every effort to educate respect amongst the sexes, the world will be a better place to live in where sexual harassment is not a joke anymore.
By Lee Sheen Yee
NEXT WEEK: We uncover more secrets about sexual harassment and assault on our very own campus.