7 Things You Should Never Say To Someone Who Has Been Sexually Harassed

Actress Keke Palmer is my girl today. I stumbled upon a recent interview between her and TV personality Wendy Williams.

They discussed the controversy surrounding Palmer threatening to sue singer/rapper Trey Songz after releasing footage of the two of them–without her consent–in one of his new music videos. In a later deleted Instagram post, Palmer noted that she felt as if Songz used “sexual intimidation” against her during the video shoot. It got so bad that she felt that the only thing she could do was hide in a closet until she felt safe. Palmer emphasized that no young woman should feel like this, and they shouldn’t feel ashamed of doing what they felt they had to do in those kinds of situations.

As someone who has been a victim of sexual harassment as well as sexual assault, her words struck a chord. Whether you’ve experienced street harassment, had a guy grab you without your permission, or felt sexually pressured by someone who know, it is easy to eat yourself up over what you should have done or what you could have done to prevent it. It’s maddening, made only worse by others who judge and shame you as well. Even the most well meaning people inadvertently say things that come across as victim blaming, and it’s awful. So just to refresh, here are seven things you should never say to someone who has been sexually harassed. Yes, even if you think you know all the right (and wrong) things to say, you might be in need of a reminder.

Why Didn't You Say/Do This/That?

This is one of the most dismissive, offensive things to say to someone who has been sexually harassed or assaulted. People like to downplay how paralyzing it can be to be in a an intimidating sexual situation, whether it’s a dude who won’t leave you alone at a party, or a boyfriend who keeps pressuring you behind closed doors. It’s not always as easy as telling someone to eff off, or just “leave.” Guess what, people have been killed for telling off their harassers, and people have been killed for curving them too. So it often feels like a lose-lose situation. People assume flight or fight works like clockwork in every situation like this, and it just doesn’t. Some people even feel as if they’re safer just accepting their harassment as opposed to fighting it. That might sound like giving in, but to that person it might sound like survival. If you weren’t there, you can’t judge.

It Happens To Everyone

It’s really strange that people say this as if that makes it any better. “Oh, don’t worry about that guy following you for 10 blocks. Don’t get too upset because some guy grabbed you by the waist. Don’t sweat some dude grinding on your at a dance when you told him not to. It happens to, like, everyone.” Um, all the more reason for us to have zero tolerance about this kind of behavior. This being a common occurrence to women doesn’t make it more harmless, it proves that this predatory behavior is an epidemic.

Come On, You're Not Even A LITTLE Flattered?

No, it isn’t flattering to have someone yell at you on the street. It’s embarrassing. No, it’s not flattering to have a guy “want you” so badly that they make it difficult for you to leave the room. Those things aren’t frightening, they’re scary and embarrassing.

What Were You Wearing?

Yes, this is absolutely irrelevant. Anyone who has to deal with being hit on or sexually harassed on a regular basis knows that it doesn't just happen when they’re wearing a mini skirt or showing a lot of skin. Even those sweatpants and sweatshirt days bring unwanted attention. Besides, this implies that the victim is to blame for their unwanted attention, instead of putting the onus on dudes to keep their hands (and mouths) to themselves.

Guys Just Do That

This mindset is exactly what perpetuates the kidn of BS that women and femmes experience on a regular basis. Men aren’t the only creatures on this planet to have their mind in the gutter—women get thirsty too—but they’re certainly the only ones who seem to have permission to act on their desires in despicable ways and have it be brushed off as “boys being boys.” I mean, I’d imagine that if I was a guy, I’d be offended by the notion that I’m so thoughtless that I can’t control my actions. How is that anything to be proud of?

If I Was There--

But you werene’t, so save it. This might be said with the most innocuous of intentions, but it never lands quite right. It always sounds like shaming the victim for not taking alternative action. What happened happened, it’s important to focus on what comes next instead of what could have happened in the past.

It Could Have Been Worse

Believe it or not, saying, “At least you weren’t raped or killed” isn’t as comforting as one might think. It negates the inherent violence of sexual harassment—whether it’s physical or simply verbal, which comes across as dismissive. The last thing someone who has been in a scary encounter like that needs is someone saying, “it could have been worse."

Has anyone ever said any of these things to you? Tell us in the comments!

You can follow the author, Ashley Reese, on Twitter or Instagram. Don’t worry, she doesn’t bite!

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