culture, discussion, Gender, psychology

Another Victim of Sexual Harassment

The following post is from masstz_blog. She works as a lab specialist in one of the hospitals in Saudi Arabia. The post was written in Arabic and I translated it to English so I can share it with my readers here. The translation isn’t literal so I asked for her permission first in order to translate the general idea of her post. She kindly accepted.

“It was shocking and painful to know that yesterday one of my friends was harassed by one of her coworkers. The harassment was shocking and painful to an extent that I can’t even describe. It was honestly painful for me to hear every detail of the story. It first started with silence then with fear and shock.

It hurt me that she didn’t speak out and talk about it to anyone. She fears that talking about it would make it worse and that people would gossip about it and that would hurt her more. She fears that people would have no mercy upon her story and would blame her first for the incident.

As for people, they always have different reactions and point of views in regard such an incident. There will be those who would start blaming a woman’s decency while others would blame the mixing of genders in the workplace. In both situations, the women will be blamed for what happened to her without hearing every detail of her story. It is sad to realize that there are still sick people with stupid mentalities regardless of the educational advancement and the modern life that we have.

Her story, in every aspect of it, is painful and heartbreaking. I cried with her when she started crying. I felt her fears deeply that nobody can imagine. I personally lost my trust in people around me and for a moment, I became scared of everyone.

I wish I had another heart, one for all of that and for all other things. A heart that can carry all the pain and another one just for living

  • My Comment:

It is indeed a sad story and to really understand what the woman has gone through, you need to imagine yourself in her situation. What if someone harassed you in your workplace and you can’t talk about it or even if you talk about it, you will have all this fear of being blamed and misunderstood?

Sexual harassment happens in Saudi Arabia just like it happens in The US, so I would not go to blame wholly one specific country or society. In fact, I realized that blaming that and this won’t help solve the problem. I mean, I can write 10 posts about the things I hate about the Saudi society and yet nothing will change. So, in this post, I want to present an analysis and solutions and yes, I am going to write it about it in Arabic so my message reaches as many Saudi as it possibly can.

There are many questions that we need to answer in order to offer a solution for the problem. First, what led that man to harass the woman? Is it because of his sex drive and lust or because of something else? Secondly, why would the society blame the woman first? Does segregation help prevent the problem as many religious people claim? These questions along with many others that I want to address here in my blog. Please share your thoughts, questions and answers!

Thanks to Asmaa for correcting my grammatical mistakes 🙂

16 thoughts on “Another Victim of Sexual Harassment”

  1. Well, what a sad story!

    You are right, sexual harassment knows no religion, culture, or territory.

    One time, my friends, both male and female, were talking about things like that happening in our place. Some of my more considerate male friends say that it’s some male guy’s way of saying he’s intimidated by the presence of a woman worker (especially a better one) in his work place. My female friends say perhaps a guy might be married and yet is still having marital problems so since he can’t direct his sexual desires to his wife, he looks for a work colleague to direct it to, either through having an affair or through sexual harrassment.

    Either way, a woman shouldn’t be really blamed right away for such incidents. It wouldn’t solve the problem at all.

    I think our world needs to REALLY EDUCATE BOTH SEXES about this thing. Ideally, parents should start this in their homes, with their children. I’m sure there are lots of parents out there thinking very well about their sons while not knowing that their sons are out their giving girls unwanted attention, and they may not even realize that their daughters shouldn’t be outrightly blamed if they have received untoward conduct from men. Parents should teach their sons that women are not objects to toy around with and they should also teach girls how to defend themselves and how to avoid, if possible, such incidents from happening. It all starts at the home.

    I don’t think total segregation would be the solution. Harassment happens in BOTH segregated and non-segregated environments. It all depends on how the men in a place or culture (we’ll leave religion out of this) view their womenfolk.

  2. We would need a more detailed account of what actually happened to be able to draw conclusions on this particular case. Harassment is a very wide net, and zooming in out the type of harassment would obviously be important.

    However, that said, it is no secret that a male dominated society such as ours resorts to things like these. And its worse that a community that prides itself on following Islam reacts in such ways to news like this.

    (Sexual) Harassment cases occur all over the world. The problem is, there’s no statistics being taken in Saudi Arabia to document how much worse (or not?) the problem is. There’s no government policies to deal with it either.

    Step 1 of fixing a problem is to realize you actually do have a problem. We’re not even there yet.

  3. well, more details needed as NidalM said. but either way we need to define what’s the problem in real words. Sexual harrasement is kind of ambiguise in here and can carry alot of meanings.
    I agree with coralbead about EDUCATING both genders and from what I see in Saudi I believe it’s a cultural issue at first. People don’t have defined boundries as privacy or rights in society. Every one has his own set of definitions! Education should be in a way to draw RED LINES for each women and for each man to follow. A man wont be able to step into a woman boundries if her walls are “published”! In Saudi society we lack the self trust to “announce” our own boundries either because of dependencies or at least lack of maturness in this subject!
    one more thing to add, I’ve seen in both, US and Saudi, what happened if man’s/woman’s guard is down. It’s called “oportunity” to get something 😉 This is how people look at it if thier morals and values are not an issue.

  4. NidalM– correct, sexual harassment isn’t an issue because there are no official stats to verify it, because no woman dares to speak out about it, and the government doesn’t take the whole thing seriously, instead it works against the victims :(. And lastly because of this, society at large doesn’t consider it as an issue.

    blackcode– yes education can really spell a difference. It can be very basic, like a father telling his sons to respect the women and girls and a mother telling her daughters about the subject and discussing how to deal with it. But then if in a very basic institution like the family the issue is a “non-issue”, then that’s another obstacle.

  5. the problem with sexual harassments is that the preditor is counting on the silence of the victim cus they know they society they are liviing in. prediors are very smart and know their surroundings very well. they know that the victim would be difinetly be accounted as a partner in crime and it’s not easy to prove a sexual harassment, all that would make them very dangerous and could lead to rape and worse things. And right sexual harassments has no religion or society. My heart goes to the lady in the story 😦

  6. yes, because women are always silenced about these issues, they become more target for sexual harassment.
    I think we need to have an institution that is designed specifically to deal with these issue and help women to speak out about their problems.

  7. thanks 4 u murtdha & 4 All..
    Iwant 2 say she was alone in that time so she can’t fixed that.. the silence is big mistake and we have very bad culture..
    thanks again

  8. This is such an important topic and one that crosses all cultures, though the cultural details are important, ie what constitutes sexual harassment in a culture, how the culture responds to it, how the individual members of the culture internalize being the target/victim.

    While more details about this particular story would be helpful, some of the patterns are classic. Whatever happened she felt shocked, shamed, and silenced by her fear of making it worse. Abusers count on this and even include it in the abuse. Little children are told not to tell or their parents will die, women in the workplace are told their reputations/careers will be ruined. All are told no one will believe them and they will be blamed, and punished further. Often the way it is done is quite subtle. The target or victim is usually initially frozen by shock and then naturally wonders what they did to deserve it, the idea of which the abuser has carefully planted, and which is a normal response in anyone who is not a flaming narcissist. The severely narcissistic usually crash later.

    Silence is also a normal reflex to minimize the social damage and in some cases is very well placed. Generally however it reinforces to the target/victim that they were the problem and deprives them of much needed support. Whether to complain officially must be a carefully weighed judgment call against the potential damage. It is better to tell a few trusted friends, preferably including ones who know both parties well enough to have credibility in talking about the inappropriate behaviours of the one. Still, abusers count on silencing, isolating, and discrediting the person who may expose them.

    Workplace solutions are to normalize the fact of men and women working together, set clear guidelines on behaviour, have managers model appropriate behaviours, and policies in place for how to deal with incidences, including being aware of false accusations.

    I agree with the comment that a woman as a competitor in the workplace is seen as a threat by some, and as someone who must be taken out by any means necessary. This is particularly true where it is new to have women colleagues, where women are an extreme minority, or where even in a more egalitarian society women are new to a “man’s field”. One of the toughest women I know was abused into a depression during her neurosurgery training. Women are a minority there and an unwelcome presence especially for the more traditional men, whether traditional because of age, temperament, education or all 3. She is also extremely bright with excellent hand skills, and attractive. The irony is that at the same time as she was being told she was incompetent by one powerful surgeon, she was being awarded a 3 month scholarship to learn a special technique in a foreign country. Reality is highly distorted in these situations.

    She recovered during an assignment off the surgical service but there was a persistent movement to eliminate her from the program. Of course in these settings seeking appropriate psychological help can be used against the person too. It is one of the factors, along with blaming, and destroying moral and social reputation which keeps women silent–again, even in supposedly more aware societies. It is still better to seek help though.

    I firmly believe there are 2 different types of harassment: gender harassment and sexual harassment. The gender harassment is more about women not being wanted in the workplace or that particular workplace and is as powerful as sexual harassment, and at least in the West more difficult to deal with because supposedly we don’t think that way. The sexual harassment is more about inappropriate attention, blackmail (sex for marks, sex to keep job), and intimidation ie sometimes sexual innuendo or threats are used to intimidate women out of a workplace, as a tool of gender harassment. At times it escalates to rape or a constant fear of being raped, though that is rarer than constant sexual remarks, innuendo, and sometimes inappropriate touching.

    Harassment vs normal behaviour vs abuse need to be defined as there is room often for misunderstanding, and early correction of problems. Harassment to me, is clearly unwanted, persistent attention that escalates. Abuse crosses another line usually with a covert or implicit threat: you will be fired, you will be failed, you will be denounced publicly (or to spouse, family etc). The power of these threats depends in part on how society and family can be expected to respond.

    These are different than flirtations, genuine joking, mutual admiration societies, an office romance, someone who is awkward at showing romantic interest, or someone with poor social skills. The key is mutual and appropriate social skills.

    It is important to realize that false accusations and the fact that nothing happened are as damaging and in some ways harder to deal with than something happening, with some form of proof. Abusers count on this as well.

    Men are also targets of sexual and gender harassment particularly as women hold more positions of authority. And of course, according to Ahmedinejad there are none in Iran but in the rest of the world ~10% of the population are gay, lesbian, or bi, and there are abusers among them too.

    This is a topic that is part of my clinical work, and I would be happy to give the person involved some friendly advice by email if her English is good enough, and she doesn’t mind sharing confidentially a few more details.

    She or someone on her behalf can contact me at chiaraazlinquestion AT Just put something in the subject line that is recognizable as not spam

    Otherwise, high quality self help books can do a lot of good if there is a problem of accessing professional counselling, and friends can be extremely helpful.

    I realize that there are cultural differences at play but most traditional cultures (including both shame vs honour and guilt vs innocence cultures) have the same ones operating.

    I do hope she recovers well, whatever it takes for her to do so. Changing setting and getting away geographically from the abuser can go a long way.

  9. In my workplace, they’ve something about that in the rules, because they recognize the problem as an issue that should be addressed. Workplaces should have some guidelines regarding sexual and gender harassment and should often educate employees about it.

    I do agree though that “normal behavior” is relative as it differs from culture to culture. I’m very sure that what’s seen as “normal” in my workplace wouldn’t be considered the same in other places. There must definitely be a defining line on what’s acceptable and what’s not.

  10. @Chiara
    the problem we have in Saudi is as NidalM said, we don’t recognize the problem. and secondly there is no counseling the people can go to for advises and help.
    and finally, women don’t speak up about this problem. They really fear the society and so one victim after another are paying the price of those who don’t speak up about the problem

  11. Murtadha–thanks for encapsulating the problem so well. I thought I had mentioned those aspects somewhere but perhaps not directly enough. I thought it would be helpful to outline a way in which this could be understood in different contexts for those having the opportunity to read here, and to give an example of a very strong woman who was undermined by workplace abuse.

    Sadly these issues are better addressed in the West but often not particularly well. Men are merely more passive aggressive and deceptive about how they go about it. A Moroccan friend (with a very prestigious French business degree) had trouble at work with a colleague in Paris (where the laws are even better than in North America) and did everything correctly in terms of reporting it, yet now finds herself dismissed (she was smart enough to negotiate a good severance package) and looking for work as a recent grad in a difficult economy, and as she says “with my Qatari face”.

    She also suffered a depression, which like many Moroccans I know who have (I would say all which is statistically accurate but sounds prejudiced anyway, and is anecdotal–must do the study to back it up LOL 🙂 ), presented with abdominal symptoms, and gastric problems. She saw a therapist and took an antidepressant for the 6 months she was still working in that negative environment. She also had the support of her French boyfriend, and her father who had suffered a depression when her mother left him.

    The lack of availability of, and stigma against, mental health services in certain countries and cultures has completely changed my impression of self-help books, which as you know abound in the US. The best ones are important therapy substitutes (not just adjuncts as they would be for someone in therapy) for those without access to a therapist because there are no services, they are too expensive, attending is impossible physically, or seeking help is too stigmatizing in the society, and too self-stigmatizing to the “patient”.

    I do know Arab Muslim women who have seriously contemplated or attempted suicide rather than speak up, especially if “falling pregnant” while unwed. Better to speak up, and they most often eventually do to a trusted friend rather than family.

    You are very insightful in saying that each woman who doesn’t speak up sets up the next woman to suffer.

    BTW I have a post coming up in a couple of days about Saudi husbands and Western wives and I hope all will comment–and especially Saudi men, married and not, hint hint! LOL 🙂

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