[The Sexuality Blog] Back to Basics: Is solicitiation sexual harassment?

One of the unexpected consequences of access to social media is encountering scenarios and alien to one’s lived experiences and how people react to those scenarios. These reactions, often spurred by ignorance have necessitated the back to Basics series and it seems, has necessitated a discussion about sexual harassment.

The ‘unholy’ trinity of non-consensual sexual activity (in order of severity) are rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment. Harassment refers broadly to any act that aggressively solicits sex from an unwilling/non-consensual participant; often involving threats, lewd language and an irresponsible use of influence/authority. Sexual harassment is most common in the work place though it can happen anywhere with anyone, especially women. An especially persistent form of sexual harassment is catcalling, and what Nigerians call ‘blind toasting’.

https://twitter.com/dxlu_/status/842831878734446593

A twitter user (Dxlu_) recently recounted being approached at bar where he was drinking by a young woman who asked if she could offer him oral sex in exchange for money to transport herself home. He said he was incensed by her question and what it insinuated about him and he asked her to leave. Some called what she did sexual harassment. It is not.

Been annoyed by a woman asking for sexual favours is not sexual harassment. It might be solicitation, or even sex work, but it is not harassment.

The entire system that emables and perpetuates prostitution often puts victims of sex work at the mercy of others, and forces them to come to every sexual encounter from a position of desperation. If we took away the stigma of sex work and treated sex workers the way we treated any other business person we would see how ridiculous it is pursue that line of thought. No matter how ‘aggressive’ a real sex worker is with their solicitation, they will never offer their product without payment, which keeps the power always in the hands of the person being solicited.

Catcalling and blind toasting on the other hand, qualify as sexual harassment because of how often rape adjacent these activities are. They often threaten to ‘take’ from the person they are directed at, with no compensation or renumeration, other than the ‘promise’ that a positive response will prevent things from getting ‘worse’.

Harassment often comes with an unspoken threat of escalation, the certainty that if this sexual propositioning isnt accepted ‘peacefully’, the person will take retailiatory action, either by using their influence or authority to torment the victim, or turning to outright sexual assault or rape. A victim of sexual harassment isnt merely momentarily inconvenienced, they experience a very real threat to their lives, possessions or social/financial/career mobility.

Sex workers already have a lot to to deal with, please let’s not antagonize them any further with by conflating our annoyance and personal prejudices with sexual harassment.

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