“What Does One Do If Harassed By A Friend?”

What do you do when a friend harasses you?

I have faced a great deal of harassment – verbal and physical – from strangers, while walking down the street, traveling in buses and trains, at college and at work, in Mumbai and Bangalore. When a stranger is involved, it is easy to fight back; and the incident, while not forgotten, doesn’t matter quite as much after some time. But when someone you consider a friend, someone you trust, treats you like a piece of meat, it becomes really difficult to deal with.

I was on a short holiday with a mixed group of nature-enthusiast friends at a wildlife reserve some months ago. While intently watching and trying to identify some butterflies at one point, I felt someone touch my butt. It could only have been the person standing behind me – a man almost 18 years younger, who was a regular member of our group trips. At age 43, I really thought that I was done with stuff like this – and that too by a person I knew and trusted? I did not react, as I couldn’t believe what had happened – I tried to rationalize the incident, wondering if it could have been an accident, a mistake, anything! But the next day, it happened again – just at the moment when all of us were watching an exciting bird! I had been careful to stay away from him, but at that moment, all of us converged on the same point to look at this bird – he happened to be behind me again, and in an instant, touched me on the butt again. Now, I did not have any doubt about the act, or that it was purposefully executed.

But I still could not bring myself to confront him, or to tell anyone else about it. This is the worst thing about being harassed by someone one knows – one feels greater embarrassment at the prospect of being disbelieved, than at the act itself. Maybe this was the mistake I made. I continued to behave normally till we got back home, and mulled over how to tackle the issue.

I decided to confide in the female members of my group, and also a few other friends. While some unhesitatingly believed me, some of those who were good friends with him, did not. Not only that, I was told that I should have confronted him there and then. While that is very easy to say, only someone who has faced harassment from a known person will be able to understand my state of mind. I also found out that I was not his only victim, someone else had also faced this problem, but refused to identify herself and speak up openly about it. Some of my friends confronted him with my accusation, and he, of course, denied it vehemently. And they found no reason to disbelieve him. I don’t understand this at all – why believe him over me? After all, women are supposed to stick together and support one another, right?

As it stands now, many of my friends continue to socialize with him in spite of my having told them about this incident. I am the one who has to take the trouble to find out where I may run into him, and avoid such events. Also, I can feel a definite cooling off in some of my friends’ behaviour towards me. In the end, I am not only the victim, I am also paying the price for talking about the incident.

So, my question is, what does one do if harassed by a ‘friend’?
Submitted by Uma

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5 Responses

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  1. Isabel says:

    Ugh.. It’s horrible that you went through that. Being harrassed by someone I know has never happened to me, but
    I think you can use the fact that he is a ‘friend’ to your advantage. I think the first thing you should do is let him know that you don’t appreciate his touching your butt, in those words.

    If he doesn’t stop, I would pull him aside (because it sounds like he won’t stand being ‘humiliated’ in front of the others)and say to him calmly but firmly something along the lines of “If we are going to be friends and work together, I’m going to need your respect. Because otherwise there is no way this is going to work. Do you understand what i’m saying?”

    Good luck!

  2. Rebecca says:

    It sounds to me like you need to make some new friends who actually respect you.

  3. Marie says:

    At least with a friend you can tell them off and break off the friendship. I still wish to this day that my uncle would apologize for his disgusting comment that makes me nervous to be around him (or even wear pretty tops). At least, you can build up the courage to tell a friend off, even if it is at a later date, or at the most be alert to his action to be able to call him out when he targets another victim. Since you are not his first (and most probably not his last), you can find the others his assaulted and ban together.

  4. Élise says:

    It’s really too bad that women can’t support each other in things like this. I was pursued to the point of harassment by someone in my social circle last year, to the point where it was causing me extreme anxiety and I had to break off all contact with this person…while still remaining in somewhat the same social circle. Awkward as hell, and while my close friends totally supported me, it was my FEMALE acquaintances who decided to take his side and act like I was being a crazy bitch. I don’t know why some women think sexual harassment is a compliment, or why they feel so “sorry” for pathologically desperate men and think any attempt such men make to get laid is justified.

  5. Élise says:

    I have to clarify that it only seems to be women who haven’t experienced sexual harassment who think it should be taken as a compliment – by no means have I ever met anyone who actually felt complimented by being harassed or catcalled, only people who think I should feel that way.

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