Trigger Warning: Sexual Harassment
Honestly, there is no great way to open this post. The only thing that does come to mind is that I should never have to write a post like this. And I wish it would not be the case that so many people can relate to my experience, but I know that the unfortunate truth is that many people have had similar experiences online.
Before I talk about my thoughts, here is a selection of messages I received through the contact form of my blog (messages may have been shortened and they were all anonymised to protect the identity of the sender, but only direct quotes were used). I very much want to emphasise that this is merely a selection - I wish these were the only ones sent by this person. All these were sent to me during one of my live study with me sessions on YouTube (sessions where I just sit at my desk in silence and study in order to give other students a study buddy).
When I first read those messages, there were a few feelings I had all at once:
Anger. Because someone felt so entitled to talk about my body and what they wanted to do to it without me having given them consent to talk like that - in fact, I had made it very clear that I did not consent to receiving such messages.
Disgust. Some of these messages refer to the most mundane things I do during these live streams - like drink some water or move at my desk to put away a book which I finished. Suddenly, I imagined some reprehensible person sexualising all my normal actions and it made me uncomfortable to do pretty much anything during my stream.
Back to Anger. The natural next reaction is, 'what can I do to stop this?' The incredibly frustrating answer to this question is that I am legally obligated to give you all access to my contact form. As a content creator in Germany, I am obligated to provide my audience with an imprint. An imprint is supposed to give an audience forms of contact so that they can reach out if there are any legal issues. My imprint has to contain two direct forms of contact in addition to an address (for which I use a law firm's address) - one of these direct forms of contact is my contact form. So what can I do against these disgusting messages? Report them to the police.
Did that. But bringing a criminal charge against someone for something like this is a long-term action and not a short-term action. As expected, the police told me that it would take them four to six weeks to get back to me on the criminal charge I filed. And as someone who had to report a predator to the police before, I know that data privacy laws can often get in the way of perpetrators being held accountable.
One emotion that never took hold of me is shame. I know that many victims experience it and I am not here to legitimise the feeling - if you feel/felt it, that is a reaction outside your control. You cannot control which feelings your body throws at you in such a moment. I even posted some of the messages on Instagram and Twitter (some of them censored in order to be in compliance with the website's terms of service) and at no point did I wonder whether these could reflect badly on me. I like to think that this is a good sign: I grew up in an environment where women were never blamed for harassment they receive and where it was always made clear that victims hold no blame for the behaviour of perpetrators.
But once I spoke up about these abusive messages, I learned that there are still people out there who hold such harmful beliefs. Take a look at this comment left under my latest live study with me stream. I received over 40 (!) messages during this three-hour stream. I spoke up about it at the end of the stream and here is how one user reacted to it:
Yes, you read that comment correctly. Now you know where the title of this post comes from. When I first saw that comment, I had a hard time believing my eyes. Women are not mannequins who just exist for people to judge their bodies and sexualise them (the very same goes for men and non-binary persons - their bodies are their bodies and they do not exist for others to sexualise them without their consent). Regardless of what my Instagram profile looks like, it would not legitimise the disgusting messages that were sent to me through the contact form of. my blog. But what makes this comment under my video even more ridiculous is that there is nothing even remotely sexual on my Instagram account - it highlights even more how it does not matter what the victims do, predators will sexualise victims' bodies without consent.
Some people really think that an acceptable answer to something like this happening is "it's part of the job as an influencer - get over it." This basically says some people just have to accept abuse - all I can say to that is (and please excuse my language) what. the. fuck?! No job should require you to accept abuse, and that includes being a content creator. I do not care whether you are a content creator who shows themselves in underwear or conservatively dressed - neither one gives anyone permission to send you messages like that. There is a clear line between compliments and sexual harassment and that line was clearly crossed in this case. This is not just a line drawn by manners - it is also a line drawn by the criminal law. And predators should do well to remember that - because recipients of their disgusting messages can report them and many do.
Another thing I get to hear is that I should not give people such as this predator any attention. And I understand where people are coming from when they are saying this - some predators thrive off attention and it may also intensify their abuse. But victims of sexual harassment (and other kinds of abusive behaviour) do not have to stay silent - we are allowed to be angry and we are allowed to be angry in public. We do not have to stay silent about what is happening to us.
Personally, I also find it incredibly important to be loud about this - because the sad truth is that this has not happened to just me. There are so many other victims out there. But when no one ever speaks about this, it feels like you are the only one. When no one ever speaks about this, then people feel fine pretending that this is not really an issue. When no one ever speaks about this, then people do not realise what people experience. So no, I will not accept such harassment in silence. I will deal with it in whatever way feels right to me.
I do not have a great ending to this post - just as I said in the beginning, I wish I did not have something like this to write about. And I wish there were not so many people out there who can relate. But as long as there are people out there who can relate to this, I feel like I have to talk about this because I want to show other people that you can call out such disgusting behaviour and that you can report them to the authorities for their behaviour. Perpetrators deserve to be held accountable.
Lots of Love,
P.S.: The title picture of this post was taken by Simon Hinger. He is an amazing photographer from my hometown - you can show his photography some love here. (Unpaid ad)