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It’s time to take social media sexual harrassment seriously: A Q&A by Human Rights Officer Barbara Roberts

Alex Lee* is a student who wanted to share a personal experience with sexual harassment.

This interview focuses on the experience, regrets and recommendations of a harasser.

Human Rights Officer: Alex, what do you want people to know about sexual harassment, from your experience?  

Alex: With an estimated 92 per cent of youth having experienced being sexually harassed through electronic means, it’s time to take this issue seriously. Sexual harassment happens over social networking sites, various chat rooms, instant messaging, Skype and MSN. I’m here to tell you how to steer very clear from being harassed or being a harasser.

HRO: Can you describe what happened?

Alex: I stumbled upon a student’s Facebook page, and found this person very attractive, so I decided to message them. They made it clear that they were in a relationship, but I kept pursuing them. I took it too far: constantly texting the student, day in and out, while they continued to tell me to stop. My comments became sexual and disrespectful.  They filed a complaint with campus security. That’s when I realized the damage I had done. I am unable to undo the damage I have done to the student, while I wish the opposite was true. I am also unable to imagine the suffering the student endured for months, with me constantly behaving the way I did. They aren’t able to know how apologetic I truly am. Having attended in front of the Board of Deans, I received strict penalties such as being unable to enter certain buildings on campus, paying a hefty fine, and several others.

HRO: How do you feel now?

Alex: I cannot comprehend how I even thought that my behavior was acceptable. I felt a great sense of remorse and disdain once I had realised that they were crippled by this experience. I was very distraught and awfully ashamed when I had to inform my family members, my guidance counsellor and my partner. The pain I felt from having to do so could have only been a fraction of the pain I inflicted.

 HRO: What advice do you have to share?

Alex: I have learned several methods to avoid ever harassing another person, and to help yourself if you are being harassed. Sexual harassment may appear as innocent comments on a person’s body or clothing. If a comment is of a sexual nature and makes an individual uncomfortable, it is sexual harassment. As a general rule, one should remain professional on the internet. Respect the message when someone says “Stop it.” If someone’s behaviour makes you uncomfortable, tell them, then get help. Don’t be ashamed; seek support and stay safe. Had I figured this out much sooner, I would not be telling you this right now. If only a single person is able to retain anything I have shared, I would consider this story a triumph. Sexual harassment is no laughing matter. This is a crime and should be taken seriously. All youth and members of society should be aware of how to avoid harassment, either being a perpetrator or to know what to do when being the victim.

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