Astrid Nikijuluw, Serpong, Banten, Indonesia SSH Blog Correspondent
Street harassment or other kinds of harassment can cause psychological harm. Unfortunately not many people realize that simple things such as ‘whistling’ or ‘catcalling’ can be the beginning stages of further harassment.
In this article, I interview Indonesian Psychologist Reynitta Poerwito Muthalib about her views on the topic.
She works as a Clinical Psychologist in the Eka Hospital and does free online counseling. She occasionally appears on the Indonesia Morning Show from Net TV. She also actively shares her knowledge through seminars and school visits. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, and a master’s degree in Psychology with a focus on Clinical Psychology from the University of Indonesia.
Astrid Nikijuluw (AN): How do you define the street harassment according to your terms?
Reynitta Poerwito Muthalib (RPM): For me, street harassment, just like other harassment, has the straight line of what people do (verbal or non verbal) that makes other people feel threatened/uncomfortable/afraid/disgraced, both implicitly and explicitly. This happens, unfortunately, to a wide range of ages of people, from the very young to the old.
AN: What street harassment experience irritates you the most?
RPM: When I was about 13 or 14 years old, I went to a traditional market by myself. While I was passing a crowd of men, they whistled at me. I ignored them and tried to walk as fast as possible. Suddenly, one of those men came to me and walked by my side and made fun of me. I was so afraid and at that point I could not think of anything else but to just get away from that place as soon as possible. Yes, I was very young but the memory still vividly haunted me sometimes. That kind of behavior is not acceptable at all.
AN: How did you cope after that happened to you?
RPM: The first thing I did was to increase my self-awareness. Because that market was part of my everyday route of going to school, I chose to take a longer route to try to avoid it occurring again by half circling the market instead of taking a direct route which went past the area where I had my incident. Sometimes I felt anger about this and just wanted to fight back but I felt it was no use. It was so frustrating to feel helpless about it.
AN: Can you explain, based on your expertise, the psychological effect of street harassment?
RPM: I would say there are three major factors:
1. First is the personality of the victim. If the victim tends to face a distressing situation more often or has a better self-managing strategy for stress then the effect would not as bigger as it is on others who are vulnerable. Both sides can feel the thread, the disgrace, the scare, but to those who are –what people usually say- stronger would not be as affected as the others who are not as strong.
2. Second is the type of harassment itself. The deeper the harassment then the greater level of effect on the victim. For example, if the harassment is whistling or cat calling, the victim might just ignore it and walk away or maybe in some cases, fight back. But on the other hand, if the harassment reaches the levels of threatening words, such as, “I’ll be watching you”, then the psychological effect for the victim is deeper.
3. Third is the victim’s history. If the victims had other harassment experiences before, then they may be more traumatized compared with others who have not yet experienced other types of harassment before street harassment. For example a young girl who used to be bullied at school or have abusive parents at home might be more affected just by hearing a whistle on the street than someone who was just a happy young girl.
In my experience, street harassment and other forms of harassment such as bullying and abusive treatment can impact victims several ways. They may feel depression, have high levels of anxiety and experience low self esteem.
AN: How, in your opinion, can we prevent street harassment?
RPM: The first thing to bear in mind is that how you dress is not directly proportional to street harassment. Do not put blame on the dress you wear because you should be free to wear anything you want.
The first phrase that comes to my mind answering your question is the phrase that our president uses in every situation: “MENTAL REVOLUTION”. I use this phrase because harassers are threatening the victim’s private rights and acting on low-morality. They do not consider other people’s feeling and tend to act oppressive to the victim. Their conscience is not honed enough to bring empathy toward others.
People are born with enough conscience to feel compassion and love for each other. The lack of those factors brings us back to parenting. It starts at home and how parents raise their kids to accept differences are crucial. We in Indonesia live under patriarchal rule, therefore the understanding of how to appreciate women while still being a good patriarch is very important.
Therefore the mental revolution should start from the very beginning since it is easier to design moral obligation for children than those who are already teenagers or older. Technology awareness nowadays also is a challenge for parents because it is accessible for children. Accompany your child in watching movies so they will not get the wrong moral lesson.
The last one for me is the appropriate law. I still find the law is not enough to protect the victim. And not just for street harassment, but also for other types of harassment such as sexual harassment in schools or workplaces and bullying. Hopefully our government will put more attention to this matter in the future and make a breakthrough for protecting its citizen.
AN: Last question, any message for those who experience street harassment?
RPM: Don’t let them destroy your self esteem.
Today, 17th August 2017, my country Indonesia is celebrating its independence day. On this special day we always shout ‘FREEDOM’. Well, for me freedom means to also feel free walking along the street. To be free from feeling afraid in public places. To be free to wear anything you want without getting scared of being harassed. Freedom is for every citizen, every human being, and every individual.
Happy 72th Independence Day to my fellow Indonesians.
Astrid received her Bachelors of Business at Queensland University of Technology Brisbane Australia. She finished her Master’s Degree at Gadjah Mada University Yogyakarta where she majored in Human Resource Development. Follow her on Twitter at @AstridNiki or on Facebook.Share on Facebook