Updated: Apr 10
“Yeah, we' gonna have to start carrying knives and guns to protect ourselves.”
Were the words of good teen girl, not a gangster! And she was not joking, neither were her friends.
Since the killing of Sarah Evarard in England last week, I have gotten into several deep conversation with women, young women, and teenage girls. It’s shocking the stories that each one of us has about sexual harassments and abuse. Most of these experiences never got reported to the police and those that got reported were discounted and disbelieved in ways that leaves the woman feeling more shamed and traumatised than from the actual assault.
How Safe Do Our Teen Girls Really Feel?
Sexual harassment and abuse create a palpable fear which leads to many women perpetually playing a defensive game in life.
Due to my work with teens as an adolescent psychologist and having my own teenage daughter, we have in the last week on several occasions found ourselves humming and singing.
“Where is the love” by Black-eyed peas.
This time having found us on the receiving end of the whole narrative as presented in that song.
Where is the love?
Where is the respect?
Whatever happened to equality?
How can crucial sexual crime facts be kept secret and only unearthed when a woman is killed?
Now, as you can imagine none of the teens I spoke with is a trained researcher, scientist, or statistician. But they all could tell that when you have a number as high as 90+% of young women reporting to have been sexually harassed and assaulted, this means almost every young woman, and they all knew that number is beyond statistically significant.
97% of young women have reported having been sexually harassed or assaulted (UN Women UK).
How Can Our Teen Girls Feel Safe In The Face Of Such Evidence Of Sexual Harassment & Abuse Facts?
In fact, I dare say that, that number is beyond statistically significant any way you look at it!
And let's also consider that sexual assault and harassment crimes are known to be underreported.
Today I was reading a story of an anonymous journalist who on the same night that Sarah was killed she herself was sexually assaulted.
This is when you know that this society is sick to the core.
The system is even sicker.
How can information like this be known yet kept buried and no reforms are made? Leaving the perpetrators whistling away in glee, while their victims live in fear, shame and trauma in a country priding itself as a safe first world?
How can a system supposed to protect girls and women sit on such data and only release it after the death of a young woman?
How many women need to die physically or mentally as in the case of those still alive but traumatised, in order for action to be taken?
Teen Girls Discuss Their Safety Options As Evidently, They Don't Feel Safe.
As we explored the above questions with the girls, I encouraged them to explore possible solutions.
I could feel a mix of both resignation and resolve.
One of the girls said, “I suppose we just have to start defending ourselves.”
Having worked with teenagers and young people for over 2o years, I have learnt that the most effective way to keep teenagers talking to you and opening up is to lean in, listen and learn.
So, I asked,
What came next was both disturbing and shocking.
But then again, I know with teenagers; if you want them to continue opening up, engage and tell you their thoughts and feelings, you don’t show shock on your face.
You respond with a face that says,
“tell me more”.
You know that face that shows no judgement but sheer genuine interest. A face that says I value you, I hear you, I see you, you are important, and I want to understand you some more.
“Yeah, we gonna have to start carrying knives and guns.”
These words sent a chill in my veins and my eyes attempted to bulge, but I knew not to do that. I maintained my “tell me more face”.
The girl carried on with confident resolve.
“if no one is ready to protect us we're going to protect ourselves. We're not going to be jailed at home and living in fear. Me and my friends have already discussed this.”
By the way, if you are thinking these girls must be gangsters, far from it!
This is a teen with no violent bone in her. Neither have her friends.
These are beautiful, respectful girls and resourceful members of the society. I know them personally and as mentees. They have big dreams, go to nice schools, do well in school and do their best to respect themselves and serve the community.
Of course, part of my job is to encourage solutions that don’t entail violence and I will work with them to come to conclusions that do not result to acts that could end up endangering them or others.
How Shall We Keep Our Teen Girls Safe From Sexual Harassments.?
The scourge of sexual harassment and abuse is way worse than the current global pandemic in my view. Just because it’s done in hiding and it's not infectious doesn’t mean we should not give it the attention it deserves. Sexual harassment and abuse are lethal. They interfere and disrupt our very Being. Our field of energy; our thinking, feelings and choices and leaves women and girls needlessly mentally injured and traumatised.
These two questions I have for the government and society in general.
How low have gotten that our teen girls (kids) feel they have to take matters of national security in their hands?
How have we got to a point where our teen girls are thinking such aggressive thoughts to defend their basic human rights?
Knowing these millennials and generation Zs, I won’t put it past them to carry out such thoughts because as you all know “as person thinketh, so they become”. So, if we leave them to think this way long enough, then taking that action will be no problem for them.
Is that what we want?
Way after our conversation with these girls, I’m still asking myself;
How are our girls meant to live a full life if these are the scary stories and facts they hear?
How are they meant you feel safe if they have no faith in the system that is meant to support them?
How can they open their wings and fly if they are living a defensive life?
It's double standards and disheartening that on one side girls are being encouraged to step up and STEM up aka take STEM subjects (traditionally occupied by men). Whilst the reality is STEP UP & STEM UP at your own peril, you are on your own out there to be harassed and abused, it’s like literally leading lambs to the wolves.
I believe the system; the government can do better.
We can educate boys to respect girls.
Take reports of sexual harassment and abuse very seriously.
Put in place strict measures to hold sexual harassers and abusers accountable for their actions.
Send a clear message that sexual harassment is absolutely not acceptable in any way or form.
Enough is Enough! Teen Girls Ought To Grow Up Looking Forward Confidently, Feeling Safe & Free From Sexual Harassment and Abuse.
We can't have our girls thinking that the only way to protect themselves is to take matters in their hands and start carrying knives and guns to defend themselves.
Where is the love?
Angela Karanja is an adolescent psychologist, parenting teens expert and youth empowerment coach.
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