In a sport that treats women as commodities, it probably comes as no surprise to anyone - least of all the women who work in the sport - that sexual harassment happens. It comes from fans, from team members, from pretty much anybody who wants to get with a Motorsport Girl and hasn't had sufficient education in asking for consent. So, herewith a short guide to dealing with this ever-present violation of bodily autonomy.
Let's start with a definition, so we all know what it is we're talking about. Sexual harassment is defined for this article as:
Any unwanted and uninvited sexual attention, whether via electronic media, verbal harassment, or physically threatening behaviour.
Going through that sentence slowly, let's pick it apart.
Whether or not attention is 'unwanted' is dependent on the recipient of that attention, not the giver of the attention. If you do not want to receive sexual attention - whether you do not ever want it from that person, or just don't want it in that moment - it is classified as 'unwanted'. What you want is valid, regardless of their desire for sex or other intimate activities.
Now let's deal with 'uninvited'. This one is a little bit trickier, because a fall-back defense of sexual harassers (and rapists, although most harassers don't take it that far) is 'but she wanted it!' See Jacob Zuma's courtcase regarding the rape of his lesbian niece, in which he claimed she was aroused and it was his manly duty to 'satisfy' her.
Contrary to popular opinion, being female in public is not a sexual invitation. Neither is wearing a skirt. Or a tank top and tight workout pants. Or attending a nudist function completely naked and not chaperoned by a man to defend your honour.
If you are reading this, thinking to yourself, 'Well, how am I ever going to get laid if I don't at least try?!' this section is for you. The trick is in playing a long game. It may work out for you; it may not. But playing a long game in seduction is they key to not intimidating your target, and therefore avoiding harassment suits.
Reid Mihalko (a sex educator, based in San Fransisco) suggests non-sexual flirting - playful conversation, joking, and other fun things - as a warm-up to anything more intimate. If the response is warm to those things, invite the object of your affection to a quieter, more private place - the balcony of the bar, a secluded location. Preface this suggestion with 'it's okay if you say no,' or 'I can handle my disappointment if you don't want to, but I think it would be fun.' This gives them the space to accept (yay!) or decline (aww!) your invitation. The crucial part is that it's an invitation, not a command or a threat (unless you're both into D/s games, in which case, fair play to you; stay safe, sane, and consensual).
Check out Reid Mihalko and Cathy Vartuli talking about flirting here if you are unclear about how to hit on people politely. And here's their video on flirting for shy people. Check out Ester Perel talking about mating in captivity (with some solid tips like 'leave distance for them to come to you' that work even at the beginning of relationships). Check out Helen Fisher talking about the neurobiology of romantic love. I'm hoping that resources like that will give y'all the confidence to approach people in a way that isn't going to spook them.
If you are generally on the receiving end of the harassment, a different skill-set is required. I'm about to give you some advice that, at face value, is oppressively sexist. I am about to tell you to ignore your first instincts, and tone police you. There are reasons for this advice. Herewith a step-by-step guide to dealing with harassment (also doubles for bullying and trolling, as well as people giving you a shot of serotonin [happy hormone released in kindness situations] to make a complete data set for my research project on online interactions in motorsport that stimulate either dopamine or cortisol).
STEP 1: COLLECT EVIDENCE
If the harassment (or bullying, exceptional kindness, etc.) happens via a digital medium, screenshot the messages and as much of the past conversation as is available/relevant. Obviously, this isn't applicable if the conversation has happened on SnapChat, as the messages disappear, but write a little summary of what had transpired in the chat up to that point. Screenshot every subsequent interaction in the conversation.
If you'd like to participate in the research project, send the screenshots to bridget dot schuil at gmail dot com. (That's my personal mailbox, and the one that's checked most often.) I will send you a research participant agreement that serves as a mutual indemnity and confidentiality agreement. At no point will I tell your harasser that you have submitted evidence against them; this is simply to get an accurate picture of who the repeat offenders are, and what strategies are most effective in rebuffing them safely.
STEP 2: DECLINE CLEARLY AND POLITELY
Say 'no thank you' to harassers. The 'thank you' is an important part of that. Why am I telling you to be polite to someone who just violated your autonomy? Hands up if you've ever responded rudely to a harasser and had them respond with 'Geez, learn to take a compliment,' or 'There's no need to be rude when I was being nice.' Probably a majority of us.
Telling them to go f**k themselves, while satisfying as a knee-jerk response, sacrifices your position on the moral high ground in their minds (and the minds of their lawyer, and therefore the judge/jury in a court case). It is sexist that this is the case, yes. We should be allowed to express anger when someone text-rapes us or gropes our bums or is otherwise sexually threatening towards us, yes.
However, intentionally provoking a shame response (shame being 'I am something bad' whereas guilt is 'I did something bad') by calling them a sexist asshole to their face isn't going to produce behaviour change. 'Nice toilet seat cover! Please don't send me more topless/dick pics? I'm already happily monogamous with someone,' is less likely to leave them feeling like they're not good enough. It's not about them; it's about you (in your response...it totally is about them, but pointing that out to toxic sexists often gets a violent response in my experience).
I do understand how sexist that advice is. It gives no room for recourse in the face of a blatant violation of your freedom of choice. It is, however, maintaining your place on the moral high ground. You're much harder to attack when you're standing on the moral high ground. The moral high ground is a much more easily defended position. Go there and stay there as far as humanly possible.
It is entirely possible that your harasser won't hear your first 'no'. After two 'no's, hit the block button to prevent that crazy stalker from taking up any more of your time. No remorse; they had two tries to give you respect, and that's enough for anyone, really.
Sometimes you can't block them, and the situation becomes a bit trickier. When that's the case, stay polite, but just repeat yourself like a stuck record. At some point, they'll get the hint. Maybe strengthen it to 'Seriously, please stop hitting on me. I'm not keen for coitus with you.' If they don't stop, or they escalate and get violent, report them to your local police station. There's little the police can do about harassment in most places, but the rape/death threats are there on record if/when they do get caught for an offense.
STEP 3: SELF CARE
If you've sent me screenshots for the motorsport online behaviour research project, you are entitled to a confidential session where I hold space and let you talk it out. If you have a friend who's good at holding space for you, call/text them and make time to process before you go to bed. Either way, get a second opinion. People who harass, bully, etc. are generally good at mind-games, so you will need someone to tell you in words that you aren't crazy, what they did was uncool, it's normal to feel ugh after that, you're not alone, you didn't invite the behaviour, etc.
Other options for self caring at this point include: playing a musical instrument, meditating, colouring in/doing art, going for a walk (preferably with your space-holding friend), eating chocolate (which produces happy hormones, but obviously keep it within reason because of the possibility of carb-related diabetes and heart disease), taking a bath/shower to help you feel clean again. Do things to interrupt the 'I am something bad' head-voices that spring into life when people are mean to us.
STEP 4: JUSTICE
If you want to report them to the police - bearing in mind that there's little they can realistically do at present; laws may change in the future, so lodge the evidence - take your phone down to the police station, ask for the digital crimes or sexual crimes division, and submit all the evidence you collected. You can choose whether to press charges, or simply report the crime. If you press charges, you may be required to testify (and this is one of the reasons I think we should attempt to maintain the polite but clear 'no,' because their lawyer will attempt to discredit you to win the case).
There is rarely official recourse for sexual harassment. The only real justice available to you is social justice. Cultivate a feminist fight club (see the book of that name for an explanation) of friends who'll hold space for you and soothe your soul. This is important.
Cultivate a group of guy friends who get it, and will stand up for you and other women when they see other men being uncool. If you don't know anyone like that, find the fence-sitters in your friend group, and invite them into allyship. Gently call them in when they do sexist or triggering things. Lend them your copies of Michael Kimmel and Feminist Fight Club. Aim to add one guy to the group each year, and encourage them to say something when they see something.
If your harasser escalates to rape, please go to your nearest rape crisis centre immediately, even/especially if you are travelling. If you intend to prosecute the rapist, put your clothes (the ones you were raped in, not your full wardrobe) in brown paper bags, one per item of clothing. While he's doing the thing, stay present enough to scratch him to collect DNA under your fingernails. DO NOT SHOWER OR WASH YOURSELF IN ANY WAY! This destroys evidence. Go straight to the nearest emergency room and ask to have a sexual assault exam.
Some rape crisis centres have ties to their local ER, and have survivor kits (some of them include soft toys for young survivors, the necessity of which breaks my heart) on hand for you when you go for your exam. Find a psychotherapist (note the use of the protected term; this is a serious trauma which causes severe PTSD, among other things) who specialises in sexual assault, and see them regularly until your symptoms subside (and then probably sporadic sessions for a while after that).
As far as possible, we (as a society, but also on the micro level as individuals) should seek restorative justice, regardless of how heinous the offense was. Hurt people hurt people, and it's more likely that your assailant was horny and socially inept than a pathological sadist, psychopath, or sociopath. Rates of those mental illnesses are far lower than rates of rape and sexual harassment, which speaks of a mindset/culture issue more than neurological pathologies in individual offenders.
I'm not saying it's easy. I'm not claiming to be one of those ultra-zen people who's never fantasised about torturing her rapist to death. But forgiveness (not forgetting, just not stewing and being bitter) is the secret to happiness. When interacting with and prosecuting offenders, we need to aim for restorative justice, rather than vengeance. Restorative justice rehabilitation programs have lower rates of recidivism than vengeant, shame-driven 'justice'.
Class Action Law Suits
If the online behaviour research project reveals one or several serial offenders, we will retain legal counsel and give you the option to participate in a class action suit against that person/those people. It is more likely to be a civil suit than a criminal case. Participation will be entirely voluntary. We will not subpoena you to testify if you don't want to. But we would like to give you the opportunity for recourse if we find a viable avenue for that.
Finally, a word to the men who get it in the audience...
The kinds of people who sexually harass women are usually sexist men. They don't really have space in their worldview for women saying no to them. If you are out, and you see a situation you think is uncool with a strong rapey vibe, ask the woman in question if she'd like you to buy her an angel shot. That's code for 'would you like me to wingman you away from this guy?' If she says yes, be cool, and get her to safety. If she's unconscious or clearly TDTF (too drunk to f**k) and a man is all over her with intent, don't bother asking, just be a bro and wingman her back to her friend group. Hang out with them until the threat to their safety has passed.
You may never receive a cookie for your good work, but I'm pretty sure you're scoring points with Jesus/Karma/the Universe and it'll likely come back to you some day.
If reading this has brought back memories you'd put away for a rainy day, and you want to talk it out, use the email address above, or inbox one of the socials. If you're trying to understand this whole consent business, and/or how to be a better wingman, that inbox is open to you too.