December 21, 2012 by Nash Riggins
A team of Austrian prosecutors has dropped sexual harassment charges against a man who pinched a woman’s bottom on the street after deciding that the act “did not qualify” as sexual harassment.
One of the local prosecutors, Hansjörg Bacher, claimed that the victim’s case was not worth pursuing, because sexual harassment can only involve either a woman’s breasts or her vagina.
“The incident itself needs to involve physical contact with sexual parts, simply touching the woman on the bottom does not qualify as sexual harassment,” Bacher claimed. “That would not have been the case if he had for example grabbed her breasts or touched her improperly in the sexual region.”
Apparently Austrian men have a lot to learn about the degradation that’s involved in sexual harassment; however, the woman concerned in this non-trial has been left justifiably shocked by the prosecutors’ decision.
The victim, a 43-year-old mother of two, was crossing the street in October when a man appeared alongside her and allegedly said: “Wow, a woman with a fantastic ass, can I touch it?”
Bad pick-up line is an understatement – yet when the woman told him no, the man proceeded to squeeze her backside anyway. The woman then reportedly slapped the man and tried to run away, but he then chased her down and threatened her with violence for ‘embarrassing’ him in public. Police intervened before she was harmed further, yet the damage had already been done.
The effects of sexual harassment vary greatly depending upon the individuality of the recipient and the severity of the harassment in question; however, serious psychological consequences amongst victims occur disturbingly regularly. Many psychologists assert that even minor sexual harassment often leads to temporary or prolonged stress and depression, and in some cases it has proven to lead to the same psychological effects as rape or sexual assault. Moreover, victims of sexual abuse who don’t submit to said harassment also typically experience various forms of retaliation, including isolation and bullying within their wider community.
In turn, societies subsequently fall victim to vast social and economic effects from such harassment, as it discourages women from actively engaging in social and economic participation. The more that sexual harassment is allowed to occur, the more money is lost in educational and professional opportunities for girls and women – and the quantity of men implied within these economy-killing conflicts is undeniably significant.
No one can justifiably argue that sexual harassment is beneficial to society, and no one can assert that it’s ‘harmless’ to one’s well-being unless they have experienced said bullying at its absolute worst. Bearing this in mind, in what world should groping a stranger in public before threatening her with violence not be considered a heinous crime?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment as the mistreatment of any person based even partially upon their sex. It can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Would it have been a punishable crime for the defendant in this non-trial had he merely made an inappropriate comment? However distasteful, probably not. Yet when an individual is publicly groped without consent, a distinguishable line has been crossed – and that line should be clearly visible to Austrian legislators.
The prosecutors involved in this case dropped the charges against its defendant because they apparently don’t believe that a woman’s bottom qualifies as a “private part”. Yet unbeknownst to this new generation of chauvinism, every part of a strange woman’s body should be considered private unless otherwise noted. This isn’t the Stone Age, and a man who feels entitled to grope the bottom of any woman he sees on the street without permission cannot go unpunished.
In fact, Austrian law does prohibit sexual harassment both in the workplace as well as on the street. Even when the accused goes unpunished, the Austrian government’s Federal Equality Commission is legally obligated to provide a minimum of $840 in financial compensation to any proven victim of harassment. As this particular case won’t go to trial, its victim may never even see the half-hearted conciliatory cheque with which she is rightly owed.
Unfortunately, this incident is not an isolated one. A nationwide survey conducted in 2011 asserted that over 74% of Austrian women said they had recently been sexually harassed – with 30% reporting that the incident in question had occurred in their workplace. Around 7% of respondents said they had been forced to have sex, and 9% of women had experienced “unaccomplished” sexual offences. Over 25% of women had been intimately touched against their will.
According to the United Nations, “to tolerate such conduct would be tantamount to a failure to respect the dignity and freedom to which every human being is entitled. All those who believe that this right to dignity is a universal fundamental value cannot accept the idea that the Community remains silent and inactive on this issue.” Article XIV of the European Union’s Human Rights Convention prohibits sexual discrimination, and its Human Rights Court has dismissed such degrading behaviour; therefore, why are Austrian courts so adamant to remain shrouded in a sexually discriminant Europe of yesterday’s past?
The victim of this particular case is currently receiving counselling in an effort to cope with the incident, and has demanded that the local team of prosecutors reconsider their decision to drop the charges. With any luck they will listen – because if too many of these incidents are allowed to fall through the cracks of an archaically chauvinist legal system, the psychological and social well-being of the people in which it serves will unquestionably follow suit.