On Friday, News24 reported an incident where there was a video of a young man (by the looks of the unblurred video which I have seen, he is at least 18) masturbating while he watches and seemingly records a woman working out in a Virgin Active in Stellenbosch.
Virgin Active has confirmed on Twitter that the man in question has been banned from all of their outlets, membership revoked and they will be seeking criminal charges against him.
Hi, we've terminated his membership, banned him from our facilities and pursued criminal charges.— Virgin Active (@virginactiveSA) May 19, 2019
This is all good and well, and a very important step as Virgin Active is showing that this kind of behaviour is not okay, is sexual harassment, and they will not allow it in their gyms which are meant to be safe spaces for everyone who chooses to use them.
But the really shocking reactions have been from people who are acting as if though this is a massive joke and the man in question was just being a naughty school boy and this shouldn’t be taken that seriously.
Case in point, the News24 Facebook commenters had a field day with this story, with many of them joking about him trying to be an “active virgin” and he was just “training his muscle”. Not one person in these comments pointed out how this was sexual harassment and a disgusting thing for a person to do in public while watching someone.
Then, of course, there was blame placed on the women who decided to go to gym wearing workout clothes, not on the man who decided to touch his penis in the middle of a public space.
Roosh V, an American blogger and social media personality tweeted saying: “Women dress like prostitutes at the gym in the hopes that men masturbate to them. One man answers the call,” with a link to the video.
Comments on the video that was posted by another user @heleneargy all go along the lines of “he wasn’t hurting anyone, he was just pleasuring himself”. I’ve seen many people defend the man’s actions and say he wasn’t hurting anyone.
But you know what? He was. He’s a small part of a very large problem, but his actions will have a ripple effect.
This will affect the woman who was being recorded. It will affect the women who go to that gym. It will affect the women who go to gym in different parts of the country every day to work out because they want to feel fit and healthy, but who now wonder if all the men there only think of them as sex objects and have degrading thoughts about them in their workout clothes.
On a larger scale, the reaction to this also says that we don’t take sexual assault seriously enough. We don’t take women saying they don’t feel safe in public spaces seriously enough.
When women report their sexual assault stories, or talk about them online, they are told to shut up. They are doxed. They are ridiculed.
Being sexually harassed or violated in any way is already such a traumatic experience, but many women don’t talk about what’s happened to them even with their closest friends because there is shame and a stigma attached to something like this happening to you.
When women say #MenAreTrash, they aren’t necessarily talking about all men, but they are talking about the men who are vile and commit terrible crimes against the bodies of women, and they’re also talking about the men who stand by and watch these things happen without calling their friends out.
Whether it is a rape joke, or a friend being sexually aggressive to a woman or femme person in front of them, every time a man witnesses another man doing something like this and says nothing, he is also a part of the problem.
I’ve personally experienced sexual harassment on public transport on three separate occasions. Three different men on three different days at three different times all decided to expose themselves to me/ masturbate in front of me and were all shocked when I was horrified, shouted at them and moved away.
I wasn’t physically hurt, but I was shocked. I was scared. I wondered what I could have done to make these men feel this was appropriate.
Why did this happen to me?
The answer is that none of it was my fault, but the fault of each of those men who decided to put me in that situation.
Sexual assault is 100% the perpetrator’s fault.
If there is no consent for the act to occur, then it is sexual assault. The problem here is not women in tight workout clothes. The problem is us telling men that it is okay to violate safe spaces.
That because they are men they are allowed to objectify women and they are allowed to do things like expose or pleasure themselves in front of women because it’s not a big deal or because women deserve it. Stop telling men that this behaviour is okay.
Stop telling women that this behaviour is acceptable. And call out your friends who do.
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