PETALING JAYA: Activists and journalists have slammed the National Union of Journalists Malaysia (NUJ) president for a victim-blaming statement made while commenting on sexual harassment experienced by female journalists.
Responding to an Asian Correspondent article that detailed how female journalists in Malaysia have been sexually harassed by politicians, NUJ president Mohd Taufek Razak told a news portal that female reporters should not wear "too revealing or sexy" clothing.
"In the context of female journalists, particularly attractive ones, this (sexual harassment) can easily happen if both sides reciprocate," said Mohd Taufek.
Mohd Taufek said it was natural for men to be attracted to women and for women to be attracted to men they like, and it was the process that determines whether this devolves into sexual harassment.
"The (interaction) could become negative if other factors are involved, such as the way the female journalist communicates, presents herself during an interview, socialises and the limits that she sets," he said.
Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) vice president and Association of Women Lawyers committee member Meera Samantheer (pic) said that the president should apologise for "such a victim-blaming statement".
"He should realise and reflect upon the impact of his statement," Meera told The Star.
"Do you think a person covered up won't be sexually harassed? It has nothing to do with the way we are dressed. It is the attitude and lack of respect for women," she added.
Meera said that if the sexual interaction between a man and woman is consensual, there is no problem.
"It is a problem when the harasser crosses the line and the victim becomes uncomfortable, and when there is no consent," she said.
"It is important to note that sometimes victims find it difficult to say no out loud, especially if the person is their boss or a person in power," she added.
Meera brought up the #MeToo movement that encouraged survivors of sexual harassment to come forward with their personal stories.
"The personal stories of survivors have caused a domino effect and has raised awareness on sexual harassment," she said.
"He (Mohd Taufek) needs to read up on sexual harassment and about the #MeToo movement," said Meera.
WAO communications officer Tan Heang-Lee said the problem is not women's clothing.
"The problem is men's behaviour," said Tan.
"Men are not entitled to women's bodies. Instead of telling women to dress 'modestly', we must tell men to respect women," she said.
Tan said that society should stop placing the burden on women to avoid sexual harassment, and instead should hold men to a higher standard.
"Sexual harassment is often enabled by a power imbalance; perpetrators often have more power than victims. That's why we must hold those who abuse their power accountable and not blame the victim," she said.
Journalist D. Kanyakumari said that statements such as Mohd Taufek’s are the reason why victims do not come forward.
"Regardless of what one wears, it doesn't warrant a person to sexually harass anyone," said Kanyakumari.
Kanyakumari said that she herself had been sexually harassed on a number of occasions.
"I was dressed in a full salwar kameez when a well-known politician came up close to my back, sniffed me, grazed my bottom and smiled at me when I turned around in utter shock,” said Kanyakumari.
She spoke of another occasion where she was manhandled by a security guard of a popular politician at the party’s annual general meeting
"Also, when I was in Parliament dressed in a collared shirt and long pants, I was asked by a politician if I'd like to follow him on a holiday. He said 'it will be fun'," added Kanyakumari.
Another reporter Nadirah H. Rodzi said that most journalists dress appropriately for work.
"Some colleagues who fully cover themselves have also been sexually harassed, you want to say their headscarf is sexy? This victim-blaming nature has got to stop," she added.