Ask Bish – Our friend has been harassing a friend
Advice for a reader whose friend has been sexually harassing a friend via text (and is pissed off about it).
It transpires that one of our friends has been asking another of our friends to do sexual stuff, sending her weird messages. And we all really dislike the guy for doing it, and want to do something. But what can we do? Who can we tell?
Thanks for your question. I recorded a rambling audio version of my answer yesterday which you can hear here:
Ask your friend first
I think before you do anything you should ask the person who has received the harassing messages what she wants to do. Receiving non-consensual messages like that can be quite a shock and might have been really difficult for her. She may want to do something about this right now, or she may not, but if you do something without asking her first then it’s not really consensual either. It might be that she isn’t ready to talk about this right now, which is totally fine, but don’t do anything without her say so.
Who can you tell?
You haven’t really mentioned how serious you thought the messages were. It is possible that your friend has broken the law by sending these messages (here’s more about sex and the law) so you could get the Police involved if you wanted (and crucially if your friend wanted). Your call, but it might not be serious enough to warrant going to the Police and they might not be able to deal with it as sensitively as a friend ….
Maybe this is one for you?
I think that maybe this could be something that you and your friends could get involved in. If you’re all friends and it’s affecting all of your friendships (which it seems to be) then this could be a good way of making things better for everyone. If this is something you all (and crucially your friend) want to do then here are some ideas for how to do it.
Be really clear about the issue
First of all get a clear idea of how your friend is feeling. How is your friend feeling about it, how is she feeling about him, what does she want him to do to make this right, does she want to have some kind of friendship, how can the group of friends make this easier.
Find a go between
Loaded up with all this information about your friend it’s time to bring this up with the friend who has sent the messages. But who? It’s probably easier for this not to be the person who was sent the messages. That can be a difficult conversation and it might cause problems for all of your friendships (though again, this is your friend’s call). I try and get someone who this guy trusts, someone who you could imagine putting a hand on the guys shoulder and saying:
“look mate, *this* has been happening, it’s not cool. She’s feeling *this* and that’s making her think *this* So can we chat about what to do about it and stuff?”
Make it a conversation
Try to think of this (and to be clear to both him and her) as more of an airing of a problem and talking about how to make it right. Make it a conversation, not a slanging match or just about friends ganging up on someone. Sure your friend has done some shitty things here (we’re all capable of doing shitty things and if we aren’t called out on it we might not even know) but try to remember that he’s your friend – it sounds like you’re already finding this difficult.
How he might react
His reaction might be really defensive to begin with – it can be difficult getting called out and particularly if it’s about us doing something non consensual. He might be pissed off to begin with, but try to be patient and give him enough time to take responsibility for what he’s done.
Also give him time to talk about why he was doing it and how he’s feeling about this now. It could be that he really fancies her but has really messed up telling her that (and has no idea about the appropriate way to do it). It’s sometimes difficult to get the balance right between something flirty and sexy and harassing and non-consensual. Understanding what he’s done and why isn’t to excuse it but it’s to help him to fully understand it and to help him change his behaviour.
He’s your friend too
Try to have some compassion for him too. Most people’s sex and relationships education is bad and doesn’t really equip us with how to do consensual flirting, sexting and the complications around friends, sex and romance. Add to this all the messages that men get about how they should pursue sexual relationships (and that women should be pursued) and we might be left with a pretty confused young man.
If you challenge his behaviour, rather than just getting angry at him as a person, then he may well be someone you can value again. If you choose to go this way it shows that you are able to value your friendships with everyone. But if you don’t do anything then you could affect your friendship group and your friendship with him.
Learn how to be a sexpert!
Consensual Sexting: As you’ve seen in this question, consent is important in sexting.
What is consent? Learn more about what consent is and what makes it harder
A guide to no: how we all need to hear a no, but also how we can say it.
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