The Stellenbosch gym masturbator is a sexual harasser. And sexual harassment isn’t funny. He represents a bigger problem. If you haven’t seen him by now, he’s the guy openly masturbating in a Stellenbosch Virgin Active, while staring at and videoing a woman working out.
1. Sexual Harassment is Never Funny
It’s easy to make light of losers like this, to make the incident into a funny meme or tweet or headline, but sexual harassment is serious. It’s worrying that even big news media makes light of it with punny headlines like this one:
Gym pulls out before masturbation case reaches court climax https://t.co/SmNNS5yGGe
— Times LIVE (@TimesLIVE) June 13, 2019
Like constantly staring at a person, like cat-calling a woman who’s walking down the road, harassment is degrading and unfair. It can make the person on the receiving end feel helpless and can also be straight-up scary. It indicates that a space isn’t a safe one.
This is an incredibly offensive headline about a sex crime. I doubt very much that the woman he assaulted finds this funny, but go ahead and enjoy your puns. Misogyny never ceases to amaze… https://t.co/kz0jkJYXY9
— Lindiwe Mazibuko (@LindiMazibuko) June 13, 2019
As Carmen Williams explains in W24, ‘I’ve seen many people defend the man’s actions and say he wasn’t hurting anyone. But you know what? He was… ‘ Williams goes on to list the ripple effects of this kind of behaviour:
‘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.’
2. There Was No Regard for Consent
Sexual activity without consent is a violation. And yes, someone watching you while they masturbate in public counts as sexual activity. There was no such consent given in the gym. The act and the recording was a violation, as it took place without the woman’s permission.
According to Rape Crisis Cape Town, consent is ‘to agree to something, give permission or say “yes” when you understand what is being asked of you and when you are not forced or deceived into giving consent.’
Related: How to Withdraw Consent During Sex
3. The Victim-blaming that Followed
Victim-blaming is when people question, ‘what a victim could have done differently in order to prevent a crime from happening’, according to GoodTherapy. People who victim-blame try to put some or all of the blame on the victim, instead of holding the perpetrator 100% accountable.
This happened on social media following the gym incident. Women were blamed for what they wore to the gym.
Women dress like prostitutes at the gym in the hopes that men masturbate to them. One man answers the call. pic.twitter.com/KsqzBBYgud
— Roosh (@rooshv) May 17, 2019
Sounds a lot like ‘maybe she wouldn’t have gotten raped if she hadn’t worn a short skirt’. People who say sh*t like that should be called out. The idea that she asked for it is a sick rationale that shouldn’t be accepted. Sexual harassment is never the victim’s fault.
4. No Real Consequences
This is a really scary thing. Yes, he got banned from the gym for life. But there don’t seem to be any real consequences for his harassment. Despite video footage, this man is free to do it again somewhere else. Where’s the accountability?
Hi, we’ve terminated his membership, banned him from our facilities and pursued criminal charges.
— Virgin Active (@virginactiveSA) May 19, 2019
Virgin Active said they refused to tolerate harassment, but they’ve since dropped charges. Instead of the man appearing in court for sexual assault, Virgin Active agreed to a settlement. There will be no criminal consequences. No accountability.
5. He’s One of Many
This man and this incident represent a bigger problem, a rape-culture problem. The fact that he felt bold enough to do what he did is reflective of a society in which cat-calling, harassment and sexual assault are common. This culture exists in part because men don’t call each other out, and so abusers and harassers feel protected.
The gym masturbator made a big news splash because he was brazen about his harassment. But let’s not forget all the harassers who work in more sly ways, silencing women and abusing their positions of power. They’re out there. This guy, sadly, isn’t all that unique.