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Three young people

A FLIRTATIOUS stare, a “compliment” with sexual overtones, an obscene joke, an overtly sexual touch—such treatment, when unwelcome and repeated, often amounts to what can be called sexual harassment. Although global statistics are hard to come by, surveys indicate that most school-age youths in the United States have experienced it.

Just what is sexual harassment? The book Coping With Sexual Harassment and Gender Bias, by Dr. Victoria Shaw, defines it as “bothering someone in a sexual way . . . It can be physical (such as touching someone in a sexual way), verbal (such as making unwelcome comments about someone’s appearance), or nonverbal.” Sometimes the harassment involves crude propositions.

Much of the harassment in school probably comes from your peers. However, in some cases the offending behavior has come from adults, such as teachers. An article in Redbook magazine speculates that the relatively small number of teachers who are actually convicted for sexual offenses “probably represents only the tip of the iceberg.”

Women—and sometimes men—were subject to such mistreatment even back in Bible times. (Genesis 39:7; Ruth 2:8, 9, 15) And the Bible made this grim prediction: “There will be difficult times in the last days. People will be selfish, greedy, boastful, and conceited; they will be insulting . . . ; they will be unkind, merciless, slanderers, violent, and fierce.” (2 Timothy 3:1-3, Today’s English Version) So it is possible, even likely, that you will encounter sexual harassment yourself.

God’s View

Admittedly, not all youths are distressed by sexually aggressive behavior. Some may find it amusing—or even flattering. One disturbing U.S. survey showed that among victims of sexual harassment, 75 percent admitted that they themselves had harassed others. Some adults may aggravate the problem by downplaying the seriousness of sexually aggressive behavior, brushing it off as just childish experimentation. But how does God view it?

God’s Word, the Bible, clearly condemns all forms of sexual harassment. We are told not to “encroach upon the rights” of others by violating sexual boundaries. (1 Thessalonians) In fact, young men are specifically commanded to treat “younger women as sisters with all chasteness.” (1 Timothy 5:1, 2) Furthermore, the Bible condemns “obscene jesting.” (Ephesians 5:3, 4) Therefore, you have a right to feel angry, upset, confused, and even demeaned when you are harassed! 4:3-8

What Do I Say?

  Sharing religious beliefs Letting your Christian beliefs become common knowledge can be a protection

How, then, should you react if someone bothers you in this way? Sometimes a weak or vague response only makes a harasser try harder. The Bible tells us that when Joseph was propositioned by his employer’s wife, he did not simply ignore her. Instead, he firmly rejected her immoral advances. (Genesis 39:8, 9, 12) Today, being firm and direct is still the best way to fend off harassment.

True, the one bothering you might not mean to offend you. What looks like harassment may actually be an unpolished attempt to attract your attention. So do not feel that you have to resort to uncouth behavior yourself to halt an unwanted advance. Simply saying something like, ‘I don’t like that kind of talk’ or, ‘Keep your hands to yourself, please’ may get your point across. However you word it, do not water down your message. Let your no mean no! Young Andrea puts it this way: “If they don’t catch on to your kind hints, you have to tell them straight out. It often comes to that.” A firm ‘Cut it out!’ may do the job.

If the situation escalates, do not try to handle things alone. Try talking it over with your parents or other mature adults. They may have some practical suggestions for dealing with the situation. As a last resort, they may even feel it necessary to alert school officials. As uncomfortable as doing so might make you, it could protect you from further victimization.

Preventing Harassment

Of course, it’s best to avoid being victimized in the first place. What might help in this regard? Andrea advises: “Never give the impression that maybe you are kind of interested. Others will hear about it, and the pressure will continue.” The way you dress can play a major role. Young Mara says: “I don’t dress like a grandmother, but I do avoid clothes that attract attention to my body.” Rejecting sexual advances while at the same time wearing provocative clothes may be sending a mixed message. The Bible recommends dressing “with modesty and soundness of mind.”—1 Timothy 2:9.

Two groups of young people By not associating with the wrong crowd, you may prevent harassment  

Your choice of friends also affects how you are treated. (Proverbs 13:20) Rosilyn observes: “When some of the girls in a group like the attention from guys, the guys may assume that all the girls in the group feel the same way.” Carla made the same point: “If you hang around with ones who give in to the remarks or who enjoy the attention, then you will get harassed too.”

The Bible tells of a young girl named Dinah who associated with girls from Canaan—where women were known for their loose behavior. This led to her being sexually assaulted. (Genesis 34:1, 2) With good reason the Bible states: “Keep strict watch that how you walk is not as unwise but as wise persons.” (Ephesians 5:15) Yes, being “strict” about how you dress, how you speak, and with whom you associate can do much to protect you from harassment.

For Christian youths, however, one of the most effective ways of fending off harassment is simply to let others know of your religious stand. Young Timon, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, recalls: “The kids knew that I was a Witness, so that stopped almost all the harassment.” Andrea observes: “Telling them you are a Witness makes a big difference. They will realize that in many ways you are different from them and that you have strict moral standards.”—Matthew 5:15, 16.

If You Are Harassed

Try as you may, you cannot entirely escape rude, abusive people. But if you are the victim of a harasser, there is no reason for you to pummel yourself with guilt—as long as you have behaved like a Christian. (1 Peter 3:16, 17) If the situation distresses you emotionally, find support by talking to your parents or to mature ones in the Christian congregation. Rosilyn admits that it’s hard to feel good about yourself when you are being harassed. “Just having companionship,” she says, “someone you can talk to, is very good.” Remember, too, that “Jehovah is near to all those calling upon him.”—Psalm 145:18, 19.

Taking a stand against mistreatment is not easy, but it is worth it. Consider, for example, the Bible account of a young woman from Shunem. Although she was not really harassed as the term is commonly understood today, she did receive unwanted advances from Solomon, the rich and powerful king of Judah. Because she was in love with another man, she resisted those advances. She could therefore say of herself with pride, “I am a wall.”—Song of Solomon 8:4, 10.

Show the same moral fiber and determination yourself. Be a “wall” when it comes to unwanted advances. Make your Christian stand clear to everyone around you. By doing so, you can remain “blameless and innocent” and have the confidence that you have pleased God.—Philippians 2:15

  • “On the Internet, you may not actually know who the other person is.”—Dan, 17.*
  • “People can lie on the Internet. It’s easy to put on a front.”—George, 26.

INTERNET dating continues to grow in popularity worldwide. As the preceding article in this series discussed, Internet romances may blossom quickly, but they often wither when reality sets in.# Still, there is a greater cause for concern than mere disappointment. Dating in this fashion may put you in serious danger—whether physical, emotional, or spiritual.

How can something that looks so innocent and safe—a computer terminal right in your own home—actually present a danger to you? Some of the dangers are related to an important Bible principle. The apostle Paul wrote: “We wish to conduct ourselves honestly in all things.” (Hebrews 13:18) Now, this is not to suggest that it is dishonest to use the Internet or even that using the Internet will make you dishonest. However, we must recognize that other people often are not honest and that as the quotations at the outset of this article illustrate, the Internet seems to make certain kinds of dishonesty easier to practice and harder to detect. And when it comes to romantic attachments, dishonesty presents terrible dangers.

For example, note the kind of dishonesty described in this Bible verse: “I have not sat with men of untruth; and with those who hide what they are I do not come in.” (Psalm 26:4) What is meant by “those who hide what they are”? Some Bible translations here read “hypocrites.” As one reference work notes, this expression can be applied to “those who hide their purposes or designs from others, or who conceal their real character and intentions.” How is such dishonesty practiced on the Internet? And what dangers does this present to those who are looking for romance?

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

A father named Michael was alarmed to learn at a seminar that a large proportion of children disobey parental rules against visiting dangerous Web sites. “What troubled me even more,” he says, “was the shocking realization that pedophiles can use the Internet to lure minors into debased sexual activities.” When youths use the Internet to meet new people, they can be in far more danger than they realize.

Indeed, there have been news reports of adult sexual predators who pretend to be youths as they prowl the Internet seeking to prey on young ones. According to one study, “one-in-five kids who uses the Internet has been solicited for sex.” One newspaper also stated that 1 child in 33 between ages 10 and 17 were “aggressively stalked” through computer conversations.

Some young people have found, to their surprise, that the “youth” with whom they shared a budding romance over the Internet was actually an adult prison inmate. Other young ones have unwittingly become involved with sexual predators. These vile people first “groom” a prospective victim, building trust through friendly on-line chat. In time, though, they seek to meet in person in order to carry out their perverted desires. Tragically, young people have been beaten, raped, and even murdered as a result.

Wicked people do, indeed, “hide what they are” in order to find victims on the Internet. Such predators might remind you of Jesus’ illustration about false prophets who “come to you in sheep’s covering” but in truth are like “ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:15) Anonymous communication through the Internet can make it almost impossible to see through such deception. “When you talk with someone in person,” says George, quoted earlier, “you may learn something from his facial expressions and the tone of his voice. But on the Internet you don’t get any of that. It’s easy to be fooled.”

Wise, indeed, is the Bible’s advice: “Shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself, but the inexperienced have passed along and must suffer the penalty.” (Proverbs 22:3) Granted, not everyone you meet over the Internet is a dangerous predator. However, there are additional ways in which people “hide what they are.”

The Dangers of Deception and Secrecy

Not surprisingly, a common practice among those seeking romance on the Internet is to exaggerate or invent good traits and to minimize or conceal serious faults. Further, The Washington Post quoted an author as saying: “Internet dating can be bad because people get deceived.” It adds: “People often switch sexes. . . . Income levels, . . . race, criminal records, mental health histories and marital status often remain secret long into relationships.” To warn others, many people have reported painful experiences of being misled by Internet dates.

Will people lie about something as important as their own spiritual side? Sadly, yes—some claim to be true Christians when they are not. Why all the deception? Again, one factor is that the Internet makes it easy. A young man from Ireland named Sean admits: “It’s very easy to pretend to be something you’re not when you’re typing onto a computer screen.”

Many people take all this deception lightly, rationalizing that it is only natural to lie a little bit when embarking on a romance. Remember, though, that God hates lying. (Proverbs 6:16-19) And for good reason. Much of the pain and misery in this world stems from lying. (John 8:44) Dishonesty is the worst possible basis for any relationship, especially one that is intended to lead to a lifelong union. Worse, dishonesty is a spiritual danger; it damages the liar’s relationship with Jehovah God.

Sadly, some young people have fallen into another sort of dishonesty. They have pursued relationships using the Internet and have hidden the fact from their parents. For example, the parents of a teenage son were startled one day when a young woman who did not share the family’s Christian beliefs arrived unexpectedly at their home after traveling over 1,000 miles [1,500 km]. Their son had been dating her on-line for six months, but they knew nothing about her existence until that moment!

“How could this happen?” the parents asked. They thought, ‘Our son could not possibly have fallen for someone whom he had never met in person.’ In fact, their son had been deceiving them—in effect, hiding what he really was. Would you not agree that such deceptions are a poor foundation for a courtship?

Choosing the Real Over the Virtual

Internet dating may present other dangers. In some cases, an on-line friend can become more real than the people whom you see each day. Family, friends, and responsibilities become secondary. A young woman named Monika, in Austria, says: “I started to neglect important relationships because I spent much time on the computer with people I met on-line.” Troubled by this insight, she decided to quit using the Internet that way.

A young couple meeting face-to-faceWhen it comes to courtship, there is no substitute for meeting face-to-face

Of course, many are able to make balanced use of the Internet. Communication by E-mail can be a very helpful way to stay in touch with friends and loved ones. Surely you would agree, though, that nothing is quite the same as face-to-face contact. If you are “past the bloom of youth”—the time when sexual desires are at their peak—and are interested in marriage, you are facing one of the most important choices you will make in your life. (1 Corinthians 7:36) By all means, make a responsible decision.

The Bible advises: “Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word, but the shrewd one considers his steps.” (Proverbs 14:15) Rather than believing all that is written to you by someone you have never met, consider your steps carefully. It is far wiser to initiate meeting and making friends in person. Find out if you are truly compatible, especially when it comes to your spiritual goals and values. Such a courtship can lead to a truly happy marriage.