Sexually harassed men fear speaking up but help is available [WATCH]

KUALA LUMPUR: When Sam decided to take an after-dinner cigarette break in a city alley, he only had relaxation on his mind.

But another person in the alley had something else in mind and walked towards Sam and groped the young man.

"I was shocked, I felt violated," he told the New Straits Times.

"I still think about it, more so because it happened in a public place."

Sam never reported the incident and relayed it to only a few close friends.

He is among the rising number of Malaysian men who are starting to come forward about being sexually harassed.

A nationwide outreach programme by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry found 427 men stepping forward with their experience of being sexually harassed between July last year and April this year.

The programme was part of the ministry's advocacy efforts following the enforcement of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act last March.

The law defines sexual harassment and the powers of the ministry to formulate policies and guidelines related to sexual harassment.

"We realised more men were coming forward to report (sexual harassment) during the outreach programme," Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri told the New Straits Times.

Nancy said of the 427 men who reported sexual harassment, 311 experienced low-level harassment, which included unwanted stares and attention.

Ninety-one men reported moderate-level harassment, which includes lewd remarks, obscene gestures and unwanted invitations for sex, and 25 experienced high-level harassment, which includes receiving photos of private parts, groping, flashing and grinding.

The ministry found that most of the moderate-level harassment happened at the workplace or via social media, and the high-level harassment often occurred at home or the workplace.

Despite more men opening up on sexual harassment, Nancy said she believed many cases went unreported as the victims might be uncomfortable doing so.

"Many men are too embarrassed to report these incidents, feeling that as mature individuals, they should not have to speak out.

"Do not be shy as this issue also affects boys and men. The ministry has the resources to help, and we encourage victims to come forward.

"We have counsellors who maintain strict confidentiality.

"Sexual harassment is a sad reality in our country, and it can lead to problematic behaviour in children who feel defenseless and unsure where to turn.

"We want to prevent this from happening. It's no longer about 'minding your own business' but helping others."

Nancy's ministry had been conducting advocacy programmes, especially in schools, to educate children about sexual harassment.

The programme has been conducted in 10 schools, and the ministry aims to run it in 300 schools nationwide.

She said most sexual harassment took place at home, making it difficult for victims to seek help.

"It is easier to identify such cases among adults, but children often struggle to report these incidents."

Through the advocacy programmes, the ministry hopes to educate children on identifying and handling sexual harassment.

For Sam, such awareness and advocacy programmes on sexual harassment are welcome, especially for men.

"It is often a taboo topic but men need help as well."

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