This article was written with the assistance of one of our Stitch Community Champions who has experience helping form policies around sexual harassment. Yet another example of Stitch members using their skills and experience to make the community better! If you've got a passion for helping improve an aspect of Stitch, please let us know.

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The Stitch community provides many opportunities to connect in with other members, take part in events and activities, and expand our social circles.

Most of the time the search for connections works fine, but like any environment that brings lots of people together, there are times when a lack of reciprocal interest can trigger behavior that crosses the line from appropriate interest into potential for stalking or harassment.

Stitch's stance on any form of harassment is clear, and can be found in the Stitch Community Guidelines. The purpose of this article is to provide a little bit of education about what constitutes unacceptable behavior, to help ensure that Stitch members avoid crossing that line in the first place.

We all hear about sexual harassment in the workplace – the #MeToo movement brought it out into the open and focused the world’s attention on it. High profile court cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein have kept it in the public eye, and once the floodgates were opened, there has been a virtual avalanche of women speaking up about their experiences of sexual harassment. It is disheartening to realise that the majority of women, when given permission to speak out, can give at least one example of a time when they were sexually harassed by a man. Men also experience sexual harassment, albeit to a lesser extent than women.

The thing is, sexual harassment doesn’t only happen at work. It also happens in social circumstances that have nothing to do with the workplace. It is much harder to deal with instances of sexual harassment when you are out amongst people you think of as friends, because there are so many unspoken expectations among groups of friends about how we behave towards one another and what we accept as normal.

What is sexual harassment?

The United Nations defines sexual harassment as:

“any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favour, verbal or physical conduct or gesture of a sexual nature, or any other behaviour of a sexual nature that might reasonably be expected or be perceived to cause offence or humiliation to another, when such conduct interferes with work, is made a condition of employment or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. While typically involving a pattern of behaviour, it can take the form of a single incident. Sexual harassment may occur between persons of the opposite or same sex. Both males and females can be either the victims or the offenders."

In the context of Stitch, if you express your interest to another person that you want to have a romantic or sexual relationship with and they say no, they are not interested, and you either persist in making the same overture to them or punish them in some way for saying no, that is sexual harassment.

Here’s a fictional example:

J and A meet at a Stitch function. J is interested in A and they go out a couple of times on their own as friends. They also see each other regularly at Stitch events because they both tend to belong to the same groups. J tells A that he would like to move the relationship on to be romantic/sexual and A says no, she is not interested in being involved in that kind of relationship with J. J feels hurt and somewhat offended; he can’t understand why A would not be interested in him. So he asks her again … and again she says no. J thinks she just needs persuading so he continues to ask her to be more involved with him and she continues to say no. At this point, A stops attending Stitch events because she doesn’t want to deal with J repeatedly pressuring her into a relationship. J thinks he is complimenting her by showing her that he is persistent and his feelings for her are genuine.

J assumes he has done nothing wrong, but he is incorrect. This is sexual harassment.

If J decides to gossip about A to other members, or to denigrate her in any way, this is also sexual harassment as well as bullying.

Both forms of behavior are prohibited in the Stitch Community.

What is stalking?

Stalking is a crime. It is defined as:

“the following of a person about or the watching or frequenting of the vicinity of, or an approach to a person’s place of residence, business or work or any place that a person frequents for the purposes of any social or leisure activity’

Stalking involves persistent, repeated behaviour that is intended to maintain contact with a person or to exercise power and control over a person. Victims of stalking will often report feeling distressed and frightened.

Stalking behaviour can include phone calls, text messages, messages left on social media sites, strange or unwanted gifts, following someone around, continually staring at someone or gesturing to them.

In the context of Stitch, stalking behaviour could easily arise through a scenario like the one above. For example, J would be stalking A if he continued to pursue her by always booking into events that she booked into on the Stitch website, by repeatedly sending her text messages or phoning her, or sending her messages on Stitch.

When does "no" mean "no"?

The simple answer is "always".

It can be challenging to be told someone you like isn’t interested in you, but it is just a normal part of life. It doesn’t mean there is anything inherently wrong with you. But when someone says “no” to you, you need to accept that they mean it. Don’t assume that "no" means "maybe", or that "no" will become "yes" if you just try harder.

Stitch will take immediate and effective action against any member who violates the Stitch rules around harassment and stalking. Not understanding the rules is not an adequate defence.

If you don't wish to be suspended or expelled from the Stitch Community, make sure you understand what constitutes acceptable behavior.

And if you've got any doubts about the whole concept of "consent", please watch this video.

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