A set of flattering and courting words sent across to someone can spark two things; a response with the same sense and energy or feelings of violation. Now, the differences between flirting and sexual abuse are quite obvious and clear. Yet, they are also blurred and overlapped with one another today.
Most romantic relationships bud from to and fro conversational exchanges that also take the form of flirting at some point. It’s a natural part of the process. It definitely isn’t inappropriate unless it is unwanted and brings along discomfort. What it insinuates is interest. Now, if you share that interest, you would respond with the same energy but if you aren’t, you would instead convey your disinterest. It’s as simple as that. The same with extending intimate proximity towards a person; if they are comfortable with it, they’ll give you definite cues and if they aren’t then you should get the ‘No’. Now, that’s exactly where the problem sits.
Most men hold a bizarre sense of consent, while, most women have a cryptic understanding of abuse. And, that’s where the two concepts get tangled with one another.
Sometimes, when a man compliments you, it may purely be just that and not an attempt to flirt.
And, when a man flirts with you, that may be just an indication of his interest and not necessarily an attempt to violate your personal space and respect. Admiration of any form of beauty or anything that is intriguing is totally normal and so is the act of coquetry. They do not come under harassment unless they make the receiver uncomfortable and the boundaries have been overlooked and crossed. In that case, it is harassment.
Sometimes, when a woman shows interest in you, she may not necessarily be interested in being touched by you.
Her reciprocation to your flirting is not exactly her consent. And, that is another concept we fail to fully understand. Reciprocation and consent to physical intimacy are supposed to be definite, whether they’ve been expressed directly or indirectly. This is something that is wrongly perceived by most men. There is a sense of entitlement instilled in them because of the societal and cultural influences. Some may feel entitled to a woman’s affection irrespective of her consent while some may simply misread the signs and cues given by her. Then, there is coercion, which is often mistaken as consent. Using intoxication, playing out the emotional card, threatening, tricking and forcing non-physically, making the person feel like they owe you something; sexual coercion is not consent and is a form of abuse.
Flirting and building certain relations with someone, emotionally and sexually, both are natural and necessary and simply the act of doing so is not harassment. At the same time, the act of wooing and beyond are sexual harassment even if they doesn’t involve physical touch and if there is any form of coercion and discomfort involved.
Flirting ends and sexual harassment begins where reciprocation and consent fade and coercion, mental/physical pressure and general discomfort invite themselves into the picture. It’s as simple as that.
Source: Psychologist and Trauma Therapist, Deepti Makhija