Student Affairs hosts psychology expert in discussion on sexual harassment and abuse in Palestine

Birzeit University always strives to engage with its students, staff, and faculty members in topics that affect the university’s community and the broader Palestinian community. One of these topics, which has gained international traction in recent months, is sexual harassment. 

To tackle such a topic, the Deanship of Student Affairs invited Noor Bahar, a psychological counselor at SAWA, a non-for-profit that provides support services for victims of sexual assault, to give a lecture on sexual harassment and abuse and what students could do if they face such situations. 

The lecture took place during a Human Reproduction class, taught by Munir Qazzaz, a professor of nursing, who emphasized the importance of discussing and addressing topics such as sexual harassment and abuse as a community, and noted that everyone must raise their voices against sexual assault, whether in public or private. 

Bahar began the lecture by defining sexual harassment as coercion of a sexual nature, noting that it is a type of sexual violence perpetrated by those who believe themselves to be in positions of power over those whom they believe are in positions of powerlessness.  

The perpetrators of such crimes, said Bahar, believe that their actions are legitimate, as they see themselves as more powerful than those whom they assault, and as such believe that there will be no consequences to their actions. 

Bahar added that there is a cycle of violence that feeds into this type of behavior, the effect of which is exacerbated by the Israeli Occupation that harasses, assaults, and arrests Palestinians on a daily basis. 

Sexual offenders, she commented, usually plan their crimes ahead of time - it is not a spur-of-the-moment decision, but one calculated, planned, and executed with the intention of sexually harming others. 

As for the motives of the offenders, Bahar remarked that some of them seek dominance over others, others do it for the sexual gratification, and others still commit such crimes because of mental illnesses. Whatever the case, she explained, they all believe that their actions fall within their rights. 

At the end of the lecture, Bahar gave a brief overview of the SAWA organization, which provides support and counseling services for victims of sexual harassment and assault. 

The organization works toward the elimination of violence in all its forms, and regularly publishes brochures and pamphlets to raise awareness or these issues, in addition to holdings workshops and seminars, Bahar said, adding that they have a dedicated help hotline for children and parents to use - 121, for the West Bank and Gaza, and 1-800-500-121, for East Jerusalem.