No one would ever consider placing a hand on the stomach of another man or woman without permission under normal circumstances. Yet for many people, a visibly pregnant woman is often seen as an open invitation for unwanted and non-consensual touching.
It’s a phenomenon so common that pregnancy message boards devote threads to it and lines of pregnancy t-shirts warding strangers off have been spawned because of it. Now, finally, one pregnant woman in Pennsylvania has had enough and called it what it is — harassment — and has gotten law enforcement involved.
After a Pennsylvania man came over to visit and allegedly gave his pregnant neighbor an unwanted hug, followed by a belly touching despite her objections, the mother-to-be called the police to have him charged with harassment, defined as an “action [a person takes] that has an intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person,” according to NBC.
The issue, in this case, appears to be the repeated violation of the woman’s bodily autonomy, as explained by attorney Phil DiLucente, who although not involved with the case itself explained the circumstances to CNN. “Here was a woman who was pregnant and (a) man had touched her belly area, which women have to go through all the time, and she didn’t permit him to do that, and then he repeated it, so she decided to file charges.”
We don’t have any issue with the idea of pressing charges if a person does any other inappropriate touching, be it strangers or friends. In fact, no means no in any other type of physical situation. Why do we find the line blurred when it comes to a pregnant belly?
Corporations spend thousands of dollars per company doing extensive sexual harassment training seminars, of which the basic principal is unwanted touching is never acceptable, sexual jokes and comments that make other people uncomfortable are inappropriate, and the performance of either in the workplace is a considered an offense worthy of employer reprimand or even dismissal. Few people would bat an eye over the idea of a lawsuit against a colleague or workplace that allows such a thing to continue after a person has asked for the harassing behavior to be addressed and stopped.
Yet for some reason, pregnant women are treated in a completely different sphere, as if their bodies belong to the public. Strangers on the street feel welcome to comment on a woman’s body, ask her when she is due or if she is having multiples as a means of telling her that she physically looks too large. At a time when many pregnant people are feeling more vulnerable and anxious, their behavior is up for public scrutiny as well, from what they are eating to their physical activities, such as the pregnant woman who became the focus of national attention after a picture of her lifting at 8 months pregnant hit the internet. In the tempest, critics accused her of being willing to put her baby in harm “just to stay in shape.”
If charging strangers with breaking the law is what it takes to finally convince the general public that all unwanted touching is still unwanted touching, and that a pregnant body is still the sole property of the person who is pregnant, maybe it is time. Your body belongs to you and whomever you give permission to share it with. That right stands for all people, even those who are gestating.
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