I want to give people the benefit of the doubt. I like to believe (regardless of the countless pieces of evidence to the contrary) that people have benign intentions and are misinterpreted as malignant due to the actions of a few bad seeds.
I hope that when someone tries to reach out and make contact with other people, they may not be aware of the effects of their own actions. So, I’d like to share my own limited experiences.
One thing that has always been remarked about me by others - my partner, friends, etc - is the seemingly magical ability I have to talk to people and touch them.
Physically, that is.
Total strangers are seemingly fine with me putting my hands on them without calling it harassment.
The truth is that it’s not that simple. I have had to learn to read signals. More importantly than that though is I had to learn what signals I was transmitting. This isn’t always easy. A sincerely innocent pat on the shoulder is what you may have intended, but failing to notice that blocking the escape route and encroaching personal space turned it into a moment of harassment.
How do I “get away with it”? Personally, I have some strong rule sets I follow to ensure I do not give off the wrong signals — I look for clues to show me that they are ok with the contact. Some are just plain common sense, others may require a little thinking beyond autonomous breathing, but the results are worth it.
First and foremost - approach someone from the front. Don’t come up behind them, don’t rush at them from the side. Let them see you and get their attention gently. I ensure there is ample personal space and an “escape route” for them. I “test the temperature” by touching “safe” areas like the back of the hand, elbow or shoulder and judging the reaction. Further, I will not touch someone if they refuse or cannot make eye contact and I also refrain if I feel even the remotest sexual attraction to someone.
Simply put, all of these rules are part of one single rule - treat people with respect.
How come I never get accused of harassment? Why do I “get away with it”? It’s because I am not being a dick.
If someone accuses you of harassment when you were “just trying to say hello”, then I would question your own actions in leading to the confrontation. Further, the easiest way to diffuse it is to step back and apologise. It’s not hard to achieve if you maintain respect.