The dangerous silence of unreported sexual harassment

Posted in Sexual Harassment on September 11, 2013

Since childhood, most of us have been taught to never complain. When we encounter a difficult situation or personal injustice, the engrained reaction may be to suffer in silence and “just deal with it.” After all, we don’t want to be thought of as a tattle tale.

Unfortunately, this kind of self-shaming mentality often keeps people from speaking up about serious issues that really matter, including workplace sexual harassment. A recent poll conducted by the Huffington Post and YouGov found that an astonishing 70 percent of those who said they have been sexually harassed have not reported it. 

The survey included responses from 1,000 adults. According to the results, 19 percent of respondents have suffered sexual harassment perpetrated by a co-worker. Another 13 percent have been harassed by a superior such as their boss. However, only 30 percent of the workers who reported being sexually harassed actually reported the illegal behavior.

The 70 percent who kept silent most often did so out of fear and/or shame. Many harassment victims fear retaliation in one form or another. This could include the harasser creating a hostile work environment, increasing the victim’s workload, changing their pay and benefits or firing them.

It is also common for victims to feel ashamed by the harassment and to fear being judged by their colleagues. Many worry that their co-workers will think less of them or assume that they are somehow responsible for what happened.

The end result is that countless victims suffer in silence; thinking that they are alone and that no one can understand what they’ve been through. Meanwhile, the sexual harassers themselves may go on to find other victims and continue their illegal, reprehensible behaviors.

If you have suffered workplace sexual harassment and are afraid of what will happen if you report it, please remember that there are also consequences to keeping silent. By finding the courage to hold the offending party accountable, you are first and foremost standing up for your own rights, which is a reward in itself.

But your actions may also give other victims the courage to come forward. And when enough people stand up against injustice, the results are often far better than anyone could have predicted.

Source: Huffington Post, “Workplace Sexual Harassment Poll Finds Large Share Of Workers Suffer, Don’t Report,” Jillian Berman and Emily Swanson, Aug. 27, 2013