Personal Growth · Relationships

015 Personal Growth: Why Don’t Sexual Harassment Victims Speak About It?

Sexual harassment allegations have become the news du jour. Rather than letting this subject disappear into tomorrow’s newest emerging topic, Vincent and Laura address the long-term implications of the media’s coverage of sexual harassment. One issue that has become abundantly clear is that sexual harassment victims are being misunderstood and often invalidated. Today’s episode is aimed at those who do not understand why victims do not come forward, or come forward years later.

Laura shares her reticence of discussing the topic, due to her own experience with sexual harassment. She expresses her concerns over the use of labels such as “victim” or “ignorant”. Sexual harassment is a delicate topic and subject to judgment.

The hosts have determined nine reasons that keep people from reporting sexual harassment, but there are likely many more. (These are NOT listed in any particular order.)

Why Don’t They Report?

1) They don’t know they’ve been harassed.
For generations past, the phrase “sexual harassment” was not part of the vernacular. The words were not used, and the actions rarely talked about or explained. Many parents did not warn their children about it or make themselves available to discuss it.

2) They have a sexual abuse history.
Related to the reasoning behind the first, sexual abuse history has an inter-and multi-generational reach. Family secrets are kept under the rug and perpetuated by a “family culture” of secrecy, poor communication, and lack of openness.

3) They don’t want to minimize others’ experiences.

4) They have minimized their own experiences.
Some rationalize their silence because they were not raped. Laura explains that rather than making a comparison between rape and harassment, the two should be viewed like “apples and oranges”, both rape and harassment are wrong and bad.

Denial is a powerful coping mechanism. It perpetuates the myth that something wrong did not happen and it keeps the victim from having to feel the anger and shame associated with what happened to them.

5) Fear of retraumatization.
Sexual harassment is threatening and can be scary. Laura encourages those who have never experienced sexual harassment and do not understand why many do not report to think back to a time where they have experienced extreme fear in a situation. Ask yourself, “Do I want to go through that again?” Sexual harassment victims do not want to have to relive the experience.

6) They have low self-esteem.
The culture of secrecy promotes passivity, poor communication and lack of self-respect. When others, such as family members or members of authority have minimized your experience, it discourages you from being transparent and confident.

7) Others have downplayed their experience when they did try to tell.
Many victims of sexual abuse have tried to tell. The problem is that when they did, either the listener did not understand or choose to understand and/or the victim was not able to communicate what had happened clearly. Bear in mind that sometimes the listener is a victim as well, and may be caught up in the culture of secrecy. Other times the listener does not choose to believe the victim or does not want to hear any more about what happened and attempts to shut down the conversation.

8) The threat of job loss.
Sexual harassment can be a power play. Figures of authority or superiors at work can use their position to abuse power to take advantage of those under their authority. Imagine a single mother trying to keep food on the table and depending on her paycheck to keep her children fed that is sexually harassed.

9) Reputation.
Those who have been sexually harassed often feel shame and embarrassment. Many times these people do not want to be identified with what happened to them.

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