Victims of sexual harassment often don’t come forward right away. When they do finally report their harassment, a lot of armchair pundits are inclined to ask, “Well, why didn’t they speak up sooner?”
There are a lot of reasons. Chief among them are:
Humiliation and shame: When someone feels violated and dehumanized, they may blame themselves for the abuser’s actions. It doesn’t help that other people around them laugh off the sexually abusive behavior of their peers or fail to condemn what they hear or see happening.
Denial and minimization: Many victims justify their abuser’s behaviors by comparing their experiences with others and saying things to themselves like, “I don’t have it that bad,” or “It’s just the price of being in this industry.”
A sense of hopelessness: When someone has been victimized, they may be so traumatized that they simply can’t see a way to fight back. They feel like they have no control over the situation, so they stay silent.
Repeated trauma: When someone has been the victim of repeated trauma, they may simply freeze up when someone else sexually harasses or assaults them. Later, they blame themselves for “letting” themselves be victimized. That feeds back into their sense of shame.
Isolation: Sexual harassment and assault thrive in a vacuum. That can leave victims feeling like they are the only ones who have experienced the issue with the abuser.
Fear: Many abusers are powerful people in powerful positions. Victims usually need their jobs, and they’re scared of retaliation if they speak up.
Sexual harassment and abuse are never okay, and no one should have to endure that kind of treatment in their workplace. If you’re afraid to speak up at work, speak to an attorney instead.