Why Some People Don’t Report Sexual Harassment

Why Some People Don’t Report Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is an umbrella term that categorizes the entirety of sex-based crimes. In particular, sexual harassment refers to unwanted verbal assault or actions of a sexual nature.

Sexual assault and sexual abuse fall under the umbrella term of sexual harassment, but sexual assault refers to physical acts, such as molestation, whereas sexual abuse typically refers to sex crimes against children. However, the psychology behind why some children don’t report sexual harassment is very different from that of adults. Therefore, this article on why some people don’t report sexual harassment will focus on acts that fall under sexual harassment and sexual assault.

We know that sex-based crimes are incredibly underreported, but why?

A Sense of Shame

There’s a pervasive yet bizarre notion that when people go through sexual assaults, particularly women, it has something to do with the way that they dress or act. This idea relays the notion across Western society that it’s the victim’s fault for enticing the abuser or making themselves vulnerable, which instills a deep sense of shame in victims.

For men, it’s a feeling that they weren’t strong enough or masculine enough to prevent the situation or the notion that things like this don’t happen to boys. None of these ideas are true, but when you have these beliefs instilled in you, the act of being assaulted, let alone reporting it, feels deeply shameful.

Fear of Being Humiliated

Often, with the sense of shame comes a fear of being humiliated. The idea is that if a victim reports the assault, everyone else will know about it. Relaying the details of what occurred can also be embarrassing. Victims know that they’ll have to recall and tell others what happened over and over again, whether that be doctors, counselors, the police, or a judge and jury. This is traumatizing and leaves victims vulnerable to questions of character, sexual habits, and other private matters.

Worried About Retaliation

Fear of retaliation or revenge often arises when sexual harassment occurs in the workplace, but this isn’t always the case. It’s true that many workplace victims are afraid of losing their job or being demoted if they report the incident. However, there’s also a fear of physical retaliation that goes beyond the workplace.

Sometimes, people will threaten a victim or the victim’s family with violence if they report the crime. And other times, no one makes any threats, but the victim is understandably afraid it will occur. No one wants to put themselves in a situation where they may be a victim of another painful crime.

Lack of Past Action

It’s an upsetting and horrifying statistic, but those who have gone through a sexual assault will go through more throughout their lifetime, either by the same abuser or different abusers. It’s likely that these people have reported an incident in the past, but nothing ever occurred. This may sound like something that doesn’t often occur, but it’s easy and common for an officer or a counselor to not grasp the situation or fall into social biases and blame the victim. If they’ve reported a sex-based crime before and didn’t receive justice, a victim can feel hopeless and see no point in reporting.

Minimization or Denial of the Situation

Sexual harassment often causes post-traumatic stress disorder. One of the ways that the brain copes with severe stress or stressful situations is to deny the reality of the incident or minimize what occurred. They can convince themselves that what happened “wasn’t that big of a deal” because they weren’t hurt or the crime “wasn’t that serious.” In truth, every case of sexual harassment is serious.

On the other hand, some may deny that the incident occurred to protect themselves, and, on occasion, the brain can almost completely wipe the memory to protect the body.

Afraid the Offender May Face Consequences

While this may sound strange, it’s common for victims to be afraid that their abuser will get in trouble. Another alarming statistic that contributes to this is that most often, the victims know their abuser, and it’s less common for a stranger to sexually assault someone. They could be a friend, family member, partner, or any other person that they care about that they don’t want to see go to jail. Sometimes, even more horrifyingly, other family members know the assault occurred and don’t want the abuser to go to jail and will try to threaten or convince the victim not to report the assault.

Fear of the Unknown or the Legal Process

For those unfamiliar with the legal process, going through all of the hoops, interviews, questioning, and documentation can be scary and uncomfortable. It’s also possible for someone to have a fear of law enforcement or the legal process due to past trauma. This is especially true for POC who have been sexually assaulted and are often unfairly treated and abused by the justice system. Understandably, victims want to protect what sense of safety and comfort they have left and will do what they can to defend it.

Too Much Time Has Passed

Many sex-based crimes have a set statute of limitations. While there’s great debate over whether these statutes should exist, the fact of the matter is that they do. Victims need time to process, sometimes longer than the statute of limitations allows, and when this occurs, victims will resign themselves to keeping the incident a secret for the rest of their lives.

Even if the statute of limitations has passed, you should report the incident to the police. It’s highly likely that an abuser will abuse again or commit another crime. When you report the incident, police have to file and keep it. Then, they can use it to verify the story of possible future victims or catch the abuser on an entirely different charge.

Now that we understand a little bit more about why some people don’t report sexual harassment, what can we do about this alarming trend? The answer is complicated, as it involves a lot of social and legal reform. What we do know is that it starts with holding abusers accountable.

There are 463,000 rape victims each year, and 90 percent of those cases are women. Holding abusers accountable directly correlates to protecting the women of America. That’s why women’s rights lawyer Tamara N Holder uses her expertise to help end this cycle of abuse.

Why Some People Don’t Report Sexual Harassment

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