Sexual harassment and assault victims have recently found a community and a collective voice, thanks largely to the #MeToo movement. However, the fact that it has taken so long to happen — despite the alarming number of victims out there — illustrates just how often victims choose to suffer in silence rather than seek help.
Psychologists say that there are a number of reasons that victims don’t immediately step forward after experiencing sexual harassment or assault.
No one wants to feel like a victim. That can lead many people to deny or minimize what they’ve experienced. They may even feel like they don’t really have a right to complain because whatever happened stopped short of rape. They may say something like, “It isn’t a big deal. Other people have gone through much worse.” It can be terrifying to admit that they were powerless in that situation.
Sexual harassment and sexual assault aren’t about sex at all — they are all about power. The perpetrator wants to reinforce his or her power over the victim. Since the victim has just experienced a terrible display of that power, the victim may wonder how much worse the consequences will be if he or she fights back or exposes the abuser.
Victims often blame themselves. They may say things like, “I was too friendly. I shouldn’t have smiled at him.” Or they may second-guess their own actions, saying, “Why didn’t I walk out? Why didn’t I scream?” Societal attitudes are, fortunately, changing — but many victims have grown up surrounded by attitudes that blame the victim for sexual assaults.
Depression is common after someone experiences a sexual assault or sexual harassment. Depression can sap the energy right out of a person and make the idea of taking action against an abuser seem utterly overwhelming.
Even though 70 percent of women experience some form of sexual harassment at work, many don’t realize that they can take legal action against a harasser. They may not realize that allowing their harasser to go unpunished puts others at risk.
Sexual harassment and assault are never okay. If you have been victimized, there are ways to bring the perpetrator to justice. Consider reaching out for help as soon as possible.