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Understand why sexual harassment victims don’t come forward

Around 12,000 complaints based on sexual harassment are filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission each year — and that’s believed to barely be the start of how many acts of harassment actually take place.

So why don’t more victims step forward? Why do others wait years before they finally tell their tale?

Psychologists say that there are some very basic reasons that keep women and men (although 83 percent of victims are estimated to be women) who are sexually harassed stay silent:

1. Humiliation

Humiliation, or shame, is a common feeling among those who have been abused. Experts say that the victims of sexual abuse feel inherently defiled, dehumanized and invaded. They also feel like they are helpless and unable to defend themselves. Weakness isn’t exactly a trait that’s admired in society, particularly in the business world.

2. Self-blame

Many victims also accept personal responsibility, or self-blame, for the actions of their abusers. There are often cultural aspects at play — women, in particular, will re-examine their behavior and decide that they may be responsible for what happened by smiling too much, laughing too much, joking with someone or wearing the wrong clothing.

3. Acceptance

Some women simply accept the behavior as acceptable. They deny that what they experienced was harassment. They convince themselves that the harassment was “a joke” or “good fun.” They take on the attitude that only a dour woman with no sense of humor would insist on better boundary lines. Sometimes, victim’s will excuse an abuser because he’s “from that generation,” as if the socially acceptable behavior of a person’s past prevents him (or her) from learning new social mores.

4. Fear

Finally, many victims fear what will happen if they come forward. If they aren’t believed, or can’t make their case, they worry that their careers will be over. Depending on the industry and who their abuser is, they worry their career will be over anyhow.

If you see yourself in any of these descriptions, you aren’t alone — and you’ve probably not been able to rest easy about what’s happening for a while. You have a legal right to work in a place that’s free from sexual harassment and hostility — consider exploring your legal options today.

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