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Why do some sexual harassment victims take so long to speak out?

Why did she put up with it for so long? Why didn’t she speak up sooner? Why now?

Those kinds of questions are a common refrain any time a victim of sexual harassment or sexual assault steps forward after a long period of silence or after enduring months or years of abuse. It can be difficult for many survivors of sexual harassment and assault to answer — but psychologists say that there are essentially eight reasons that victims wait to tell their stories.

1. Shame

This is the number one emotion many survivors of harassment and assault feel. They wonder if they could have done something different to prevent the abuse from happening.

2. Fear

The vast majority of victims of sexual harassment and assault are women — and many are subordinate to the men who abuse them. They fear retaliation on the job, which could put their families at risk.

3. Denial

Other abuse survivors minimize the events. They shrug off abuses because they’ve become accustomed to thinking that all women experience them. The behavior has somehow become normalized in their minds. They say, “Boys will be boys,” and move on.

4. Disbelief

Some women are assaulted through the use of mind-altering substances. They may question their own memories — or even refuse to believe that they were victimized until they can’t deny it any longer.

5. Poor self-esteem

Sometimes women become so disheartened by repeated acts of sexual violence or violence in general that they start to feel like they don’t deserve better treatment.

6. A complicated past

People who have been abused sexually in their past are less likely than others to take a stand when they’re targeted for sexual harassment at work. Their past tends to alter their current reactions. Some just freeze in fear and then blame themselves later for not stopping the abuse.

7. Helplessness

Some victims have seen others who have tried to stop an abuser or harasser suffer from degradation in public or private. They choose to stay silent because they feel like speaking out will do nothing to help them.

8. Lack of knowledge

Many victims don’t realize that there are laws in place to protect them and people willing to help them.

If you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment or abuse at work, get help now. Find out more about your legal rights.

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