Studies Reveal Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Harassment At Work

Patriarchy has long-lived right from the times of war. Even today, many cultures and societies display a strong attitude that supports men’s superiority over women. This kind of attitude can be deep-rooted in people’s minds. Gender discrimination suppresses women’s growth or the freedom to live their life by their means. Surprisingly, even modern independent women have second thoughts to report sexual harassment in the workplace. Gender bias or sexual assault is easily swept under the carpet in many organizations. But why?

Before we find why women don’t report sexual harassment, it is trivial to know the different types of harassment.

Types of Workplace Harassment

Below are the types of harassment that are prevalent in the workplace.

  1. Sexual Harassment
  2. Discriminatory Harassment
  3. Physical Harassment
  4. Harassment Based On Religion
  5. Personal Harassment
  6. Power Harassment
  7. Psychological Harassment

What is harassment, and what is not?

Harassment, in general, is the discrimination against an individual based on religion, gender, ethnicity, position, color, caste, or creed.

It is a person’s behavior that crosses healthy boundaries, making you feel uncomfortable, threatened, vulnerable, or forced.

Reporting sexual or any type of harassment at the workplace is the best thing you can do to come out of this horrible situation.

Examples of harassment in the workplace

Workplace harassment is common in many organizations across the world. Here are some of the common examples of harassment in the workplace.

  • When you feel regularly targeted by your team or lead
  • When your boss or co-workers touch you too often or unnecessarily
  • If your boss makes you work more compared to your peers
  • Passing inappropriate comments
  • Co-workers judging your characteristics based on your roots, gender, color, etc.

So, what is NOT considered harassment?

Any activity that takes place with mutual consent and within a healthy boundary in the workplace is usually not considered harassment.

Examples of what is NOT workplace harassment

  • Complimenting team members for their work or other day-to-day activities.
  • High five is a gesture that is a perfect example of something that is not considered harassment.
  • Tap on the shoulder for doing good work, etc.

Where Is Workplace Harassment The Highest?

Unfortunately, this gender discrimination usually grows in behavior where men start to treat women as sexual objects. Even though no one deserves to be perceived or treated as a sexual object, there are cultures or places where sexual harassment is accepted as normal.

So, I wonder could this belief of normal behavior discourages some women from reporting sexual harassment?

According to researchers, when sexual harassment is accepted as socially normal behavior or a romantic expression of feelings, women usually start to blame themselves. They believe that their behavior is unprofessional.

Or their clothes are inappropriate. In the end, this could make them feel guilty about being sexually harassed. And by feeling guilty, they will also feel discouraged for reporting it.

But, researchers confirm that sexual harassment is just a tactic. “It is a tactic to control or a way for man to make a woman vulnerable,” as Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist,  defined in his own words.

Furthermore, researchers explain that sexual harassment is more common in organizations or workplaces where women are a small minority. These organizations are very masculine and hierarchical. The minority of women in this kind of organization usually workmen jobs or jobs traditionally worked by men.

The More Non-Traditional The Job For Women, The More Sexual Harassment 

Although most companies have policies against sexual harassment, still the women that workman jobs are more sexually harassed than the women who work the simple “women job’’. This is confirmed in a study conducted by Dr. Nancy Baker, a psychologist in Los Angeles.

The study included 100 women who were working in a factory. And “On all 28 items of a sexual harassment scale, the more non-traditional the job for women, the more sexual harassment. Women surgeons and investment bankers rank among the highest for harassment”, indicated Dr. Baker.

Additionally, Dr. Louise Fitzgerald, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, concludes that only 25 % of the sexual harassment are careless seductions. The man is simply trying to get some woman in bed.

But, In less than 5 percent of cases, the harassment involves a bribe or threat for sex, where the man is saying, ‘If you do this for me, I’ll help you at work, and if you don’t, I’ll make things difficult for you.’, said Dr. Louise Fitzgerald.

She adds that most of the sexual harassment occurs as an expression or proof of male power. Whether it is a tactic, a careless seduction, or a bribe, it still is, and it will be sexual harassment. This kind of behavior where men dehumanize women by treating them like sex toys need to be publicly revealed by all women who were mistreated.

How Many Women Actually Fight For Their Rights?

Unfortunately, not all women dare to file a legal complaint about being sexually harassed. It is affirmed in the research of Dr. Barbara Gutek, a psychologist at the University of Arizona.

In this research, she studied 832 working women. She discovered that from half of the women that were victims of sexual harassment, no one has legally acknowledged it in front of the authorities.

A meta-analysis study shows that only a quarter to a third of people who have been harassed at work report it to a supervisor, and 2% to 13% of people tend to submit a formal complaint. This analysis was coordinated by Lilia Cortina of the University of Michigan and Jennifer Berdahl of the University of Columbia.

So, the truth is that only a small percent of women are real heroes. Several studies prove that only 3% of women are brave enough to use the law on their side and fight for their rights.

Main Fears Why Women Do Not Reveal Harassment

But, the women, who choose to remain, silent victims actually believe that seeking legal help would only cause more trouble. They think that it could create an atmosphere of hostility and tension from the superior, or they could be recognized as a bad employee. This was shown to be true in the study of the public sector.

Two-thirds of the employees who had confessed a sexual abuse admitted that afterward, they felt some negative vibes from their colleagues, and “They become troublemakers — nobody wants to hire them or work with them anymore,” added Ms. Berdahl. Their fears were also proven to be true in the research of Dr. Fitzgerald.

In his study, he included 2000 women. They were all working at state universities. The findings released all the hidden fears that the victim women kept inside them.

  • Fear that they would not be believed for telling the truth,
  • that they will be known as troublemakers,
  • fear that they would lose their jobs,
  • and fear that they will lose their own marriage.

Today, many companies’ culture can prevent women from fighting the ‘’battle’’ of sexual harassment, especially when the harasser is a superstar. And the more powerful that person is, the less likely the woman will complain.

But, “When you have an effective H.R. department that is supported by leadership, people feel safe about reporting harassment, it has a lot to do with the type of H.R. department: The motive is not the legal liability, but the culture you want, clarifies Bettina Deynes, the vice president of H.R. at the Society for Human Resource Management.

Is There An Emotional Side Of Sexual Harassment?

However, there is also an emotional side of being sexually harassed. “Often women feel they have somehow caused the harassment,” specifies Dr.  Michelle Paludia, a psychologist at Hunter College. She analyzed that women who have been sexually assaulted were emotionally wounded, and hurt similarly like the woman, who were raped, or abused.”

The after-effects of sexual harassment on women who have been victims, whether or not they file a complaint:

  • gastrointestinal problems,
  • eating disorders,
  • anxiety attacks,
  • insomnia,
  • crying spells.

And women feel helpless and afraid, or angry, anxious or depressed, clearly specified Dr. Paludi in her research. To avoid this emotional roller coaster, Dr. Paludi strongly believes that increasing the awareness about women’s fears and hurtful feelings will stimulate more and more women to speak loudly about their experience of being harassed.

And that is very important.

But in the end, she concludes that “Raising awareness among men may be more important than getting women to complain’’.

Concluding Thoughts

For some people, sexual harassment is just harmless foreplay. And, for some, it is just dirty talk.

However, these people are not truly aware that their little game could leave serious consequences on someone’s life.

It could really destroy their positive self-image. Or it could build a high emotional ‘barrier’ between them and other people.

Ending this nightmare can be difficult. But, definitely not impossible. Nothing is impossible. I believe that we need to increase our awareness and realize that sexual harassment could be really harmful to all women. Increasing the level of awareness will increase the level of courage in many women victims of sexual harassment.

They will be encouraged to fight for themselves. They will fight for bigger self-respect, fora higher self-dignity, and fora deeper self-worth. And, by encouraging them to fight against this evil of sexual harassment, we are actually encouraging the whole world to fight together.

How do you think men and women together can stop sexual harassment? Leave behind your thoughts in the comments section. Also, subscribe to receive new articles.

Ljupka Janevska
Ljupka Janevska is a freelance writer at AlignThoughts with a focus on Science and Technology. When not working, she can be found spending time in nature, exploring new innovations, and reading books.

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