Stop Violence Against Women
Sexual Harassment





6. Reporting Sexual Harassment

One of the main obstacles to understanding the true prevalence of sexual harassment and to combating the problem is the low incidence of reporting.

It is well known that even in countries in which sexual harassment is a legally-recognized problem, most victims do not speak out. Research indicates that there are three main reasons why women do not report sexual harassment.

Reason One

Women often believe that no one will do anything about the problem. If women are harassed in an organization and the leadership of the organization does not speak out against that harassment, does not institute procedures for reporting harassment, or does not act quickly on reports of harassment, most victims will be discouraged from acting.

Reason Two

Women are afraid they will be blamed. "Blaming the victim" has historically been a strategy in countering rape charges. Women are told they "invited" the rape or harassment by their dress or demeanor. Because women see this happen to others they have good reason to believe it will also happen to them. In the United States, the treatment of Anita Hill by the Senate Judicial Committee was a strong lesson to women- not only that they won't be believed, but also that they will be blamed.

Reason Three

Women often do not want to hurt the harasser. This reason derives partly from the traditional saying "boys will be boys, which is used as an excuse for inappropriate behavior by males. Girls are taught to keep silent and to overlook bad behavior by boys. Carol Gilligan's research indicates that women think about the possible negative consequences to all persons involved. The negative consequences to the harasser may not be inconsequential.

Since many women have little choice about where they work, they find it necessary to put up with a situation that they feel they cannot change. "What can't be cured must be endured" is too often the case with victims of sexual harassment.

Adapted from: Penn State University Delaware Campus Information On Sexual Harassment site, Background section.

Because victims of sexual harassment often feel that there are many reasons not to report an incident, successful employment policies take into consideration victims reluctance to speak out.

Prevention of sexual harassment begins with the creation of internal processes by which employees can report to their employer. Sample reporting guidelines that are being used in various countries should be consulted when creating company-specific policies.

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