Why Women Suffer in Silence
Sexual harassment and gross misconduct are receiving lots of press and public attention. Thank the #MeToo movement and the associated #TimesUp follow-up. With the ever-increasing number of women speaking up now about dealing with past and present behavior of this nature, many people are questioning what took so long. Sadly, it’s not such a mystery. Most women who are subjected to sexual harassment find themselves in the unenviable position of choosing between career suicide and a hostile work environment. For most, the latter wins out.
Retaliation – The 75%
The majority of women in the workplace who speak out and point the finger at their harasser face retaliatory behavior. That’s a fact. The EEOC revealed that three quarters of employees who report their ill-treatment in the workplace to a supervisor or HR representative face retaliation. The retaliatory treatment includes reprimands, poor performance reviews, undesirable transfers, threats, verbal and physical abuse, increased scrutiny and even termination. It’s an unpleasant decision to keep quiet, but faced with this evidence, it’s one that most women choose as a form of self-preservation. The actions of the perpetrators of sexual harassment inflict harm in more than one area.
Stigma – Shame and Embarrassment
A feeling of shame is common in victims of abuse – and it’s no different for women who endure sexual harassment. Bringing the abuse to light subjects these women to humiliation and embarrassment. The questioning they endure makes them feel as though they aren’t believed – and often they aren’t. They are often made to feel as though they caused the behavior and that there is something they could have done to prevent it. These are thoughts and feelings they already struggle with and then to hear it from an outside source, it only seems to validate their feelings of shame and embarrassment. Shaming a woman for the actions of others is practically a cultural norm in the United States, and it impacts the victim’s ability and willingness to report unlawful harassment.
Denial – Excusing the Behavior
Closely related to feelings of shame and self-blame is the tendency to minimize the misconduct. When a supervisor pats or pinches his employee on the behind, makes inappropriate advances, or engages in any number of other sexually harassing behavior, the female employee is typically inclined to brush it off. She may believe that the offender isn’t aware of what he’s doing or that she’s making too much of the incidents. Denial is a natural defense mechanism and it may kick in when a woman feels threatened or abused. The belief that they are alone in this situation contributes to these feelings and influences their decision to remain silent. That’s why once one or two women speak out, others often follow. They finally realize that they weren’t the only ones, and their belief that they were harassed and abused was valid. Strength in numbers is a strong motivator.
Lack of Knowledge about or Confidence in Available Protections
Anti-discrimination laws are in place to prevent and punish sexual harassment. Retaliation for reporting this behavior is unlawful, as well. But, many employees don’t understand how these laws work and what they can accomplish. Others simply don’t believe that they will actually protect them. With the available statistics on reported cases of sexual harassment and victims who have experience retaliation, it’s easy to see why. Fortunately, things are changing. Harkening back to that widely growing #MeToo and #TimesUp movement – it’s evident that more women will be speaking up. Advocates are spreading helpful information about employee rights and what victims can do to stop the harassment and protect themselves from retaliatory behavior. Women should never have to remain silent about this treatment moving forward. If you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, contact Castronovo & McKinney to speak with a NJ Sexual Harassment lawyer about your claim. We will fight to protect your rights, protect your job, and get the justice that you deserve.