What I fear most is power with impunity. I fear abuse of power, and the power to abuse.Isabel Allende
Sexual harassment is not just about sex. It is really more about power and control. Although sexual harassment and sexual assault does also happen to men, more often it happens to women. Reportedly 1 out of 3 women experience sexual harassment or sexual assault in the workplace and seventy-five percent of those women who file a complaint of sexual harassment experience some type of retaliation.
It is no wonder then, that sexual harassment is sorely underreported and all pervasive. If it wasn’t awful enough to experience the fear, violation and trauma from the sexual harassment itself, then to be retaliated against by the perpetrator and others is just unfathomable.
Don’t Blame The Victim
There are individuals who don’t understand the paralyzing effect of sexual harassment or sexual assault or comprehend that the person responsible for it is the harasser. That he or she is fully responsible for the harassment and the person being harassed is not. It’s not their fault. It’s nothing they did. They are not responsible in any way.
Fashion Designer Donna Karan initially defended Harvey Weinstein by stating that women invite sexual harassment by how they dress or present themselves. She later repented and apologized and referred to her comment as a huge mistake. Unfortunately, the reality is one does not make such a statement without it being part of their true belief system. Large parts of the population, including women, really have the belief system that somehow the victim is to blame. Whether it’s conscious or unconscious, it’s still present. Thus further complicating a women’s desire to share about their sexual harassment or sexual assault. Furthermore, this makes it even more difficult for women to share with a friend, or someone close, even without reporting the harassment. This causes further alienation of the victim.
There Isn’t Usually A Simple Solution
It is distressing to have to walk into work each day and not feel safe and not know if the harassment is going to happen again today, or not. Some might suggest that the victim, “Just get another job”, or “Just tell them, no”. If it were so easy to just get another job, or just say no, then most women would do just that. It’s not that simple. The lack of understanding or minimizing that so often happens has a devastating effect that might make women stay silent.
Most women need their jobs. It might be the only way to pay bills or support their family. The concern of ruining future career prospects, the fear of retaliation, damage to reputation, or enduring the embarrassment of reporting the incident and risking becoming a pariah in the workplace might make women hesitate to report. When we have been sexually harassed and those around us such as friends, or coworkers, that we might have shared this with, minimize it or negate the experience, it is further traumatizing.
For more tips on coping with emotional pain from sexual harassment and sexual assault, please click on the link below for my complete article.
My wish for you today is that you are not troubled with emotional pain and that the people who fill your life make you feel safe and joyful.
-Kathleen Dwyer-Blair, LCSW, BCD
Director Nassau Guidance and Counseling