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Why people stay quiet about sexual harassment

Have you ever seen sexual harassment happen to someone else in the workplace and just kept your head down, trying not to get involved? Have you ever experienced it yourself and decided not to say anything? Maybe you just hoped that it wouldn't happen again and you tried to move forward with your life.

It happens a lot. For every sexual harassment case that you hear about in the news, there are plenty of people in similar situations who say nothing. Why is this?

1. Job loss

First and foremost, many people say nothing simply because they fear retaliation. Maybe you really need this job to make the rent payments on time. Then a supervisor crosses a line. You sit at home deciding if you should report them, but they're good friends with the owner of the company. You worry that filing a report will just lead to a retaliation. They'll simply fire you and hire someone who won't complain. You say nothing because you need that paycheck.

Let's be clear: Retaliation firings like that are illegal. But it's still a big fear that people have and a reason they stay silent. They may also neglect to stand up for a coworker for the same reason.

2. Lack of belief

Another issue is that they worry that people will not believe them. They're worried that people will brush it off as a false accusation. If you're getting harassed, you're already in a bad position at work. What if you say something, no one takes you seriously, nothing changes, and now you're in an even worse position? This is when people often just hope it gets better over time. They don't want to risk making things worse.

3. Family life

In other cases, people worry about the impact on their loved ones. Some individuals have kept quiet for decades out of fear that saying anything would impact their family life. Again, they just felt it wasn't worth the risk, even when they knew that what happened was wrong.

4. Lack of evidence

Finally, some people worry that they won't be able to prove it. You know what the supervisor said to you, but no one else witnessed it. As far as you know, it's not on video. If they just deny it, can you prove what happened? Maybe you're tempted to say nothing unless you have irrefutable proof, and you never feel like you do.

Your options

If you have wondered what you should do about sexual harassment, perhaps feeling conflicted over the issues highlighted above, it's important to remember that it is illegal and you do have rights. Make sure you know what steps you can take.

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