The topic of sexual harassment has been discussed more and more recently, as women start to speak up and expose their harassers. Every time this happens, the world is split in two – the side that applauds their courage and the side that believe these victims are only after fame and attention. The question always goes back to, “Why didn’t she speak up earlier?” There are many reasons why it’s not easy to speak up.
Discussions on sexual harassment has always focused on women as victims. However, we must keep in mind that men can be victims and women can be perpetrators as well. So I’m going to keep this as gender neutral as I can.
Here are 6 reasons why many of us didn’t speak up earlier:
1. We need to put food on the table
More often than not, we are sexually harassed by someone who is in the position of power. We fear losing our jobs, especially when we don’t have other work opportunities easily available. Applying for another job is also going to be difficult when we need our harasser as reference. Harassers in power also usually know that they have the upper hand. They know what we have to lose if we tried to speak up. Even if we don’t get sacked, how are we supposed to keep working for someone we’ve accused?
2. We always hope that it won’t happen again
When something important is at stake – like our livelihoods and career – it always seems easier to stay silent and tell ourselves that this might be the last time it’s happening. Maybe they really were just joking. Maybe we were the ones overreacting. We’re always hoping the situation isn’t what it seems, that we’re not actually caught in a mess like this!
3. We live in the shadows of our stereotype
This is for women especially, we already know that someone is going to say, “You know how women are, she’s just being a drama queen. She’s always oversensitive. She just likes attention.” This makes us pre-empt our demise and believe that if we spoke up, we’d be trying to fight a battle that has already been lost. Even with sexual harassment aside, how many times have we tried to express that something is causing us distress, but we’re met with, “Women are so sensitive, why can’t they just deal with it.”?
4. We know that it is easy for them to deny
At the back of our minds, we’re already prepared for them to say that they are just having “harmless fun”. We know that we’d probably be accused of having no sense of humour. Why do we instinctively fear that? It’s because most of us have already experienced it. Like the times when we feel like someone is making sexual, flirtatious advances and we say “Sorry, I’m attached.” and that person makes a sudden switch & goes, “I was just giving you a harmless compliment, not everybody is trying to get into your pants, jeez.” It makes us feel like we’re not even allowed to feel uncomfortable without seeming like we’re somehow full of ourselves. We’re not.
5. We fear being defined by it
Even if we speak up and people are actually on our side, we’d be living with a label for a long time – “That person who was sexually harassed.” or “That person who accused someone else of sexual harassment’. We don’t want other people to behave extra cautiously around us for fear of being accused themselves. The reverse won’t be any better as well. If our allegations are met with disbelief, we’re going to be known as the “liar”, the “attention-seeker”, the “paranoid”, “delusional”.
6. We shame ourselves
We feel as if we should be partly responsible, even if we did nothing to draw sexual attention to ourselves. Were we being too friendly? Did we give off the wrong vibe? Why did we think they were just being nice? Often times, we only realize after everything, that we missed the warning signs and made foolish decisions. How are people going believe us then? We constantly wonder and fear that it is our faults.
Often times, the harassments can take place subtly and makes us feel like all we can do about it, is to try and warn other people about this particular creep. We tell our peers, “Be careful when you’re around him.”, “don’t agree if he or she asks you to sit with them at lunch”, “don’t give him/her your contact number.” We tend to choose avoiding over putting a stop to it. That is the mistake we as victims have been making. If we want change, it’s time we stop creating a culture of silence where perverts feel free to do as they please as long as they don’t get caught. If you are truly suffering, I implore you to be brave and speak up. More and more of us are speaking up and it’s the best time for you to do so as well. It will be worth it. You’re not alone in this.
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Article by Rachel Wan for NOC’s Spotlight.