Why didn’t she report it earlier if it was such a problem?[1]

Why does she dress that way if she doesn’t want that type of attention?

She keeps seeking advancement in this company, so it can’t be that bad, right?

I’ve seen her socialize with the accused. Why would she do that if she was abused by him?

Why have no other women come forward if he’s so bad?

She’s too uptight and serious. She complains about EVERYTHING! Can’t she take a joke?

 

These are some of the questions that come up when there is an allegation of sexual harassment. In a previous blog, we brought up the topic of sexual harassment and said that there are basic knowledge and skills that we believe all professionals should have in order to properly conduct investigations into these types of allegations. Here, we discuss some of the requisite knowledge pieces.

 

First, investigators need to have some basic insight into the dynamics of sexual harassment in order to avoid falling prey to some of the common myths and biases that we have, as a society and as individuals, about the victims of sexual harassment and those who speak out. The historical and cultural roots of sexual harassment are beyond the scope of this blog. However, investigators should keep in mind that we live in a culture that values strength above flexibility, individual achievement over collective well-being, dominance over cooperation. In general, factors that tend to support the notion that characteristics of stereotypical ‘maleness’ is somehow superior.

 

Given this foundation, it is not surprising that some people, especially individuals who may be particularly prone to abuse the power and influence they have over others, will succumb to the belief that they are “entitled” to whatever they want. On the flip side, it is not surprising that others will succumb to the belief that they “deserve” whatever injustice happens to them. These misguided but pervasive attitudes and beliefs create many internal challenges for victims to come forward with allegations of sexual harassment (e.g., fear, shame, guilt, embarrassment, and so on). Moreover, victims may face significant external challenges if they report sexual harassment. For example, they might lose their jobs, their opportunities for career advancement might be curtailed, their social networks might diminish, or their reputation (personal and professional) might be damaged.

 

Each victim navigates these internal and external challenges in her (or his) own way depending on many different factors. The factors that predispose a person to victimization, precipitate the unwanted sexual attention, and perpetuate the harassment combine uniquely in every case. By knowing about dynamics such as these, investigators can avoid prematurely dismissing or minimizing the seriousness of victims’ accounts, or blaming the victims themselves.

[1] Although sexual harassment can occur between individuals of the same sex, the use of pronouns in the article reflects male supervisors or co-workers harassing female subordinates or co-workers, given its historical prevalence.