When looking at sexual harassment in the workplace, you often see people ask why victims did not say anything or didn’t do so sooner. Maybe one worker comes forward, for instance, and then a few more follow suit. Or, maybe a worker finally comes forward but the sexual harassment in question happened a decade ago.

So, why do people stay silent? Why does it take so long for some people to speak up? There are a lot of complicated reasons, including:

  • They’re worried that they are going to get fired.
  • Even if they’re not fired, they worry about alienation, getting blackballed within the industry and burning important bridges.
  • They do not want people to start blaming them, even though they were the victim.
  • They’re not sure that anyone is going to believe them, even if they do say something.
  • They feel like the process would just take far too long and it all feels overwhelming.
  • They’re not sure what evidence they have to back up their claims.
  • They find it humiliating to talk about an event that was so difficult for them, essentially having to relive it again in the public eye.

What we all need to remember is that waiting to say something does not make a claim less valid. People have their own ways of working through things like this and deciding how they want to proceed. It is not always easy, and we need to respect that position.

Additionally, employees must know what legal rights and protections they have. For example, if you file a report and get fired because of it, that type of retaliation — though it does happen — is also illegal and there are subsequent steps you can take.