Have you noticed how there is often a long delay in reporting sexual harassment incidents particularly when those doing the harassing are influential people? Why bother reporting after so many years? A greek Olympic athlete, Sofia Bekatorou, recently explained to a New York Times reporter that:
... fears of jeopardizing her Olympic dream had prevented her from speaking out about her abuse at the time. Now, as a mother of two and concerned about young athletes facing similar challenges, she said, she felt compelled to come forward, even though the alleged offence has expired under Greece’s statute of limitations.
She made a very good point when she said:
“I hope other women and people will come out and talk so our society becomes healthier and we are not afraid,” she said after testifying before a prosecutor on Wednesday.
What often occurs is that victims of SHIW are not in a position to report at the time it happens due to power differentials between them and their harasser, precarious finances, very competitive job markets, etc... Years later they may be in a more secure position in their lives and have more confidence that they will be heard and believed if they report the harassment.
Many SHIW victims have expressed that they disclosed their experiences in order to protect the younger women in their industry from experiencing the same trauma. By reporting they often inspire other women who have had similar experiences to report it as well and the powerful sexual harasser loses their job and reputation. What is sad is that many times the other powerful people surrounding the harasser knew about the harassment and did nothing to try to stop it.
Sofia is right that by speaking out about sexual harassment we are making it less likely that it will occur as it becomes more and more socially unacceptable. Those perpetrating sexual harassment, particularly the 'serial harassers' like the one who sexually assaulted Sofia, often care a great deal about their image and reputation and there is a good chance that they won't engage in the behaviour if they perceive a risk that the victim will speak out. Also, as people become more aware of the problem the hope is that they will more readily be able to identify situations where someone is being victimized in this way and will call it out.
The Legal Clinic is offering free legal advice to anyone experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace and free workshops for employers, employees and students about how to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace. If you would like to find out more about the services offered by The Legal Clinic please call 613-264-7153 or email email@example.com