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Why don’t victims of Sexual Harassment come forward sooner? Or at all?

A victim of sexual harassment - Why don't victims of sexual harassment come forward?

According to a survey conducted by the BBC, half of British women and a fifth of men have been sexually harassed at work or a place of study. 63% of the women who took part in the survey said they didn’t report it to anyone, and it’s even higher for the men - with 79% of them not reporting it either.

What is Sexual Harassment?

As defined by, Sexual Harassment is any unwanted sexual nature which:

  • violates your dignity
  • makes you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated
  • creates a hostile or offensive environment

Why don't people come forward sooner?

Reasons victims don't want to tell people about what happened:


People feel shame after sexual assault. Shame is often caused by people blaming themselves for the misconduct of their perpetrator. Victims feel responsible for letting it happen to themselves as if it was their fault. The feeling of shame can make people fall in on themselves and shut out the rest of the world. The feeling of humility can stop someone from speaking out about their assault due to their lack of control over the situation. Women, in particular, can feel at fault when phrases like "What did she expect when she was wearing something like that" are thrown about.

Fear and intimidation

If a victims abuser is in a position of power,  then there may be fear associated with coming forward due to the perpetrator being in a higher position of power and believing that with that they are bulletproof. If the perpetrator and victim are in the same workplace, there may be a fear of job loss. The fear of standing alone to face a powerful individual can make victims shy away from pursuing legal action. What's more, if the perpetrator is in a position of power where they threaten with the action of their legal team, the victim could feel inferior to this team of legal power, resulting in concealing their story. 

Fear of consequences

Many fear that they will not be believed if they tell their story, stories of women 'making up stories after men rejected them' are far too common. Another reason they may not come forward is the endless questions and days of interviews that may be followed after they come forward, some may not want to relive it. People can also fear the lack of support from family or friends if they are showed in a negative light from the perpetrator or their colleagues/legal teams. Additionally, people fear the loss of jobs/promotions and reputations. 

Low self-esteem

Some victims don't value themselves enough to feel like they should come forward. The more abuse that an individual puts up with from their abuser, the less they can respect themselves. The repercussions of shame can lead an individual to have lowered self-esteem.

History of being sexually assaulted

Those who have experienced sexual assault in the past, are likely to be subject to experiencing it again. There is a correlation between women who have experienced sexual abuse or assault as a child and then experiencing it again later on in life. The Office of National Statistics shared that 'More than half (51%) of adults who were abused as children experienced domestic abuse in later life'. They may not have been believed earlier in life and fear disbelief again. 


Sometimes at the time of the assault, a victim could be drugged or intoxicated. Because of this, they may have vague memories of the event and additionally, they may doubt their memories of the attack. Sometimes, another individual coming forward can provoke the confirmation of a victims thoughts. As well as this, the legal defence team of a perpetrator could use this in their favour to discredit the victim's story. 

Reasons people don't want to come forward sooner:

  • They want to wait until their abuser is incarcerated or has died. 
  • The perpetrator could be in relation to the victim or their family so they don't want to hurt the feelings of them too. 
  • They feel like they can come forward once someone has come forward for the same reason. They might feel stronger when they are not alone.
  • They don't have the emotional strength. 
  • They believe that they have done something wrong themselves. 

How to help people come forward 

In the workplace:

  • Know how to identify sexual harassment (Training is recommended for all workplaces) 
  • Be aware of what it is 
  • Know how to address and report sexual harassment. 

What to do when it happens:

  • Believe in them and acknowledge how hard it must have been for them to tell you this. 
  • Confirm that it isn't their fault and they are not alone in this because the support you will provide for them. 
  • Also, confirm that this shouldn't have happened to them and they did not deserve this. 
  • Avoid judgement 
  • Familiarise yourself with some resources to provide to the victim, you are not an expert, but you can support them.

Download our free Sexual Harassment White Paper and learn more about how you can transform culture in your workplace.

HR Compliance Training

We provide a large range of HR Compliance Training courses including Sexual Harassment Awareness TrainingBullying & Harassment at WorkEquality and Diversity Training and Stress Awareness Training. Remember, you can try up to three of our courses for free, at any time! 

Phone Numbers for Victims of Sexual Assault: 

NSPCC Helpline: 0808 800 5000 (24 hours, every day) 

Sexual Assault Referral Centres: Click here

Sexual Harassment Awareness Training