Reporting Sexual Harassment Is Harder Than You Think, Research Says

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Study findings for all of us who have ever said, ‘why didn’t she report it?’

By Jessica Stillman (Editor, Women 2.0)

Sexual harassment reports come and go with almost the same regularity as the seasons, and while we’ve come a long way since Mad Men days (we have, haven’t we?), it’s still easy to get frustrated at the persistence of crappy behavior. While the vast majority of your ire is obviously directed at the perpetrators of harassment, occasionally some of us slip into wondering why women don’t do more to stick up for themselves.

‘If everyone just reported this nonsense’ you can be tempted to think, ‘then surely it would end?’ And when your generosity of spirit is truly at a low point, it may even cross your mind that should it have been you on the receiving end of some jerk’s inappropriate comments, you would certainly of have told him in no uncertain terms exactly what you thought of his behavior.

Sitting in front of your laptop at home reading the latest sexual harassment story, it’s easy to imagine the clever things we’d say or the decisive action we’d take. But before you have your next uncharitable thought about another woman’s response to harassment or inwardly vaunt your own toughness, be warned that research isn’t on your side. As the HBS Blog Network recently pointed out in its ‘The Daily Stat,’ women tend to overestimate their willingness to confront harassment:

In an experiment, 83% of women said they would confront a job interviewer who asked such sexually harassing questions as "Do you have a boyfriend?" And the more confrontation they predicted for themselves, the greater their contempt for women who didn't protest. Yet past research shows that most candidates who face such harassment do nothing to protest, says a team led by Kristina A. Diekmann of the University of Utah. People underestimate the costs of confrontation, such as impaired reputation and social status, if they don't experience the harassment themselves.

Remember that next time your anger over sexual harassment gets the better of you and you start to think, ‘why didn’t she report it?’ Science says you probably wouldn’t have reported it either, so perhaps it’s time to exchange self-righteous for sympathy and support.

Have you ever imagined what you’d do in the case of harassment? Were you honest with yourself?

jstillman Jessica Stillman is an editor at Women 2.0 and a freelance writer with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM and Brazen Careerist, among others. Follow her on Twitter @entrylevelrebel.