Blog Post

Why women don’t report sexual harassment & how I was mansplained about it

Last Thursday night, I had a rare night out for dinner with girlfriends. Unsurprisingly, the first topic of discussion was Roy Moore. But this post isn’t about politics. This is about how we were raised as southern women – and how a man can discount us because he knows our experiences.

After my high school friends and I – all of whom are in our early 50s – discussed Moore, we went on to discuss the women, now known as “the accusers,” but whom I call “the victims.” We discussed how we were raised to be good southern girls and how we never reported incidents in our own lives. Today’s women, thankfully, have a better atmosphere in which to report such incidents. Here are the reasons my girlfriends and I didn’t feel comfortable doing it:

  • Southern girls were raised to be pleasers. We were to make sure everyone around us was happy and comfortable at all times. We were to respect our elders. We most certainly were not supposed to make waves … ever. I had a strong mother who worked outside the home at a time when not many women did. I was not a meek person but I was molded in a certain way.
  • We were raised in an era when victims were blamed. If someone attacked us, we would be called “loose,” slutty or a variety of other names. We were also afraid it would bring shame our parents.
  • In a school or work environment, telling did not mean any action would be taken. We were told to consider a man’s “good reputation.” Did we really want to ruin his life? Even adult women would back a professional man over a teenage girl because “we didn’t want to hurt his reputation now, did we?”
  • In office situations, women, not the men, were often the ones who got punished or fired for reporting. In 90 percent of the cases, the men were in authority. Higher-ups were not willing to put anything in a man’s file that could hurt his career. I had a situation once in which three people who reported a boss for wrongdoing were fired before I finally sent an anonymous letter to the corporate office explaining how bad the situation was … and threatening to sue if it continued.

This discussion led my friends to disclose incidents that happened in our teens and early 20s. I’ll recount them in vague terms so no one will recognize the person or incident:

  • One of us was asked by an authority figure in her life if he could take photos of her while they were alone in his office. She refused and told a female authority figure who didn’t report it.
  • One of us was date raped. She told a friend but was afraid no one would believe her word against his if she reported the incident to anyone in authority, and also that her parents would be shamed. She had to face this person at public events repeatedly over the years.
  • One of us was held down on the floor and had a boy’s hand thrust down her pants to “feel her up.” The boy was also a teen and they were not “making out” at the time. She didn’t report it because she felt it was her fault for being alone with him and she was afraid if she got the boy “in trouble” he would retaliate by spreading rumors that she was slut.
  • Another of us experienced incidents of general workplace sexual harassment (by “general” I mean verbal or some physical contact, like pinches in the butt) but didn’t report it because she either confronted the man herself and made it stop, or didn’t feel she would be believed by bosses. It wasn’t worth losing her job.

I think we all felt better after our talk but we are still faced daily with men who think that if anything had really occurred, a girl or woman would have reported it immediately.

Here is what one man said on Facebook in response to my post about why we didn’t report: “Bull, teach children, girls and ladies to step up and tell someone they trust immediately, stop making excuses for personal responsibility … This old BS about being afraid has to stop. If the person assaulted, harassed doesn’t stand up immediately then the facts of the event will fade with time and their stories will have holes the size of the battleship Arizona in it…”

My private messages blew up with women shocked at being mansplained about personal sexual assault experiences. They gave their own accounts: One was a rape in which even the nurse at the hospital (yes, hospital) made her feel it was her fault.

I am thankful to have wonderful men in my life. My father and brother are feminists, although they certainly didn’t “identify” as such in those days, when it was considered unmanly. They would never have wanted my mother or me suffer from an incident like these. My husband would probably shoot someone, literally, who sexually assaulted me. If this problem is going to end, we need more men like the ones in my life and not ones who question our veracity simply because of the timing of our reporting.

7 thoughts on “Why women don’t report sexual harassment & how I was mansplained about it”

  1. This. Every word of it is the gospel truth. I was born and raised in central Alabama and I know the truth of it from personal experience. And it didn’t get better when I moved to SC as an adult, either.

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  2. Mrs. Kelly, I’ve been there myself. Sexually assaulted as a little girl. A few years ago, I asked the person for an apology and did not get one. My parent is still alive so I will not go public with this person’s name but I’m biding my time. The man in your article is right. We need to come out with what has happened to us. It happens way too often, as evidenced in your sampling of friends at one table, almost all had had something happen to them. Your discussion about why we don’t say anything is true also. Its in how we were raised. But we need to remember we are strong women and the boogey man doesn’t live under the bed any more. Its time these men face up to what they did, get some counselling, go to jail, whatever. Please pray for all women that have experienced anything such as this. And also pray that things will change so that our children will not experience what we have. God bless!

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  3. I have always been uncomfortable with the term “victim” when it is used to refer to people who have experienced sexual harassment or assault. I prefer the word “target”. The heinous acts are not random and the choice of person is rarely happenstance. Perpetrators choose and often groom their targets. They are predators who manipulate others for their own use.

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