It's become all too common in the instance of sexual harassment complaints. The victim is blamed. Why does this behavior occur and what can organizations do about it? It comes down to both power and preconceived notions by coworkers and it can be thwarted by a well-defined sexual harassment policy. Here are some of the most common reasons a victim can be blamed.
Harassment is first and foremost about power and in many cases harassment occurs when a powerful member of an organization harasses a less powerful member. Powerful members of an organization have generally been in the organization longer than a less powerful individual. Co-workers have known them longer and have developed a stronger relationship with them. It is natural that they would have back the employee they know better.
Powerful members of an organization are also seen as skilled, valuable members of the team. The value these individuals add to an organization makes them also seen as irreplaceable and too important to lose. Co-workers will rally behind valuable members of a team because they wish for their organization to be successful.
Most people consider themselves decent human beings who respect others. They have a hard time believing that another person is capable of the things they have been accused of. Therefore, they believe the victim is lying or exaggerating the situation.
Many times the victim has endured the harassment for some time because of embarrassment, shame or fear of retaliation. They will wait until the harassment becomes unbearable before filing a complaint. Because of this co-workers will believe that they went along and condoned the behavior and therefore invited the attention.
Whatever the reason that a victim gets blamed, one thing is for certain. All organizations need to write a clear sexual harassment policy and train their employees on this policy. Victims of harassment should never feel that they are alone or under the threat of retaliation. The utmost care should be focused on privacy and all employees should know the legal result of retaliation.