When reporting harassment, you are not the problem.

Some time ago, and I’ve waited to post this so it was far in the past, I was on the safety committee of an event. We stated the policy in the opening session and identified the safety officers. After the event, which went off with no reported problems, we sent a follow-up survey asking if there were any problems that people didn’t feel comfortable reporting at the time.

There had been.

In response, one of the women said she hadn’t reported because, “I didn’t want to be remembered as the girl who had a problem.” So she dealt with it herself.

But here’s the thing. She wasn’t “the girl who had a problem.” She was the woman who stopped a problem. Someone else caused a problem.

One of the things that is so difficult about changing the environment that we live and work in is that we are taught not to rock the boat and to prioritize other people over our own safety and comfort. Let me be very clear, that when you report harassment, you are not the one rocking the boat. I applaud people who take the initiative to deal with matters on their own, while at the same time railing against a society that makes us want to avoid making things awkward.

But… when dealing with someone who has predatory or problematic behavior, you’re never the only victim.

Later, we received two more reports that there was a problem attendee. None of them had wanted to rock the boat.

Please, please know that when you report harassment, you are not the problem. You are brave and wonderful and never, ever the problem. There are some people who will dismiss your concerns, who will claim that it isn’t really harassment but they are wrong. You are not the problem.

The problem is with a society that trains us that we aren’t allowed to object. Harassers harass because they can get away with it. They are savvy and choose their targets carefully, aiming for people that can’t fight back. You will not have been their only victim.

So when you can fight back by reporting? Please do.

And when you can’t, also know that staying quiet and safe doesn’t mean that you are a coward. It does mean that we have a totally screwed up society. But you, you, are not the problem.

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11 Responses

  1. Rebecca

    I’ve never heard this point addressed, so I don’t know if I feel alone in this. I am overweight, a women’s size 22. However I had a co worker exhibit behavior that was clearly sexual harassment. I am not timid or shy and immediately demanded he stop and that his advances were unwelcome.

    However, despite feeling confident enough to firmly stand up for myself, I was never able to get up the courage to report him. I felt like it would be harder to believe anyone would ever make sexual advances to a women my size. Like reporting it was me saying I was a foxy sex kitten and of course he wanted to harass such hot stuff.

    Maybe I’m the only one who’s felt uncomfortable for that reason, but it’s a pretty messed up mind set. Just saying

    1. medusaslibrary

      You’re not alone. I’m the same size and have been larger all my life. I reported another student for harassment in high school and not only was nothing done, but the entire school heard about it within two hours and the prevailing sentiment was that I was making it up to get attention and I only wished someone would want to grab me.
      So, when a teacher did the same thing a year later I kept my mouth shut except with my closest friends. I’ve regretted that ever since.

        1. The Mad Animal Scientist

          It happens. I was assaulted in high school, and the school refused to believe me, largely on the grounds of a) I couldn’t name my attackers (it was dark because it’s not like school dances are well-lit places), and b) I wasn’t typically feminine, and they’d never heard of me having a boyfriend, so wasn’t it possible that I’d misinterpreted complimentary actions? The implication was that as a chubby, geeky, possibly queer teen I should be grateful for any male attention I got, even if it was being groped repeatedly/ground up against by laughing jocks at a school dance, who did it on purpose to make me feel uncomfortable. School rumor was even more vicious along those lines, especially in regards to my weight and presumed sexual orientation. I didn’t learn until years later that what happened to me legally qualified as assault, and that the admins were probably trying to shame me into not bringing it to authorities.

  2. Josh Jasper

    Thanks for that last paragraph. As someone who’s been on safety committees I know how bad processes can get internally for reporting issues. We have a long way to go to make safe environments for reporting something you can expect to get, rather than be surprised you get.

  3. Dan Kleinman of SafeLibraries

    Thank you. I recently reported on sexual harassment including a library’s public relations manager who made homophobic remarks such as asking other librarians why would a women let her small children around a gay man and for this I am now being punished/silenced, possibly even by ALA’s own Office for Intellectual Freedom.

  4. Jill

    Thank you for this. I’m amazed that anybody passes judgement on any woman who chooses not to report. As other commenters point out, one of the very first reactions that a woman can expect is a harsh analysis of her attractiveness, as if that has anything to do with anything. Then the victim-blaming and -shaming starts up. For any person who has stepped up to report– you are a superhero. For any person who has not– The Safety of Women Everywhere is not on your shoulders alone. We’re all just doing the best we can.