Five Important Reasons to Report Sexual Misconduct

(Trigger warning)

Work-related sexual misconduct, including assault, sexual harassment and gender harassment , is grossly underreported; statistics suggest by as much as 90%. Clearly, a significant number of people wonder why they should report sexual misconduct. Here are five reasons:

1) For Yourself

If the perpetrator has mistreated or attacked you once, they may act out against you again. Reporting your experience can end your mistreatment. Even if the experience has ended, you deserve to work in a harassment-free environment; in fact, it’s your right by law. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,

“...it is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or an employee) because of the person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favor, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general… harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates hostile or offensive work environment…”

This includes harassment by a client or a customer. The EEOC recovered $70 million for victims of sexual harassment in 2018.

2) For Other Survivors or Victims

If you’re uncomfortable or have been otherwise harmed, it’s likely others are or have been too. Even if you don’t feel reporting is “worth it” for your sake, others who have reported the perpetrator may be waiting for your report to corroborate their reports and expose the perpetrator’s pattern of behavior. The justice they receive may very well depend on you.

3) To Impede the Perpetrator

You may be thinking it could be hard to prove your experience, and therefore, your report may not result in change. Yet, perpetrators who get away with harassment may be emboldened to act again as they seek to push the limits of their behaviors. When you report, whether in person or anonymously, the perpetrator is put on notice that their behavior is risky to them.

Consider as well that an employer may be restricted from acting against a perpetrator because management doesn’t have enough substantiation. Frequency and repetition are hallmarks that determine whether harassment is pervasive, a level of harassment that employers and the government may need to reach to take action. The perpetrator may be one report—YOUR report— away from consequences.

4) To Work Within Statutes of Limitations

Different authorities and jurisdictions have different time limits on whether they will consider victims’ and survivors’ harassment and assault reports. The military has a 45 day limitation for harassment. The EEOC sets a 180 day limit, though this is extended in some states, like California, where the limit is 300 days. It may be better to file a report, and then choose not to pursue your claim, than to not file and lose the opportunity.

For victims of assault, we recommend speaking with the National Sexual Assault hotline, 800-656-HOPE, which can put you in touch with those who understand both your circumstances and the laws and regulations addressing it. RAINN also has a State By State Guide on Statues of Limitations. Survivors of sexual assault often need time to process their experience and decide on next steps; no survivor should feel pressured to move more quickly than they feel comfortable in approaching the criminal justice system.

In Conclusion

It can feel daunting to start the reporting process. Too often, victims and survivors receive poor advice from friends and colleagues who speculate about outcomes based on stories and not on actual cases and data. Indeed, the positive outcomes of reporting are often unpublished and hidden by confidentiality clauses. Obtaining informed, professional counsel specific to your experience is always a good idea, so that you can thoroughly evaluate tradeoffs. As you decide what to do next, keep in mind the most important reason for reporting: you were targeted, and you deserve justice. You are worth it.