Why Sexual Harassment Goes Unreported

The reality of human resources (HR).

Posted Dec 02, 2017

Source: PhotoPin

With the recent firing of NBC’s Today Show anchor Matt Lauer, NBC executives claim they had never received a formal complaint from employees until this week. The network says it plans to institute new changes to make the complaint process easier and more accessible to victims of harassment in general.

If what NBC brass are telling us — that this week was the first formal complaint ever lodged against Lauer — is true, one has to wonder why more women didn't file a report with Human Resources when they felt sexually, emotionally, or physically uncomfortable or violated by Lauer. On a wider scope beyond show business, why is this same pattern of non-reporting endemic in other industries as well? 

As a former television-news-reporter-turned-psychotherapist who made similar complaints against a former boss, I can tell you when you meet with HR about a sexual harassment issue, it can be the kiss of death to your career. While my boss at the time was fired (technically asked to resign), I, the complainant, was given the same request — to resign.

I didn't understand at the time why I also had to be punished for his behavior against me. Years later, having met people who work in HR and management positions, they shared with me, “HR is not your friend." Their interest is in preserving the integrity of the company, and if you are on their radar for anything remotely close to potential financial liability, they will find a means to extricate you from the company. In short, HR is all about risk management, and sexual assault victims are high on the list of employees deemed too risky to keep due to fear of financial repercussions. 

At the time I made my complaint, I was still fairly young and dumb and thought HR was there to support me. The forced resignation was not only a slap in the face, but it also made me question my decision to file a report in the first place. If I stayed quiet, like many victims choose to do, I could've kept my job. Few people are willing to risk losing a lucrative career in TV news or the potential of being blacklisted from other news organizations if the other option is to stay quiet, so that's why I believe so many remain complicit in this area. While it sounds great to have companies preach zero tolerance against harassment, the reality is that the victims become collateral damage.