Not reporting sexual harassment emboldens the crime and the criminal. (Photo: iStock)
| 8 min read

When Women Don’t Report Sexual Harassment, Things Only Get Worse

Women in the workplace often choose not to report sexual harassment. There’s more to lose than gain, right? Who wants to piss off their boss, get fired, be whispered about, and worse than all – be shamed publicly?

But what happens if you don’t report sexual harassment?

Well, it continues of course. If that isn’t bad enough in itself, eventually you quit and lose your job anyway. In the process however, you encourage your harasser, and all the guilt and shame are for you to carry alone. Not just that, you probably see others go through the same trauma around you too, but you don’t even offer any help.

But then, one day someone speaks up. You finally find the courage to open up about it.

But by then, it’s too damn late. You share your story anonymously on social media, but don’t file a formal complaint.

It’s hard to do that now since you’ve lost all proof.

Unfortunately, that’s the story of most of the women who finally mustered up the courage to bring TVF founder Arunabh Kumar to book. As inspiring as their coming out was, it is equally frustrating to know that they’ll have a hard time proving their claims, since they didn’t lodge an official complaint at the time of the incidents, and because proofs get diluted over time.

The fact that more women are opening up about incidents of sexual harassment is a good sign, for sure. But what we need to understand ladies, is that the law is actually on our side. All we really need, is to report sexual harassment without guilt, shame or delay and keep some proof of the trauma.

Delay Makes You More Vulnerable

It’s crucial that women report sexual harassment without any delay. That’s hard to do given the shock and trauma of it all. But the more time you give it, the more leverage your harasser gets to turn things in his favour.

So how late is too late?

Anything more than three years is too late. This, however, does not mean that a case reported say 5-10 years after an incident of sexual harassment, will not hold in court. If a crime has been committed, it will be investigated by the law, irrespective of how much time has passed. But the court will ask you to provide a valid reason for the delay, to ensure that your move is not a motivated one.

Advocate Abha Singh of the Bombay High Court strongly urges quick reporting of the incident:

The more time you to take to report an incident of sexual harassment, the more leverage you’re giving the perpetrator to tamper with forensic evidence (if any) and convince eyewitnesses (if any) to speak in his favour. He and his lawyers will also raise questions like ‘what took you so long? Is this report an afterthought? Were you trying to influence an out of court settlement? Were you trying to blackmail the man?’ But as soon as you register an FIR, the police can raid, cease, confiscate and summon, leaving the man responsible with not enough time to orchestrate his defence. If you delay reporting, you’re only giving the accused more power to dilute your case. 
Abha Singh, Senior Advocate at the Bombay HC

Your Fear Emboldens the Monster

Your harasser knows that you’ll think twice before reporting. He thrives on your fear. If you’re not ready to be the whistle blower yet, ask a friend, a colleague or a family member to report the incident on your behalf. This makes them the informant and you the witness. Make sure you reach out to someone for help and tell them your story.

The ICC is duty bound to help you report an FIR if you wish to do so. And if it’s not being receptive, you can report them too.

The woman who first spoke up about Arunabh Kumar in a blog, recently confirmed that she has finally filed a formal complaint against him. Her reasons for not having done that earlier might be valid, but had she not mustered up the courage to report, her trauma would’ve amounted to nothing at all. Given all that, her identity continues to be protected on all platforms.

I know it has been a long silence. Mostly because of what has been going around. Last time I tried to come out, I was hounded. So this time I have been discreet. More so because last time when I filed a complaint, my parents got few calls... At that point in time, it was a shock to me and I didn’t have enough courage to do it. I still don’t have one because last time I checked, he knew when I walked into the police station and that he had my parents’ phone number. So I need to refrain... It’s difficult to be a woman in such a world. I don’t know how many of you would understand it. However, this is my last attempt. I have filed it finally. I don’t know if it will reach a logical conclusion. But my belief is that God does exist and he will prevail upon anyone to see what that monster called Arunabh is.
Indian Fowler

Despite her courage to report, Indian Fowler does admit that it’s all about the proof.

Don’t let your harasser get away with sexual harassment. (Photo: iStock)
Don’t let your harasser get away with sexual harassment. (Photo: iStock)

It All Boils Down to Proof

There’s not much the law can do in a he-said versus she-said scenario. What it needs to prove guilt is some kind of proof, or even proof of your attempts to reach out for help. If you’re being subjected to sexual harassment at a place of work, think about how you can document it. E-mails, audio recordings, secret video recordings, CCTV footage, phone messages, alibis, everything will help you prove your accusation.

This time around, its a fight to the finish, hence I won’t take names. We have few cases filed in three cities and one of them is mine, so I would expect courts to take cognizance of that. I hope it reaches logical conclusions. Next to it is our fight of proof. If you know how it works, it’s your word against mine. So I can’t prove how I was molested because it was done in private.
Indian Fowler

Sexual harassment might be a challenge for a woman to prove. But documented evidence of your efforts to reach out for help can help your case.

In the digital world that we live in, chances of you having received a lewd message, inappropriate e-mail, porn clips/images are high. Make sure you don’t delete those, ever.

By keeping quiet, you’re emboldening the crime and the criminal. Collect evidence, record it on your phone or camera, so that tomorrow you can prove your point in the face of his denial. Or have people, who have experienced the same thing, come together and speak up. Usually, sexual harassment cases are not fair on the survivor because of the lack of evidence. That must change. 
Abha Singh

Your Fear Can Weaken Someone Else’s Story

When you don’t report sexual harassment, you’re making it worse for other victims too. In Arunabh’s case and also in the one involving Dr RK Pachauri (the former Director General of The Energy & Resources Institute), a lot of women decided to open up, even about old incidents of sexual harassment, because they didn’t want the woman in question to be standing alone. Advocate Abha Singh says that more the voices, the easier it is to prove that the man responsible has a history of serial attempts. In Pachauri’s case, the fact that so many survivors emerged and spoke up, built the pressure on him to step down. At the beginning, that might have been unthinkable for the lone voice standing.

Whatever platform you choose, speak up about your sexual harassment trauma and make sure you put your story out there.

Employers and those responsible for the execution of our laws, will only take it seriously, when we step up and report.

Your Fear Weakens the Law Too

When you don’t report sexual harassment, you reject the legal system, that has been put in place to support you in the first place. The execution of the law might be disappointing – but till we make people accountable for it by raising a storm about injustice, women will end up losing the battle.

Women, when they complain, are invariably forced to leave their jobs. There are no preventive measures that employers are taking. Employers are not taking this act seriously, the state is not monitoring the implementation of the act and therefore it is still a highly underused law. The state is not asking workplaces to implement it and there is no accountability of the employer. The women when they’re complaining are put in a position where invariably they are victimised and forced to leave. In such circumstances it is very hard for women to actually make the complaint. But the only way to change this is for women to report, irrespective of the consequences. 
Vrinda Grover

Rizwan Siddiquee believes that police officers in India do not wish to register FIRs, especially in cases where they have nothing to gain. But at the same time, they’re duty bound to do so and can be punished for denying a person that right.

Mihira Sood, a Delhi-based lawyer – who has previously spoken up about her own personal experience of sexual harassment – also sees another problem with the Internal Complaints Committee that every organisation is mandated to have under the Vishaka guidelines.

In a situation where the survivor is a subordinate, who is probably more dispensable to the organisation (than the alleged harasser), the Internal Complaints Committee is still comprised of people who are loyal to the organisation. There is a lot of pressure her to not escalate it to that level. That’s why so many people are going to the media today because that’s the only alternative. Today, we are in a position to critically evaluate the law and we should not be afraid to admit that it is flawed. 
Mihira Sood, Advocate (as reported by Livemint)

But if the ICC doesn’t help you, you have the option of simply filing an FIR with the police. One can’t deny that reporting sexual harassment is by no means easy. But everything said and done, not speaking about it leaves one with a sense of guilt and victimisation.

With more women speaking up about their traumatic experiences, there seems to be a much needed shift in putting the shame where it belongs.

But if you hold your peace, that too will stop.

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