In the wake of revelations about decades of vile sexual harassment (and even straight up rape) by Hollywood super producer Harvey Weinstein, your social media feeds have no doubt filled up with female friends, family, and acquaintances declaring #MeToo.

For many women, the sheer scale of sexual harassment this reveals isn't all that surprising -- it's more shocking that's it's finally coming to light, frankly -- but at least some people have expressed bafflement along with their disgust. If this were really such a gigantic problem, they wonder, why is all this just coming out now? And why didn't all these victims of workplace harassment speak up sooner?

75 is a really high percentage.

If that's you (or someone you're itching to have an informed argument with) then let me point you to an excellent recent Vox article, offering an in-depth roundup of all the hard numbers available on sexual harassment, from its prevalence, to the frequency of reporting and retaliation, to costs to companies. These statistics vividly reveal why it's been possible for so many people to stick their heads in the sand for so long: 

As the Weinstein case exemplifies, women often don't come forward with their experiences out of fear of retaliation. These fears are very valid and well-founded.

"One 2003 study found that 75% of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation," [a comprehensive 2016] EEOC report found...

Formal reporting is the "least common response" among men and women who have experienced harassment in the workplace -- "approximately 30% of individuals who experienced harassment talked with a supervisor, manager, or union representative," the EEOC study said...

A lot of this underreporting comes down to a fear of retaliation from the employers or colleagues. Victims often fear they won't be believed, or will receive blame or be subject to professional retaliation -- like being fired from their jobs.

I once saw (but frustratingly can't currently locate) a great headline on an article responding to the question of why women are less aggressive about negotiating compensation than men. As I recall the headline read, more or less, "Women Don't Negotiate Because They're Not Dumb," and the author went on to cite research to make her point that when women do ask for more money, people tend to hate it, and "pushy" women end up paying mightily in terms of career progression and opportunities.

The same headline could work here with a small tweak: women also don't report sexual harassment because they're not dumb. They correctly assess that in 3-out-of-4 cases, complaining to HR or a supervisor will make their lives materially worse. If you have rent to pay and kids to feed, would you really want to take those odds?

So go ahead and be shocked by your #MeToo-littered social media feeds if the scale of sexual harassment is news to you, but don't think your previous ignorance is a good reason to disbelieve anyone. They were quiet up until now for very good reasons.

Published on: Oct 18, 2017