Dear Men: This Is Why Women Stay Silent When Sexually Harassed

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By Animah Kosai

“She didn’t say a word for 3 years?” my male friend remarked on Cheryl Yeoh’s revelation that she had been sexually assaulted by Dave McClure.

He’s not alone. Many men cannot believe why women stay silent. The length of time suggests that maybe it wasn’t true. That the woman was ok at the time, but later, after things happen, she accuses someone of sexual harassment or assault. The greater the time lapse, the more likely the man will doubt the woman.

Guys, let me give a little peek into our inner world.

Women are incredibly stoic forgiving creatures and you love us for that. This means we put ourselves after everyone else. We come last. So if someone hurts us in anyway, we don’t blame the perpetrator. Our first question is, what did I do wrong to deserve this?

We talk about victim blaming yes, but did you know a victim blames herself before anyone else does? It could be that society seems to think it’s ok to blame victims. What was she wearing, did she lead him on, did she say stop at any time?

So are you surprised when a woman thinks it’s her fault? When she blames herself, a whole lot of insecurities arise. It undermines her sense of worth. I have seen the strongest women crumble when they have been sexually harassed. They feel violated and yet to the rest of the company and to their perpetrator, they have to put up a strong front. That includes staying silent. In our male dominated corporate world, silence in adversity is strength.

After blaming herself, a woman thinks of how reporting sexual harassment will affect the perpetrator and the rest of the company.

In Cheryl Yeoh’s case, reporting Dave McClure could mean losing funding for the Malaysian government initiative she was leading. There was too much at stake.

And this is where we play sacrificial lamb: for the sake of the company, I will keep quiet.

When the woman keeps quiet, the sexual harassment often continues. The woman maintains her silence. She tells herself, for the sake of peace among the team, I’ll put up with it. But over the weeks and months, she loses her self esteem, becomes unsure, begins to break down in the toilet after the harasser sends her yet another message, or tries touching her again. If she can’t take it anymore, she resigns quietly. The perpetrator stays. And finds another victim.

If you see a once confident woman withdraw, that’s a red flag. Reach out to her.

One day, something breaks – for women this can be after several years. In Cheryl Yeoh’s case, it was seeing how the men rallied round Dave McClure after his “apology” (I’m sorry I’m a creep) following the New York Times expose on women tech entrepreneurs facing sexual harassment.

And this is when the unbelievers come in. The moment a woman reports sexual harassment, she is subjected to incredible stress. Do you have evidence? Many don’t. I know of cases where women were so distressed by getting phone messages or dick pics, that they would immediately delete them. A woman doesn’t think of how to build her case, she thinks of how to get that person out of her life. It’s hard to think straight.

If someone like the director of the FBI can’t think straight when pressured by the president of the United States despite all his training, do you think a woman can think straight when she is being harassed or assaulted?

This is when the limbic system kicks in: Flight, Fight, Freeze. Too often, it’s FREEZE. I’ve encountered this myself as a teen sexually molested by a man on a bus. I was petrified and didn’t know what to do. I was lucky that some passengers noticed my distress and got the conductor to throw the man off the bus. This is why it’s so important to intervene. Most women cannot do anything at the time. If you see something, you must speak up and support her.

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