One of the most common methods used to undermine victims of sexual harassment or assault is to criticize the amount of time they waited before reporting the incident. The insinuation is that because the victim didn’t speak up right away, either the situation couldn’t have been “that bad,” or the victim suddenly has something to gain by speaking up.
However, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, more attention is being paid to victims than ever, and researchers have been conducting psychological studies about all things related to sexual harassment and assault. One study indicates a psychological disconnect known as “affective forecasting error” helps explain this common mindset. It is defined as the disparity between how a person believes they would react in a stressful situation versus their actual response.
As humans, the tendency is to believe we would act more strongly in a high-pressure or high-stress situation than we actually would.
Understanding this disparity is crucial for employers
A greater sensibility to this phenomenon would help employers better respond to harassment complaints and avoid liability themselves. They would have greater empathy for victims and an understanding that just because they do not report the incident immediately does not mean that it didn’t happen, or that it was not traumatic.
A delay in reporting does not relieve the employer’s duty to investigate the incident, and it does not automatically undermine the credibility of the person making the complaint. Plus, from a liability standpoint, it is always better for employers to err on the side of investigating rather than hoping they can get away with doing nothing.
Keep in mind that what someone who is not a victim considers a “reasonable” response may or may not be a response the victim is psychologically capable of taking in his or her situation.
To learn more about this phenomenon and what to do if you are the victim of harassment in the workplace, work with an experienced Dallas whistleblower attorney at Kardell Law Group.