For every new Hollywood scandal that surfaces, there's someone new understandably asking why the victims of Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., and other public figures didn’t come forward until now.
Asking “Why didn’t they say something sooner?” misunderstands the psychological effect, shame, and fear most victims feel after being harassed or assaulted. Most victims keep quiet because they feel they have no choice, lest they want to ruin their careers, reputations, and/or relationships.
It doesn't take much thought to realize the double bind women are placed in when sexually harassed or abused in the workplace. It’s distressing and affects their sense of self, but victims often can't just walk away or speak out.
Many victims depend on their abusers for their job, education, or housing.
Economically vulnerable women are one of the demographics most likely to experience sexual violence. They often feel trapped if they are reliant on their abusers and fear what will happen when they lose the only support system they have.
They often need the job and the money until a better opportunity comes along. Even more insidious, they may need their abuser for a reference to get hired somewhere else.
Many victims don’t want to face backlash, victim blaming, or accusations of lying.
Being targeted by an authority figure or a public figure make victims feel even more vulnerable — not only to the advances themselves, but also to the consequences of reporting the perpetrator.
They're afraid of retaliation, losing their job, not being believed. And if they do report it (even confidentially), the perpetrator may know it was them and retaliate by running a smear campaign. Ultimately, proving the behavior often comes down to "he said, she said" because there usually are no eye witnesses.
Most often, victims are only motivated to speak up when they know they can handle the negative repercussions that await them. When they no longer depend on their perpetrator to make ends meet. When they have strength in numbers with fellow victims. When they know they will actually be believed.
Asking "Why didn’t they say something sooner?” shifts the blame onto victims when it solely lies on the perpetrator.
As Louis C.K. recently confessed, “When you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly. . . . I also took advantage of the fact that I was widely admired in my and their community, which disabled them from sharing their story and brought hardship to them when they tried because people who look up to me didn't want to hear it."
If a perpetrator of sexual misconduct like Louis C.K. can understand how his victims felt silenced and too powerless to "come forward sooner", the rest of our society should be able to grasp this concept too.