Sexual harassment happens in many industries. Whenever you hear stories about it, or if you’ve experienced it yourself, you may find yourself wondering how this type of behavior can go on. Don’t the harassers realize what they’re doing and the ramifications it’s going to have?

They often don’t, studies have found. Instead, they tend to blame the victims.

Deflecting the blame

It’s a classic deflection technique and a way to make it appear as though the behavior is acceptable. It may be used as an excuse for that behavior or a way of showing that the harasser never really thought they were harassing anyone in the first place. They can then at least argue that the intent was never there.

They may also try to argue that it does not even count as harassment because the victim encouraged it or approved of it before filing the report.

For instance, maybe you have a supervisor who started flirting with you at work. You tried to ignore it at first, and then it just got worse. Soon they were making sexual comments and asking you for sexual favors in the workplace. You told them you did not want that type of relationship and reported them.

Rather than denying that the actions took place, they may claim that you started flirting with them first and that they were just responding to you. They may say that you appeared receptive to it; they often try to search for indicators that you enjoyed the behavior. Maybe you laughed at a sexual joke once because it was awkward and you didn’t want to make a scene. They may claim you approved of those jokes as a result. Maybe you never even laughed at all; that may not stop them from claiming you did.

A complicated problem

It is well known that many victims fail to report what has happened to them. One reason is that they think the blame could actually fall on them if they file that report. They worry about things like job loss and blacklisting.

The researchers specifically stated that one implication of their study is that those who avoid making reports may “have reason to be concerned.” Victim blaming does happen. It’s one of the main ways that harassers attempt to shift the focus off of themselves and onto someone else.

Your legal options

That said, you have legal protections as an employee in the United States. You should never worry about filing a report for a valid complaint, as retaliation is illegal. Make sure you know what rights you have and what steps you can take.