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False sexual harassment claims - how common are they?

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

Recently, a common theme of stories has emerged around the topic of false reporting of harassment. It's not uncommon to get unsolicited stories from individuals once they find out you provide harassment prevention training - almost everyone has something to say. From stories of personal experiences to anger over what the news is reporting, once the words "I provide training on sexual harassment" leave your lips, you are instantly bombarded with feedback, opinions, or narratives.

But over the last few months, there have been numerous organic conversations that have circled around the topic of false harassment claims. Could this be an area of concern? Should we be proactively ensuring that false claims are not reported?

When reflecting on the stories that were shared it's hard not to wonder why they keep coming up.

Now it would be easy at this point to say, "it must be because there is, in fact, a lot of false reporting going on in the world today."

As many of us know, when it comes to harassment and inappropriate behavior in the workplace and truly understanding it, there is no easy answer.

But now that we're on the subject of what is and isn't easy. Could it be that stories of false reporting are easier to talk about? Therefore, they are the stories that we hear more frequently.

Listening to a story about how someone filed a false claim, then the company decided to do XY and Z in response, all while the person whom the claim was filed against says that absolutely nothing happened or that the person was making it all up, is a story that is easy to listen to. And because it is easy to listen to, it becomes easy to share. It's a comfortable conversation, topic, and story.

In stark contrast, stories of sexual harassment and assault, are not easy to listen to or to share.

Stories about how a manager forces his subordinates into closets and warns them that if they report it, they will lose their jobs.

Hearing the truly outrageous sexualized comments customers say to high school students who are trying to work and keep their minimum wage jobs.

Narratives of feeling scared and alone as individuals face ongoing harassment and inappropriate behavior and even after reporting it are told: "that's just the way our industry is."

These are the stories that we don't often hear. These are the narratives that are too uncomfortable, unsettling, and are uncommon topics in our daily conversations. They often leave us feeling - emotionally taxed, sad, disappointed, and have a lasting cringe-y effect on us.

It's more comfortable to share stories about false claims because they are easier to listen to and to share. Does this mean that false reporting doesn't happen? Absolutely not. But our perception of how often false sexual harassment claims are reported is likely skewed.

For every story you hear about someone falsely accusing someone of harassment, I would bet that there are at least 10 individuals who could share their stories of when they've experienced sexual harassment.

I challenge you to try and get comfortable with the uncomfortable and spark a conversation on this topic. Be brave and create a fleeting awkward moment in the conversation to talk about sexual harassment and assault. Share a story (or two) about harassment when someone brings up false reporting. We know that people can file false claims, but we also know that sexual harassment is still a pervasive issue in our workplaces, communities, and organizations.

Creating change starts with a conversation. And you have the power to create that change.

Keep speaking up and defining your line.

Your nerdy HR friend,

Nikki Larchar, co-founder Define the Line.

*All of the examples of sexual harassment in this article are based on real stories.

Define the Line is on a mission to empower individuals to speak up for themselves and each other to help eliminate harassment. Through interactive activities, a comic book training tool, and meaningful conversations, our team is creating more courageous people within organizations.

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