Anonymity or Disclosure: A Question for Those Harassed

Anonymity or Disclosure: A Question for Those Harassed

Karen Gross 12/04/2018 4

It is an immensely difficult issue: if one is harassed, should one disclose one's name? Many people think that remaining anonymous is a cop-out (odd phrase, right) but if one has been harassed, one would realize how hard it is to disclose one's identity.

Apart from all the personal attention disclosure enables (whether one is on a campus or in a workplace or a community), there is also the question of how one's family and friends will feel with this unasked for attention. People may view you differently post-disclosure. And there are issues, real issues sadly, as to whether the person disclosing harassment (or rape or violence or abuse) is at risk of losing employment and even garnering new employment or losing friends or family. For many, there is protection in anonymity. And, unless you are in a survivor's shoes, let's not be so quick to condemn those who do not use their own names in the public.

Notwithstanding the "benefits" and protections of non-disclosure, there are very real and important reasons to disclose one's identity if one has been harassed. For starters, it concretizes the harassment and makes it real for people who may distrust the truth of the allegations. And disclosure can lead to actions against the wrongdoer. Next, it makes denial less likely in that others (strangers) cannot say: "If this were true, the victims would come forward and share their stories."

But, here is another benefit: for the person disclosing that they were harassed (raped or abused or violated), it is a way of owning what happened. It is a way that allows someone to have a voice with power and to speak up and out. It enables authenticity and increases the capacity to understand one's own behavior and one's past and current feelings. It takes courage to disclose one's name. It takes courage to handle the barrage of negative treatment --- which is all the more frequent with social media and its ubiquity.

It is in this context that I read the attached essay published by Sports Illustrated by Melissa Weishaupt. See: While I don't agree with everything she wrote (I see value in counseling for instance), her personal essay is well worth reading. It is worth sharing with students on a campus and employees in a workplace. It is worth HR personnel reading and reflecting on her observations. And, it is a message to the media to think carefully about how they treat victims (a word Weishaupt does not endorse). We should thank those who disclose their names, especially if we have not disclosed ours.

Not that long ago, with the flurry of sexual abuse allegations in the news, I wrote a piece in which I disclosed sexual harassment I experienced when I was a student. It is not the only time that I was abused but it is one abuse I disclosed. I have remained anonymous with respect to most of the other abuses or harassing behavior -- and I wonder now (although many were years ago) whether there is value in now disclosing them too. Some of the harassers are deceased. Some would have no recollection of what I recall.

But, there is a value in owning the past instead of carrying its burden with you in silence. Perhaps Melissa Wieshaupt's piece will do more than make the Mavericks step up and own their negative culture -- which they need to do. Perhaps her piece will enable women, me included, and men who are abused to speak up and out, even if the abuse (harassment or rape or assault) occurred long long ago or last year or yesterday. Her essay could have a far reaching impact. So, please read it and reflect. I am doing that right now.

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  • Zach Davies

    The #MeToo movement has put new momentum behind efforts to have companies, disclose details about their workforce diversity and sexual harassment.

  • Shane McArthur

    Very interesting !! Thanks for sharing!

  • Grant Charvey

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, insightful and very thought provoking. Thank you Karen.

  • Anna Burford

    Brillant read.

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Karen Gross

Higher Education Expert

Karen is an educator and an author. Prior to becoming a college president, she was a tenured law professor for two plus decades. Her academic areas of expertise include trauma, toxic stress, consumer finance, overindebtedness and asset building in low income communities. She currently serves as Senior Counsel at Finn Partners Company. From 2011 to 2013, She served (part and full time) as Senior Policy Advisor to the US Department of Education in Washington, DC. She was the Department's representative on the interagency task force charged with redesigning the transition assistance program for returning service members and their families. From 2006 to 2014, she was President of Southern Vermont College, a small, private, affordable, four-year college located in Bennington, VT. In Spring 2016, she was a visiting faculty member at Bennington College in VT. She also teaches part-time st Molly Stark Elementary School, also in Vt. She is also an Affiliate of the Penn Center for MSIs. She is the author of adult and children’s books, the most recent of which are titled Breakaway Learners (adult) and  Lucy’s Dragon Quest. Karen holds a bachelor degree in English and Spanish from Smith College and Juris Doctor degree (JD) in Law from Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law.


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