When There Is No One to Tell

We are taught, as children, to tell people in authority when someone mistreats us. We are taught not to fight back. Fighting back is often considered a sin. As adults, we are told to look inside ourselves and consider changing our actions or thoughts when someone harms us. But what do you do when the lessons you were taught since childhood do not result in relief from abuse? What do you do when you report abuse to people in authority and no substantial response results-the authorities fail to provide real assistance? What do you do when there is no one to tell?

Many people have found themselves in a position where they have exhausted all avenues for relief from abusive behavior and feel they have no other options but to either accept the behavior and suffer in silence or personally protect themselves against their abuser. Accepting abusive behavior usually leads to increased abuse by the perpetrator and the start of abuse by others who realize no one is going to assist the victim. Taking personal actions against the abuser usually leads to negative repercussions for the abuse victim. Other options, such as filing formal complaints or taking legal actions against abusers, have not proven to be helpful in most cases. For example, the vast majority of past Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) cases have failed to assist victims. The EEOC and MSPB usually rule in favor of organizations and leaders and often leave the victim feeling re-victimized.

Numerous victims, after failing to find the necessary help, choose to suffer in silence. Silent suffering leads to increased stress and can result in serious medical conditions. In today’s workplace, stress ranks as the second most significant problem and one of the major sources of ill health and unhappiness. Suffering in silence has often led to premature death.

A postal worker in Birmingham was repeatedly harassed at work by his co-workers. After complaining to his superiors, nothing of substance was done to his harassers. The postal worker, after attempting to internalize his abuse, eventually decided he would rather not continue to live under the harassing conditions. The postal worker was later found hanged in his home. The postal worker did not choose to accept the abusive behaviour and did not choose to take personal actions against his abusers. However, because he believed he had no one else to tell, the worker made a different choice that he found to be more acceptable-a choice that ended his suffering.

An office worker in Miami suffered ongoing unresolved issues with her boss that eventually led her to believe she would be fired. She tearfully expressed her belief to her husband and a friend one night before taking a gun to work and firing it at her boss. The office worker was reloading when several co-workers grabbed her from behind and disarmed her before she was able to shoot her boss. Believing there was no one who could help resolve her issues with her boss, the office worker chose to take personal actions against her boss.

What do you do when there is no one to tell? Do you follow the established complaint processes that might take years to reach a decision that might be helpful-could mean years of continued victimization while you wait? Do you take personal steps to correct the issues and prepare for any negative repercussions? Each person must decide for himself/herself. Think carefully about the possible results of your decision and be sure you are ready to accept all possible outcomes of the choice you make.

People, especially those in leadership positions, should avoid behaving in ways that can be viewed as abusive. Leaders should also reconsider decisions to ignore abusive and illegal behavior perpetrated by their employees-especially against teammates. Ignoring abusive behaviors can lead to repercussions that create additional victims. Leaders should recognize that stress and depression, according to a national survey conducted by the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA), rank as the second and third most significant problems in the workplace. In the United States, murder is the number two cause of workplace deaths. Leaders should monitor workplace activities to ensure employees are not being subjected to conditions that can lead to mental breakdowns, health deterioration, workplace violence, or death. Leaders should be open and honest with their employees and take immediate actions to address abusive and illegal behaviors. Leaders need to make sure their employees feel comfortable reporting behaviors that c