Sexual harassment allegations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo are illuminating the often-fraught choice that some women face in choosing to report harassing behavior or setbacks in career advancement, experts say.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been accused by three women of sexual harassment and, in one woman's case, an unwanted kiss amid a separate scandal over his handling of coronavirus cases in nursing homes.

Two of the women were former aides to the governor. The other alleged encounter happened at a wedding reception

But the alleged instances, experts say, show power dynamics play a role in workplace intimidation and the need for a cultural shift in the way society thinks about violence and harassment against women in all spheres, whether that be in the workplace, a wedding, or domestically.

What leads to harassment?

Harassment’s prevalence is due largely to the lack of checks on perpetrators within a workplace’s infrastructure, according to 2020 research by Lilia M. Cortina and Maira A. Areguin at the University of Michigan.

“People with propensities to sexually harass are less likely to do so when in certain kinds of environments,” they said. “It is organizational rather than individual characteristics that most powerfully predict whether sexual harassment happens in a particular setting.”

And that’s if a victim, or a group of victims, decides to come forward, which rarely works to fix a systemic workplace harassment problem, according to Cortina and Areguin’s report.

“(Sexual harassment reporting systems) frequently fail to end the harassment and, in many cases, make matters worse by triggering retaliation,” they said. “Fear often prevents people from formally reporting sexual harassment: fear of blame, disbelief, inaction, humiliation, ostracism, and damage to careers or reputations.”

Indeed, when victims come forward, their concerns are often minimized. When that happens, the mental, physical and emotional fallout of such harassment is also minimized.

Without recognizing the impact, experts say, culture cannot change.

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