The most obvious answer to this question would be that the student has been actively intimidated by the faculty member, most probably with the threat of receiving a low grade or evaluation. This sort of scenario does occur: either sleep with me or fail the class. If the student is already worried about the difficulty of the class and her performance in it, this incentive could be strong.
But a far more prevalent situation dissuading a student from reporting assault or harassment is likely: the student feels she owes so much to the professor for teaching her, opening doors for her, and supporting her that, if and when she’s taken advantage of, she feels torn between gratitude to the professor and pain over having been betrayed. She may think to herself that she can move past this incident and avoid confronting the difficulty it presents. After all, she may reason, she’s about to graduate and won’t be around for long; in a matter of months, she’ll forget about it completely. He hasn’t ever made her feel beholden to him for offering his help in behalf of her academic career, so she can’t accuse him of being merely self-interested. Besides, she may need a recommendation from this person in the future; better not complicate the relationship and jeopardize her chances of acceptance to a program based on a missing or bad reference letter.
In such a scenario, the professor very likely understands that the student feels obligated to him and is exploiting her feelings of indebtedness, loyalty, and thankfulness. It’s part and parcel of his modus operandi. In many cases, moreover, the professor may well have been grooming the student unawares. Each and every one of those seemingly discrete, individual acts of kindness and support have contributed to pursuing a larger plan, the fulfillment of which constitutes a waiting game. It’s the equivalent of a hunt, and that makes the professor a predator.
What’s the goal? First and foremost, power, domination. This person’s urge to control may be enhanced by feelings of inadequacy in his private life or his job. Academe is intensely competitive, and the professoriate is riddled with subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) stabs and jabs among colleagues jockeying for what power they can grasp in an environment that offers little. Perhaps, in fact, the general lack of distinction a professor senses about himself motivates him—the teacher who, to an undergraduate, enjoys such stature may, to the same teacher’s colleagues, seem unimportant, a nobody. Another variation on the power-hungry abuser is the narcissistic professor who lacks neither confidence, admiration, nor accomplishment, but who simply can’t get enough of being worshipped and of sensing his influence over someone weaker. His impressive credentials, he believes, entitle him.
As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog (“Sexual Harassment: a Spectrum”), the professor who lies in waiting to make the kill, all along conveying concern for the student’s well-being, is the most reprehensible of all: male or female, that professor uses the unsuspecting student’s trust against the student. That’s inhumane and contrary to the ideals of the academy.