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The Mental Effects of Sexual Harassment

    At least one-fourth of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace according to the National Women Law Center. Of these, about 70-90 percent don’t report that they have been harassed.

    While these numbers speak volumes and should get us worried, some people still think that sexual harassment is not a big deal—and should be handled by human resource departments, if it happens in the workplace, for instance. However, the issue runs deep and the effects can have serious mental impacts on the victims.

    The mental impact of sexual harassment, for instance, is supported by several studies, including:

     A 2011 study indicated that most women who have been sexually harassed will experience a major stress reaction—which encompasses anything from sleep disorders, anxiety to depression. In particular, if sexual harassment occurred early in someone’s life, depression is more likely to be long-term. What’s more, depending on the nature of the harassment, the victim could also experience a wide range of PTSD symptoms and flashbacks. Their future relationships are also likely to be negatively impacted.

    A survey by the Ball State University also indicated that sexual harassment puts victims at the risk of both physical illnesses and psychological damages. The survey analyzed the relationship between workplace sexual harassment and morbidity among 17,524 respondents, which were about half men and half women. Past studies had associated the experience of sexual harassment with depression, stress, anxiety, sleep problems, burnout, anger, low self-esteem, and concentration difficulties among victims.

    In this particular survey, the impact of sexual harassment on the mental health of the victims was equally profound. Respondents who had experienced sexual harassment in the past 1 year showed statistically higher odds of experiencing serious mental health issues, psychological distress symptoms (such as nervousness, hopelessness, sadness, restlessness, and worthlessness) and disrupted sleep patterns.

    Joan Cook, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at Yale University spoke with about 50 women—including doctors, lawyers, housekeepers, oceanographers, engineers, EMTs, financial analysts, and accountants—about their worst experiences with bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace.

    Most of the respondents in her qualitative interview research reported difficulty in sleeping, concentrating on the job, shame, anxiety, depression, and diminished interest in some of the activities that they once enjoyed. Even worse, some of them admitted that these experiences followed them to their subsequent jobs.

    The duration and frequency with which these traumatic events occurred also had a significant impact on their long term effects. For instance, the more degrading and frightening the events were and the more frequent they occurred, the greater were the chances of the victims sustaining serious mental health effects.

    Bill O’Donohue, a University of Nevada psychology professor and the Victims of Crime Treatment Center’s director also confirms that sexual harassment can have detrimental effects on a person’s life. In particular, he states that sexual harassment in the workplace can be a threat to the victim’s wellbeing considering that their livelihood is at stake.

    Not only does such harassment have all the negative consequences that come with any form of sexual assault but it also affects the ability of the victim to put food on the table and cuts out other perks that come with a job including a sense of accomplishment, a meaningful career, and network of friends.

    All these can take a psychological toll on the victim, potentially exacerbating symptoms of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and negative body image. According to Bill O’Donohue, victims can also resort to anger as a response to trauma. Women who experienced trauma are also likely to suffer from panic attacks and flashbacks as part of PTSD. Some may also develop substance abuse issues, have major depressive disorders or attempt suicide. 

    Sexual harassment is prevalent in our society and causes a lot of harm. Even worse, sexual harassment trauma can have a serious impact on the mental health of the victims. Therefore, it is everyone’s responsibility to eliminate this vice or at least address the trauma associated with it. 

    According to an article published by The Dominguez Firm, most states have clear laws regarding sexual harassment and they are constantly evolving. Even one incident is enough to sue an employer for sexual harassment.  So, nobody should put up with any form of sexual assault. Let experienced sexual harassment attorneys help you find justice and take back your power.