Prepared by: Ahmed Alyousofi
The effects of sexual harassment vary from person to person, and are contingent on the severity, and duration, of the harassment. However, sexual harassment is a type of sexual assault, and victims of severe or chronic sexual harassment can suffer the same psychological effects as rape victims. Aggravating factors can exist, such as their becoming the target of retaliation, backlash, or victim blaming after their complaining, or filing a formal grievance.
Moreover, people who have experienced sexual harassment occupy a place in our society that is similar to where rape victims were placed in the past, and they can be abused further by the system that is supposed to help and protect them. Indeed, the treatment of the complainant during an investigation or litigation can be brutal, and add further damage to their life, health, and psyche. Depending on the situation, a sexual harassment victim can experience anything from mild annoyance to extreme psychological damage, while the impact on a victim's career and life may be minimal, or leave them in ruins.
Some of the effects a sexual harassment victim can experience:
* Decreased work or school performance as the victim must focus on dealing with the harassment and the surrounding dynamics and/or effects; psychological effects of harassment can also decrease work and school performance
* Increased absenteeism to avoid harassment, or because of illness from the stress
* Having to take more time off work, drop courses, or change academic plans; academic transcripts may be weakened because of decreased school performance
* Retaliation from the harasser, or colleagues/friends of the harasser, should the victim complain or file a grievance (retaliation can involve revenge along with more sexual harassment, and often involves stalking the complainant)
* Having one's personal life offered up for public scrutiny --the victim becomes the "accused," and their dress, lifestyle, and private life will often come under attack. (Note: this rarely occurs for the perpetrator.)
* Being objectified and humiliated by scrutiny and gossip
* Becoming publicly sexualized
* Defamation of character and reputation
* Loss of trust in environments similar to where the harassment occurred
* Loss of trust in the types of people that occupy similar positions as the harasser or their colleagues
* Extreme stress upon relationships with significant others, sometimes resulting in divorce; extreme stress on peer relationships, or relationships with colleagues
* Being ostracized from professional or academic circles
* Having to relocate to another city, another job, or another school
* Loss of job and income; loss of tuition because of having to leave school
* Loss of references/recommendations
* Loss of career
* Weakening of support network: colleagues, friends, and even family may distance themselves from the victim or abandon them altogether.
The following are some of the health effects, both psychological and physiological, that can occur to someone who has been sexually harassed:
* Anxiety and/or panic attacks
* Traumatic stress; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
* Sleeplessness and/or nightmares
* Shame and guilt; self-blame
* Difficulty concentrating
* Fatigue or loss of motivation
* Difficulties with time (forgetting appointments, trouble gaging time)
* Stomach problems; gastrointestinal disorders
* Eating disorders (weight loss or gain)
* Feeling betrayed and/or violated
* Feeling angry or violent towards the perpetrator
* Feeling powerless, helpless, or out of control
* Increased blood pressure
* Loss of confidence and self esteem
* Overall loss of trust in people; problems with intimacy
* Problems with sex (sexual dysfunction)
* Withdrawal and isolation
* Suicidal thoughts or attempts; suicide
Please note, the above symptoms may not be generated only from the harassment, but can be the cumulative result of the harassment, retaliation, backlash, and/or blaming a sexual harassment victim may endure. Environmental changes: The Women’s' Crisis Support and Shelter of Santa Cruz has created a list of the changes that might occur in a sexual harassment victim's environment after they have complained of the behaviour, or others have found out about it. While written for the workplace, you can generalize many of these patterns to sexual harassment in an educational setting. (Note: this was written for female victims, but a male victim may experience similar pressures; however, because of the "double-standard" in our society regarding sex and gender, a male will most likely have different concerns, and struggle with different emotions.)
Her social environment may be entirely transformed. If only some people know, she may constantly wonder who knows and what they are thinking. She may overhear conversations of her superiors about her case. She may become the subject of juicy gossip and wild
misinformation and speculation. The harasser may be conducting their own campaign of misinformation. She will be judged by all who know about it, whether positively or negatively. This is a huge burden to carry through your work or school environment.
Her support network may be torn. The environment in which it happened may be a big part of her life and her social sphere as well. It can be turned upside down in the wake of a complaint. If she does not have a strong network of friends outside of that sphere, she can become highly isolated. Those who she would ordinarily rely on for support may have mixed loyalties or may turn against her altogether. They also may not be free to support her for their own political reasons. If the proceedings are confidential, she can be isolated from potential supporters because she can't bring it up.
Because it's a subject which has meaning for a lot of people, even those who are not connected to the particular job or school may have mixed reactions to her dilemma. One advantage could be that she will find out who her real friends at work or school are. However, she may lose some friends whom she would still rather have kept. Also, she is more in need of friends now than usual.
There may be a series of intrigues which continually intrude upon her ability to do her work as usual. She is now no longer an ordinary student or employee, she is part of a major underground drama. She may be called away for meetings with people high up, she may get urgent confidential letters and phone calls.
Fellow women co-workers may be her best friends or worst enemies. They have the potential to be sources of support and validation. If they went through it too, they could become allies in the process. However, fellow women may also be the least sympathetic. This could be due to internalized sexism, or they may even feel threatened by her, either because she had the guts to speak up for herself, or because they are jealous for her sexual attention.
She becomes publicly sexualized, a walking icon of misplaced amorous attentions. Is she attractive enough to get in trouble over?
Additional effects in the aftermath of speaking up. Suppressed anger: she is cast as the aggressor; she may feel she must come across as non-threatening and as non-angry as possible. She is pressured to show caring for the accused, and compassion for his plight. However, through her various struggles, she will become stronger and will know herself better. Opportunities to really take a stand on what one believes in are rare, and even if undesirable, they can have positive effects as well. She is on the front line of a battle for women's rights. Another significant effect can arise from the outcome. In many cases, she may have paid a tremendous price for nothing.
The Effects of Sexual Harassment on The Workplace or School Environment
The impact on the workplace: Sexual harassment has been linked to decreased job satisfaction, and can lead to a loss of staff and expertise because of resignations to avoid
harassment, or because of resignations or firings of alleged harassers. Every year, hundreds of millions of dollars are lost in productivity because of effects such as employee absenteeism to avoid harassment, and increased team conflict in environments where harassment is occurring. The increased team conflict also leads to problems with team cohesion and less success in meeting financial goals. The knowledge that harassment is permitted can undermine ethical standards, and discipline in the organization. Prekel writes, “…staff lose respect for, and trust in, their seniors who indulge in, or turn a blind eye to, sexual harassment.” If the problem is ignored, a company’s image can suffer amongst clients, employees, potential customers, and the general public. Health care costs can increase because of the health consequences of harassment, not to mention the legal costs if a victim files a lawsuit after complaints are ignored or mishandled.
The impact in school: In educational environments where sexual harassment is occurring, the impact can be similar to that of the workplace: increased absenteeism by students to avoid harassment, increased student turnover as students leave to escape harassment; conflict amongst students when harassment is present; decreased productivity and performance, and/or decreased participation in school activities, as students must focus on, and strategize about, ways to deal with the harassment, or because of the psychological effects of harassment. The same loss of trust in the ethical standards of a company can also occur at school, leading students, staff, parents, and the general public to lose respect for, and trust in the institution if nothing is done to improve the situation.