Sexual Harassment Defined, Effect on Victims

Sexual harassment is bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors. Harassment can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment can includes a range of behavior from mild transgressions (like jokes or innuendos) to sexual abuse or sexual assault, but laws against sexual harassment typically don’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or minor isolated incidents. In the workplace, harassment may be considered illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment, or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted, or when the victim decides to quit the job). Sexual harassment may occur in a variety of circumstances. Often, but not always, the harasser is in a position of power or authority over the victim (due to differences in age, level of employment, or years with the company). For many businesses and other organizations, preventing sexual harassment—and addressing any incidents of it— has become a major priority within their ranks.

Effects of sexual harassment can vary depending on the individual victim and the severity and duration of the harassment. Psychologists and social workers report that severe or chronic sexual harassment can have the same psychological effects as rape or sexual assault. Victims who do not submit to harassment may also experience other forms of harassment including retaliation in the form of isolation or bullying. Common psychological effects of sexual harassment and retaliation that could affect your academic, professional, financial or social life include:

=>>> Decreased work or school performance as a result of stress conditions, including increased absenteeism in fear of repeated harassment;
=>>> Fear of being fired or refused a promotion or job opportunity; loss of job or career, and loss of income;
=>>> Having one’s personal life offered up for public scrutiny—the victim becomes the “accused,” and his or her person, appearance, lifestyle, and private life can often come under attack;
=>>> Becoming publicly sexualized (i.e. groups of people “evaluate” the victim to establish if he or she is “worth” the sexual attention or the risk to the harasser’s career);
=>>> 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 his or her colleagues; difficulties or stress with peer relationships, or relationships with colleagues;
=>>> Extreme stress on relationships with significant others, including personal sexual life, sometimes resulting in divorce;
=>>> Weakening of support network, or being ostracized from professional or academic circles (friends, colleagues, or family may distance themselves from the victim, or shun him or her altogether);
=>>> Having to relocate to another city, another job, or another school.

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