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What are the Effects of Sexual Harassment?

By Bethney Foster
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The effects of sexual harassment are often similar to those experienced by victims of other types of sexual assault. Sexual harassment is any type of unwanted sexual advance or sexual behavior by one person toward another. Victims of sexual harassment can suffer psychological, financial, and physical effects.

The intensity of the abuse and the length of time over which it occurred are often factors in what affects how the victim feels. The support the victim receives by superiors and co-workers as well as family and friends may play a role in how dire the effects of the abuse are. A victim who finds that those around her support her may not experience the devastating effects felt by a victim who suffers retaliation.

Many victims of sexual harassment find their work performance suffers. Moreover, the effects of sexual harassment may damage the victim’s career if the harassment took place in the workplace. Victims may miss more work to avoid the abuse or because of illness brought on by the stress of the abuse. There may be retaliation by the abuser or others in the workplace. The victim may also find herself the victim of office gossip.

In some instances, the victim will lose her job as a result of sexual harassment, bringing with it financial loss. The victim may also find that she has lost connections within her field. Those with whom she worked and those in her field may distance themselves from her.

The victim may suffer from psychological effects of sexual harassment. Anxiety attacks, insomnia, and loss of self-esteem are common. Even more seriously, some victims of sexual harassment may have post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or thoughts of suicide.

Physically, the effects of sexual harassment can be high blood pressure, headaches, and gastrointestinal disorders. The victim may develop sexual dysfunctions and have overall problems with intimacy. Eating disorders, including weight loss or weight gain, can also be effects of sexual harassment.

Studies indicate that nearly a third of women say they have been the victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. Of those women, more than half say they took no action to report the abuse. In most instances, the women reported that the harasser was either their supervisor or a higher-ranking employee.

Victims who are recovering from the effects of sexual harassment may find help with a support group, counselor, or therapist. Many victims of sexual harassment seek to isolate themselves from other people. Family members and friends can help the victim recover by helping her to avoid this tendency.

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Discussion Comments
By MrsPramm — On Nov 06, 2014

@pleonasm - Self esteem is only one facet of the harm that sexual harassment can do. I had a friend who was constantly sexually harassed and she was just terrified to walk outside by herself. I've had other friends who got unwanted advances from people they barely knew and who wouldn't take no for an answer and they were stressed to the point where they couldn't sleep.

The effects of sexual harassment can be quite severe and that's why it's illegal, or should be illegal in most places.

By pleonasm — On Nov 05, 2014

@Mor - I've never experienced sexual harassment at work, but I have definitely experienced forms of sexual harassment in day to day life and it always disgusts me more than anything else. I've had a man grab my buttocks as I was walking out of a hospital (from visiting someone). There is no world in which I would believe that was my fault. That was the fault of him entirely and aside from the fact that I was revolted by the action, I don't think it affected my self esteem.

By Mor — On Nov 05, 2014

People can be willing to brush sexual harassment at work off as being something that can't possibly be that traumatizing, because it's usually only words or small gestures, but when you consider how long the harassment can go on, I think in some ways it can even be worse than a direct assault.

I've lived in an environment where I constantly felt afraid and was made to feel like that was my own fault and it can completely sap your spirit and build up your stress levels, even without a sexual component. I can't even imagine how scarring it must be when that aspect is included.

And you just can't get away from it. If you have people dependent on your job, there's no way for you to quit, or even complain, without assurance you won't be fired.

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