Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of oppression, a means of control, a misuse of power, and an illegal act. It is a form of sex discrimination and sexual assault. Harassment is an occupational hazard, producing victims under acute emotional distress, who experience many of the reactions common to victims of sexual assault and other violent crimes. Sexual harassment discounts the working skills of women. It emphasizes such sex role stereotyping as, "A woman's place is in the home," “Men control and women want to be taken care of,” and, “Women are 'sex objects.’"

Sexual harassment occurs when individuals are made to feel they must give up, go along with, or give in to:

  • Lewd comments
  • Jokes
  • Innuendos
  • Propositions
  • Snide laughter
  • Remarks about their bodies
  • Pornography
  • Exhibitionism
  • “Accidental” touches or rubs
  • Pinching
  • Fondling
  • Grabbing
  • Rape

If women find these behaviors to be unwanted and unwelcome, and these behaviors are repeated and negatively affect their work, they have been and are victims of sexual harassment who need to take action. Sexual harassment will not go away; it will get worse. One person's pleasure should never be the cause of another's discomfort.

The emotional impact on the victim of sexual harassment falls into three phases; these are very similar to rape trauma syndrome experienced by most sexual assault victims:

Phase 1

During this acute impact stage, the victim feels confused, shocked, powerless, and overwhelmed. She is not likely to report the incident because she fears consequences from the perpetrator, she needs her job, or she likes her employment and its work responsibilities.

Phase 2

This is the outward adjustment phase where the victim is struggling to maintain control and may well give the appearance that she is having no problems at work. However, she may be feeling depressed, experiencing loss of appetite and nightmares, or having difficulty concentrating on her work.

Phase 3

Victim reactions tend to fall into three groups during this time:

  • One group continues with the outward appearance of control, but may engage in random or scattered behaviors to maintain that control.
  • The second group remains depressed and in shock; often, these victims simply do not return to work.
  • The third group becomes angry and makes concrete choices to resolve the issue.

Women and men who suffer sexual harassment experience losses. They lose their self-esteem, sense of humor, feelings of safety, sense of control, and ability to function on the job. Unfortunately, these losses can become the weapons used against them to justify reprimands, poor evaluations, demotions, lack of pay raises or promotions, or firing. The vicious circle will continue unless the victim takes action.

STSM provides services and legal advocacy for survivors of sexual harassment.  Please call our twenty-four hour hotline if you need help.