8 Long-Term Effects of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a type of discrimination based on sex and happens to both men and women, though women are at a higher risk. Sexual harassment in the workplace is not a new problem as it has been around for quite some time. However, recent events in the news have brought more of a spotlight to the issue.

The most common form of sexual harassment is when a harasser creates a “hostile work environment” where the harassed individual begins to feel intimidated, uncomfortable, and becomes unable to perform his or her job as well. This leads to many negative effects which we will explore in more detail. Below you will find eight long-term effects of sexual harassment.

1. Depression

Victims of sexual harassment often experience feelings of self-doubt and begin to blame themselves about what happened. These feelings of self-blame can often turn into feelings of depression. If not treated, depression may become long-lasting and persist over time. For some people who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, feelings of depression lasted over a decade. Depression may affect the victim’s performance in subsequent jobs as well.

When an employee in the workplace is being sexually harassed, it may have negative effects on their colleagues as well. This usually results from these colleagues having to keep such a damaging secret or feeling powerless to stop what is going on around them.

2. Anxiety

Sexual harassment has many negative effects on mental health. In addition to depression, one of those negative effects is anxiety. The anxiety produced from sexual harassment manifests itself in many ways including a pit in the stomach during the commute to work, rumination over the sexual harassment incidents, and an inability to concentrate which can lead to a decrease in job-related performance. Feelings of anxiety may be so severe that they lead to depression.

3. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) includes re-experiencing the trauma repeatedly in one’s mind and avoiding people or things that remind the victim of the incident. There is a proven link between PTSD and victims of sexual harassment, especially if the harassment led to violence or assault. In the immediate aftermath of a sexual harassment incident, 90% of individuals are likely to exhibit symptoms of acute stress.

4. Sleep Problems

The effects of sexual harassment are not limited to mental health and can be felt at a physiological level as well. Often the person experiencing sexual harassment will complain of sleep problems. This may manifest itself as an inability to get a good night’s sleep (insomnia) or the desire to sleep more than usual (over-sleeping).

These problems are often a result of anxiety and stress over the situation. The victim may be replaying the events in their mind during the night and be unable to sleep, they may be experiencing nightmares, or they may want to escape the horrible feelings they are experiencing by sleeping more than usual. Sleep problems often lead to physical symptoms.

5. Headaches

Headaches are another common complaint of those experiencing sexual harassment. Often the mental effects of sexual harassment start to manifest themselves as physiological symptoms like headaches. They can also start as a result of greater stress, and therefore tension, in the body.

6. Muscle Pain

Another physiological symptom of sexual harassment is muscle pain, more specifically, neck pain. This results from a debilitating stress reaction. In a 2011 Canadian study, researchers found that women with neck pain were 1.6 times more likely to report having experienced some sort of sexual trauma.

7. Gastrointestinal Distress

It has also been found that victims of sexual harassment experience more gastrointestinal problems than others. This is again the body’s reaction to stress. Sometimes people believe that stress is in their head, but our brains are very connected to every part of our body. For example, neurotransmitters in the brain are also found in the stomach. That’s why when we get stressed, we also get physically sick.

8. Loss of Job or Promotion

The effects of sexual harassment are not limited to mental and physical symptoms. They often go behind this and start to affect a person’s effectiveness at work. The person experiencing sexual harassment may be so worried about experiencing another incident that they are unable to concentrate on their work tasks and as a result, their productivity starts to decrease.

Dealing with things such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD can also lead to decreased effectiveness at work. This then leads to things like job loss or the loss of a promotion. The long-term effects of sexual harassment can even carry over into a person’s job at a different company.

As this list demonstrates, there are many different effects of sexual harassment. Ranging from mental effects to physical effects and work-related issues, the consequences of sexual harassment are vast.

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