Sexual Harassment's Emotional Toll

According to researchers at the American Psychological Association (APA), nearly 50 percent of American working women will experience on-the-job sexual harassment at some point in their careers.

"I've assessed a number of these cases myself, and one frequent outcome is deep depression," says Dana Westmoreland, who frequently counsels working women in Charlotte, N.C. "We also see a lot of anxiety disorders and other stress-related symptoms. Many of these women have been emotionally injured, so our first step is to make a complete overall assessment and then refer them to appropriate treatment.

When does harmless banter escalate into harmful—and decidedly illegal—sexual harassment? According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), harassment includes any of the following when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment:

  • Unwelcome sexual advances

  • Requests for sexual favors

  • Suggestive remarks, pointed references to a person's sexuality or displaying pornographic materials on the job

  • Making sexual submission a condition of employment or promotion

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC says sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:

  • The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.

  • The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.

  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.

  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.

  • The harasser's conduct must be unwelcome.

Although every situation is different, the APA suggests that victims consider the following strategies:

  • Say NO! to the harasser, loudly and directly.

  • Write a letter to the harasser describing your negative reaction to his or her conduct. Send it by certified mail.

  • Carefully document all incidents of harassment, including dates, times, places, and names.

  • Find out who's responsible for preventing sexual harassment in your department or organization and blow the whistle on the harasser.

  • If you're experiencing anxiety, anger or depression because of harassment, schedule a session with a professional counselor.

For more information, go to the EEOC website.

Medical Reviewer: [Cranwell-Bruce, Lisa MS, RN, FNP-C, Godsey, Cynthia M.S., M.S.N., APRN, Lambert, J.G. M.D., Zuckerman, Marcia MD] Last Annual Review Date: 2011-02-26T00:00:00-07:00 Copyright: © Health Ink & Vitality Communications

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