How sexual harassment impacts victims


How sexual harassment impacts victims

Anyone who has ever been a victim of sexual harassment will tell you how devastating and embarrassing it can be for them.  The feelings of shame, anxiety, guilt, depression, and even self-blame can cascade into one giant scenario of a hostile work environment leaving one to feel intimidated or uncomfortable to the point of being unable to perform his or her job well. 

What is sexual harassment?

It is important to recognize that sexual harassment is a form of sexual abuse.  It can take the form of the following:

·      Any sexual advance that threatens a person’s job or well-being

·      An expression of power or authority that coerces a person into sexual relations

·      Unwanted sexual attention such as verbal abuse, unwelcome remarks, taunting about a person’s clothing, body or sexual activities, displaying of pornographic pictures, leering, or making obscene gestures.


People who are harassing often pretend they are joking or teasing and will tell the victim it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously.  But if it makes the other person feel uncomfortable, degraded, or humiliated, it is sexual harassment. 


The impact of sexual haressment

Victims of sexual harassment are each unique with their own personal story to tell.  Each one will deal with the trauma of sexual harassment differently depending on the scope of what happened.  Often the first feeling after the realization of what occurred is shock and more often than not, followed by denial. 

The victim may play the blame game with themselves by thinking, “Maybe it’s what I wore that incited the harassment,” or “They only wanted to be friendly and it just got out of hand.”  It is normal to have these thoughts but unfortunately and eventually, they will feel victimized which can lead to low self-esteem.  Victims of crimes such as sexual harassment will also experience feelings of betrayal, anger, powerlessness, and hopelessness.

Other impacts a victim of sexual harassment may experience can include:

·      Difficulty concentrating

·      Forgetfulness

·      Headaches

·      Stomach issues

·      Elevated blood pressure

·      Depression

·      Anxiety

·      Thoughts of suicide

How to heal from sexual harassment

No matter where the sexual harassment incident happened – on the job, with a friend or acquaintance, or at a social gathering, acknowledge what happened and recognize it was wrong.  If it happened at work, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that it is against the law to make unwelcome sexual advances, request sexual favors, touch someone inappropriately, make sexual remarks, engage in sexual bullying, and share sexually-offensive jokes.  If it is creating a hostile work environment due to something sexual in nature, it is considered sexual harassment.

Keep in mind we tend to think of sexual harassment mainly as male-to-female but it can also involve female-to-male, female-to-female, or male-to-male sexual harassment with each one being against the law. 

Here are steps for every victim on how to heal after sexual harassment:

·      Acknowledge and accept what happened. 

Allow yourself to express your emotions – do not bottle up the hurt and anger inside.  Find ways to express those feelings through prayer, meditation, yoga, or other stress-reducing activities.

·      Tell someone what happened

Find someone you trust and feel safe with to talk to about the incident. This person needs to be someone who will respect your feelings without judgement.  If a person does not have someone else in their life to talk to, they should consider joining a support group of other victims of sexual harassment.

·      Quit blaming yourself

It is easy to think of everything you did wrong but in the end, it is not your fault.  Remember, feelings of guilt or shame and blaming yourself will slow down the healing process.  The one who is guilty is the perpetrator.  They made the choice to sexually harass you and now it is your choice in how you are going to deal with what happened to you.  Take control of your response using it to empower you and where you go from here.

·      Bring the experience to a closure

There are always incidents that happen in our life that need to be put in the past.  Sexual harassment is a trauma you need to let go and detach from it defining who you are.  This may mean changing jobs and finding other interests of what you really want to do with your life.  Focus on remaining positive of the essence of who you are and how you want to be defined and move on.

·      Help others who have gone through the same thing

One of the best ways to heal and move on is to use the experience to help others.  There are many ways to do this – it could be writing a blog of the experience and offering suggestions to other victims, or it could be volunteering to work with non-profit groups that address sexual harassment.   Use this opportunity to take a negative experience and turn it into something positive. 

·      Seek counseling

If you are finding it hard to move on and are feeling depressed, anxious, or sad, seek out a counselor who specializes in dealing with sexual harassment.  This can be time and money well spent in saving you time in having to deal with the role of victimhood and instead gaining back your purpose and sense of enjoyment you deserve for the rest of your life.