Effects of sexual workplace harassment for a victim in theory

Of all forms of workplace harassment, sexual workplace harassment is the one that is the most concealed. This makes it sometimes difficult to measure the exact effect of sexual workplace harassment. Employers and victims prefer not to speak about the subject because of the discomfort and the taboo that rests on sexual workplace harassment. Besides that, victims feel humiliated and they have to deal with emotions like fear, distrust, anger and isolation. But to speak up about the sexual harassment that has occurred, victims often have to overcome strong feelings of low self-esteem. These feelings are projected by the offender just to keep the victim silent and tame.

The psychological reactions of the victim can express themselves through:

– Depression, shock and denial

– Anger, frustration and irritability

– Shame and uncertainty

– Guilt and self-blaming

– Headaches

– Indifference

It’s understandable that victims of sexual workplace harassment need help to rebuild confidence in themselves and to learn how to accept that the feeling of powerlessness is a normal reaction on an abnormal situation like sexual workplace harassment. 

These psychological reactions also have their influence on the workplace because this emotional damage will have its reflection on the workplace. Victims will search for a way on how to survive the sexual workplace harassment.

We can measure the influence of this through:

– Decrease of job-satisfaction

– Loss of job or promotion

– Increase of absenteeism

– Change of career goals

– Work disability

– Loss of income

When you read these words you understand that the effect of sexual workplace harassment is enormous, but it covers nearly how it really feels. How feelings of shame and guilt tears apart victims of sexual harassment. Words cannot express how traumatic this experience is, which often continues for months or even years.

Effect of sexual workplace harassment in practice

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that sexual workplace harassment is a traumatic experience and all who are involved have to realize this. When a case of sexual workplace harassment ends in court, because it’s the only way for the victim to escape from the harasser, they most likely end up with a second trauma. Cases of sexual workplace harassment are difficult because burden of proof often seems to be the problem, strangely enough. Victims often are being portrayed as mentally unstable, liars or worse.

In my book ‘Spitting on Hans’ tosti’ I describe the whole process of sexual workplace harassment and how an apparently stray kiss leads to degrading harassment. Not only the process of the harassment, but also all the sexual assaults Hans has committed.

And how colleagues reacted on Hans’ assaults towards me, how that affected me.

This form of workplace harassment can disconnect you from who you are, disconnection needed to survive the sexual assaults. You feel like dying inside every time you receive that text message in which he tells you he will wait for you. Or when he pushes his body against you without any shame, only contempt for the person the harasser says you are, just to ensure your silence and to gain more power. The harasser has taken your self-esteem, your safe haven and there is no place you can hide, only by disconnecting from yourself. This isolation is the dangerous part of the process of sexual workplace harassment, robbed from your identity and hopeful that someone, a colleague, counselor or HR manager will speak up or help you to speak up. That someone knows which steps are needed to be taken to end the harassment and to punish the harasser, or the employer who tolerated the hostile work environment that made this sexual harassment possible.

Denial about what happened to you is a normal reaction on an abnormal situation. That you didn’t move when he forced his body against you is a normal reaction on an abnormal situation. Remember that most sexual harassers don’t grope and prey upon you from the start, most harassers take their time, step-by-step and through emotional blackmail they change you into their victim, their supply for power and an ego-boost.

The reason why I exposed myself in this way, with my book, is because of all the effects mentioned. The psychological reaction doesn’t create the awareness we need to understand what sexual workplace harassment does. Awareness involves the ability to feel what sexual workplace harassment contains. In order to make a change, we need to feel a little how it feels to be groped and preyed upon by your boss.

IMG_2084Karin Bosman is Director of About Workplace Harassment (AWH), from the Netherlands international speaker, experience expert and politically active on this topic for more than two years. Speaks from her experiences and studies to encourage people to speak and stand-up against sexual workplace harassment by acting on it. She tweets at @AboutHarassment


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