Types of Sexual Harassment

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Types of Sexual Harassment

Bullying and Harassment Chapter 1

 

Types of Sexual Harassment

 

  HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT QUID PRO QUO
DEFINITION When unwelcome conduct based on the target’s sex unreasonably interferes with work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or learning environment. This for that. Demanded exchange in which the target is to grant sexual favors in exchange for:

• Help in retaining a job or obtaining a promotion.

• Help in receiving a good grade or recommendation.

THE HARASSER CAN BE A supervisor, academic administrator, faculty member, co-worker, student, or a non-employee, such as a vendor, consultant, customer, or client. Supervisor, faculty member, a person with power to influence the target’s employment or educational situation.
THE TARGET CAN BE Anyone whose work or learning environment is affected by the harassment, not only the targeted person. The direct target of the harassment.
UNWELCOME Target did not ask for it and regards it as offensive. Target did not ask for it and regards it as offensive. (Submission does not necessarily mean that the sexual advance is welcome.)
FREQUENCY Depends on severity. Once is enough.
REPORTED INCIDENTS Vast majority of cases fall into this category. The most well defined and least common form of sexual harassment.
EXAMPLES Repeated:
•Gratuitous derogatory comments about women or men in the classroom unrelated to course topic/discussion
•Gratuitous and unwelcome sexual attention (comments, questions about an individual’s sexuality or sex life)
• Gratuitous comments about one’s own sex life and desires, directed at members of one gender
• Undesired physical contact of a sexual nature, such as brushing up against someone intentionally
A suggestion that sexual involvement would improve the employee’s opportunity for promotion or the student’s chance for a good grade or a threat that failure to engage in such activity will result in an adverse action.

 

Our educational institutions are, ideally, places where faculty and students are able to work and learn in a setting that is free from intimidation and offensive, hostile behavior. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Harassment, specifically, sexual harassment, bullying, and cyber-intimidation, effectively preclude this type of environment. As a result, all members of the academic community have a constant and meaningful interest in eliminating all forms of harassment.

Schools have a de facto obligation to provide all persons with the promise of being able to develop professionally, intellectually, personally, and socially in egalitarian and humane surroundings.

Sadly, harassment in schools is more prevalent than we would like to imagine. A nationally representative survey of 1,965 7th–12th-grade students conducted in 2011 (AAUW, 2011) found that 48% of students had experienced some form of sexual harassment, with 87% saying it had a negative effect on them. Only 27% reported that they had talked with parents and family about it, and only 23% talked about it with friends. About 1/2 of the students reported that they did nothing afterward in response to the harassment.

The internet has provided even more opportunity for sexual harassment to occur. The same study found that 30% of the students had been harassed through text, email, and social media. Many of the students harassed online were also harassed in person. Girls were more likely than boys to be harassed (56% to 40%). Girls’ experiences tend to be more physical and intrusive than boys’ experiences (Hand & Sanchez, 2000). Project PAVE (2008) in Denver, CO, reported that 5 million elementary and junior high students are affected by bullying in the U.S.

Students witness sexual harassment too, and although this might not affect a student directly, it has the potential to reduce a person’s sense of safety and to create an environment in which such behavior is normalized. Fifty-six percent of students in this survey reported having witnessed sexual harassment more than once during the school year.

Gender harassment has recently been recognized as a part of the sexual harassment problem in schools. A “Dear Colleague” letter from the Obama administration (U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, 2010) made it clear to schools that any harassment motivated by a student’s gender is considered unlawful under Title IX. The directive includes harassment of students who are perceived by their peers as not conforming to stereotypical feminine or masculine behavior or attire. Harassment may involve behaviors directed toward a student of the same or a different sex.

The risk that all public and private school environments face is high in terms of diminished productivity, lost time, and profound legal ramifications and financial liability for both the harasser and the administration. The increasing prevalence of all forms of harassment has generated increased awareness and involvement of courts, legislatures, society, school districts, students, parents, and staff. This increased awareness has lowered tolerance for harassment and inappropriate behavior in schools.

It is essential that institutions and workplaces confront and address harassment, as it constitutes a violation of an individual’s legal rights. Harassment also threatens the physical and emotional well-being and performance of staff and interferes with the learning experience of students.

In addition, the right of school administrators to punish online bullying and sexual harassment by students was upheld in Kowalski v. Berkeley County Schools (2011). Thus, schools have responsibility for school-based cyber-harassment, regardless of location.

This class will discuss definitions and the personal, social, and legal ramifications associated with sexual harassment, bullying, and cyber-intimidation. The following exercises will address what we know about these troubling areas. The final chapter will explore preventative strategies as well as methods by which school staff can address these issues when they occur.

A clear understanding of what constitutes harassment and the harmful effects of harassment on people and institutions is essential to providing a safe and inclusive school environment for all.

Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination and is illegal. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, age, national origin, and sex.

Title VII includes barring employers from discriminating on the basis of sex with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex discrimination in school settings. Both Title VII and IX define sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination.

As we are looking at harassment in school settings, we should recognize that all members of an academic community could be a victim or perpetrator of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can occur between administrators and faculty, parents and students, staff member and staff member, faculty and student, and even between student and student. All involved in an educational setting are protected by Title VII and Title IX.

Sexual harassment is often misunderstood. Some may think that certain behaviors are simply harmless teasing, and others may think that any physical touch can be considered sexual harassment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has provided a very specific definition that has been refined through the last 30 to 35 years in the courts to help us understand what sexual harassment is.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) classifies sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. According to the EEOC, sexual harassment encompasses “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” In the workplace, sexual harassment can be said to have occurred when: (1) submission to such conduct is either explicitly or implicitly made a term or condition of an individual’s employment; (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions; or (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.

Let’s take a look at the EEOC definition, paying special attention to some key words. These words will be highlighted and discussed in more detail. The EEOC definition of sexual harassment is as follows:

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature in which submission to or rejection of such conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s work or school performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or school environment.

 

Unwelcome: While this may seem like an obvious part of the definition, court decisions have helped clarify what this means in legal terms. If an individual—faculty, staff member, or student—tells someone directly that his or her attention is unwelcome, we can be clear about this definition.

However, it is probable that some will be unable or unlikely to say “I don’t like this behavior” directly. For example, an administrative assistant may be very uncomfortable with the sexual innuendoes that are woven throughout the principal’s discussion of weekend plans, but be concerned about his/her job security if s/he indicates that this behavior is unwelcome. Likewise, a student may not be able to easily let a teacher know that off-color jokes are not welcome, or that an invitation to go out for pizza seems inappropriate.

Recognizing power in relationships is important in understanding sexual harassment. While those who possess power in social interactions may not recognize that they hold power in a relationship, it is clear that age, gender, physical attributes, and/or organizational role status provide some with more power than others. In general, those who are older, male, larger, and who hold supervisory status have more power in personal interactions.

Sexual harassment is not about sex. At the core of the problem is the abuse of power or authority, though the perpetrator might try to convince the victim and him/herself that the behavior is about sexual/romantic interest or something else.

 

The Supreme Court has acknowledged this power differential in identifying the Reasonable Woman’s Standard. Because women historically have been more vulnerable to sex-related violence than have men, the courts believe that the proper perspective for evaluating a claim of sexual harassment is that of the reasonable woman versus a fictitious reasonable person. In other words, courts recognize that a reasonable woman may respond differently to a situation than would a reasonable person.

This definition was developed in the case of Ellison vs. Brady. In this situation, a female employee was sent notes, followed, and repeatedly called by a male co-worker. She became frightened and unable to work effectively on the job. Eventually she left and sued the company she had worked for. The company responded that a “reasonable person” would not have been frightened and could have continued to perform well on the job. The Supreme Court, however, found that a “reasonable woman” would have been impacted by the events and found that there was sexual harassment in this case.

We must also be aware that there can be others who are inadvertently experiencing unwelcome behaviors of a sexual nature. For example, a faculty member could overhear sexual jokes that are being shared by other faculty members in the staff room. The jokes are welcomed by the active participants, but not by the bystander. This could be an example of sexual harassment of the non-participating faculty.

Sexual Nature: Sexual harassment claims, obviously, are related to sex. Behaviors can be verbal, physical, or visual.

Some examples of conduct that could be considered sexual harassment include: sexual advances; inappropriate touching; sexual gestures, sexual or “dirty” jokes, pressure for sexual favors; graffiti of a sexual nature; displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings, pictures, and written materials; touching oneself sexually or talking about one’s sexual activity in front of others; spreading rumors about or rating others as to sexual activity or performance.

Of course, not all physical conduct would be considered sexual in nature. Some examples of a non-sexual touch are a high school athletic coach hugging a student who made a goal, a kindergarten teacher’s consoling hug for a child with a skinned knee, or one student’s demonstration of a sports move requiring contact with another student.

Same-sex harassment also needs to be recognized in the definition of sexual nature. In 1998, the Supreme Court found that same-sex harassment is protected under Title VII and IX, regardless of whether the harasser intended the harassment to be sexual.

In Oracle vs. Sundowner Offshore Services, a heterosexual man claimed that he has suffered sexual harassment and assault by other men in the workplace. The company had argued that the behavior was “horseplay” among men.

“Sexual desire, whether heterosexual or homosexual, was not a necessary element of such a case…. We have never held that workplace harassment, even harassment between men and women, is automatically discrimination because of sex merely because the words used have sexual content or connotations…. The prohibition of harassment on the basis of sex requires neither asexuality nor androgyny in the workplace; it forbids only behavior so objectively offensive as to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment.”

As Judge Scalia says, for behavior to meet the test for constituting harassment, the behavior must ultimately have an impact on the person’s performance in a work or school setting.

The last two highlighted parts of the definition–affects…performance and intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment–address the impact of unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature on individuals in a school or work setting. The definition as such defines two types of sexual harassment: Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Environment. The handout contains a chart which describes each of these.

Quid Pro Quo harassment essentially means “getting something for something.” Typically, this kind of harassment arises when a staff member is required to choose between acquiescing to sexual advances or risk losing a specific benefit of employment. Most often, quid pro quo harassment takes place in a supervisor-subordinate relationship.

As Paula N. Rubin explains in her 1995 book Civil Rights and Criminal Justice: Primer on Sexual Harassment, “A claim of quid pro quo harassment must meet several criteria: a) The harassment was based on sex; b) The claimant was subjected to unwelcome sexual advances; and c) A tangible economic benefit of the job was conditional on the claimant’s submission to the unwelcome sexual advances.”

Quid pro quo harassment has the effect of causing an employee, co-worker, parent or student to believe that ongoing employment or promotion, “positive” working relationships and/or cooperation from staff or supervisor(s), inclusion in activities and events, or the determination of educational status is contingent upon compliance with the expectation of participating in unwelcome sexual conduct.

For example, when an administrator threatens to discipline or terminate a teacher unless the teacher agrees to date the administrator, it is quid pro quo harassment.

This is the explicit expectation of sexual favors in exchange for some type of specific and threatened action or non-action, depending upon circumstance. With quid pro quo harassment, educational institutions are vulnerable to staff claims of sexual harassment by both administrators and co-workers.

“Acquiescence to requests for sexual favors–or even voluntary participation in sexual activity–does not necessarily mean that the favors or activity were welcomed. [Schools] may investigate and take action where there is unwelcome conduct even if a complaint has not been filed” (Rubin, 1995).

Hostile environment is another form of harassment in which conduct or behaviors are sufficiently acute, chronic, or enmeshed within the organizational culture that they a) affect the ability of teachers to perform their duties, or b) create an unsafe, demeaning, or abusive educational environment, thereby interfering with the student’s ability to learn.

Workplace display of sexually explicit materials, conversations or jokes about sexual content of various media (e.g. television programs), and unrestricted access to inappropriate and highly sexualized material on websites are just a few examples of what may constitute hostile work environment harassment.

There are particular and important distinctions between quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment harassment. Hostile Environment sexual harassment does not necessitate a change in financial status or benefits. Hostile work environment is not directed toward one person, whereas quid pro quo tends to be exclusive to supervisors or teachers (those who have power in the relationship). It is not confined to sexual advances, but can include antagonistic or abusive actions based upon the individual’s sex.

Hostile work environment harassment needs to be sufficient to harm a person’s ability to perform his or her duties. In addition, this type of harassment generally consists of a progression of occurrences. The degree as well as the frequency of occurrences is taken into account, however. The more damaging or harmful the behavior, the less often it needs to occur to constitute harassment.

Although potentially harder to prove, the definition of hostile work environment harassment is much broader and more subjective than quid pro quo, and therefore increases the possibility for risk and/or liability of a much larger group.

We have reviewed the legal definition of sexual harassment, but it is also useful to consider definitions that have been developed by individual organizations and schools. It is important for organizations to take the initiative and create their own policies and definitions for these behaviors.

The University of Maryland at College Park’s definition of sexual harassment is as follows and can provide other organizations with a model for creating their own. Individual organizations can use the definition to help illuminate the organization’s ethics and values.

1.) Sexual harassment is offensive sexual behavior by persons in positions of authority towards those who can be benefited or injured in an official capacity. Therefore, it is primarily an issue of power, not sex.
2.) Sexual harassment is a breach of a trusting relationship that should be a sex-neutral and relaxed situation. It is unprofessional conduct and undermines the integrity of the employment relationship.
3.) Sexual harassment is coercive behavior, whether implied or actual. It is unwanted attention and intimacy in a non-reciprocal relationship.
4.) Sexual harassment is an illegal form of sex discrimination…harassment of a student is a violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
5.) Sexual harassment is a violation of professional ethics.

 

The complainant, a male, asserted a female co-worker continually focused her conversation around sex. He complained she talked about what she wanted to do to him sexually. One day she kissed him on the cheek. At that time he told her never to do that again; however, her aggressive behavior continued. At one point she got him in a room and closed the door, turned off the lights, and tried to grope him. When he complained to his supervisor, he was told she was just being playful. As a result of his experiences, he became more withdrawn and less reliable.

What inappropriate behaviors occurred?
What, if any, type(s) of harassment occurred?
What impact did this have on the individual and the workplace?
How should the supervisor address this incident?

 

Sexual harassment is unwanted sexual attention that causes discomfort or difficulties in work, at school, or in social settings. Both men and women are targets of sexual harassment, and it can also occur between persons of the same gender. Harassment can be overt or covert, and may or may not be intentional. Claims of harassment are partially contingent upon the specific context in which the incident(s) took place. The following screens state some myths and facts about sexual harassment.

Myth: Some people ask to be sexually harassed. They do this with how they dress, or how they act. They
send “signals.” Reality: Being subjected to sexual harassment is a painful, difficult, and frequently traumatic experience.
Defenses such as “she wore provocative clothes” and “he enjoyed it” are neither acceptable nor
accurate.

Myth: If a person really wanted to discourage, or stop, sexual harassment, they could. Reality: Often, the harasser is in a position to punish the recipient by withholding a promotion, giving a
bad evaluation, or giving a low grade. In this society, men are known to rationalize their actions by saying
that a woman’s “no” is really a “yes.”

Myth: Most charges of sexual harassment are false.
Reality: People have nothing to gain from making false accusations and filing false charges. It is very
difficult to file sexual harassment charges, and “the system” can be very hostile to accusers.
Confronting the issue can be both physically and financially draining. Usually, victims are traumatized
further by the entire process.

 

Myth: Only women are sexually harassed– this does not happen to men; and all sexual harassment
perpetrators are male.

Reality: While women continue to be the majority of sexual harassment recipients, men do get
harassed–by other men and by women. Currently, approximately 11% of EEOC claims involve men filing
grievances against female supervisors. Also, increasing numbers of women are being sexually
harassed by other women.

 

Myth: The seriousness of sexual harassment is exaggerated; most “harassment” is really minor, and involves harmless flirtation. Reality: Sexual harassment can be devastating. Studies indicate that most harassment has nothing to do with flirtation, or sincere sexual or social interest on the part of the perpetrators. And it is offensive, often frightening and insulting, to the victims. Research shows that victims must often leave school or jobs to avoid harassment. Many experience serious psychological and health-related problems. They may even be forced to relocate to other cities.

 

Myth: We live in modern times, and sexual harassment is becoming less of a problem.
Reality: Sexual harassment affects 40 to 60 percent of working women, with similar statistics for
female students in colleges and universities. 10-20% of men have experienced sexual harassment in
the workplace. Approximately 15,000 sexual harassment cases are brought to the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (EEOC) each year.

Myth: Sexual harassment is inevitable when people are working together.

Reality: While interactions between people may be inevitable, uninvited sexual overtures are not.

Myth: A harasser has to have sexual intentions towards their target for the behavior to count as sexual
harassment.

Reality: Sexual harassment is a form of abuse, most commonly an abuse of power. Any unwanted
sexual attention constitutes sexual harassment. The harasser’s rationale does not change this fact.

Myth: Sexual harassment policies and legislation encourage a fear of sex, and demonize behavior
that is really normal between people.
Reality: Sexual harassing behavior may be common, but it is not “normal.” Sexual harassment is not about sex; at the core of the problem is abuse, particularly the abuse of power and authority. One would
never say that racist acts are “normal,” yet they are common, and are as harmful as sexual harassment.
The issue is one of treating people with respect and dignity. That this does not always occur may be
common, and may be human nature, but it is not “normal.”

The scenarios on the following screens are included in the Princeton University publication “Sexual Harassment: What You Should Know.”

• An undergraduate phones and sends email messages to someone she has a crush on, even though this person has clearly indicated having no interest in her.

• A supervisor regularly makes sexually suggestive remarks in front of his staff. Several staff people have asked him to stop, but the behavior continues.

  • A student dated her instructor at the beginning of the semester. She now believes her final grade for the course is not an accurate reflection of her work, but is an act of retaliation for ending the relationship.

    • From time to time, a group of students hang out in front of the dining hall and rate female students (from 1 to 10) as they leave the building. Some women avoid that dining hall because of this behavior.

  • Two members of an eating club persistently ask a prospective member to talk about favorite sexual fantasies. When the prospective member refuses and walks away, one member yells, “You won’t get in this club if you don’t know how to take a joke.”

    • An employee sends unsolicited pornographic material and obscene messages to another employee via email.

As evidenced previously, harassment takes many forms, is subjective, and is influenced by the perception of the individuals who believe themselves to be experiencing harassment. The determination of sexual harassment has more to do with the impact of the behavior on an individual than with the intent of the behavior.

Remembering the highlighted words in the EEOC definition can help us identify sexual harassment. A primary question to ask is whether the behavior was unwanted or unwelcome. How do we know if it is unwanted? We can ask: Does it cause discomfort? Does it impact behavior, performance, and the psychological well being of an individual?

We also need to ask: Is it sexual, containing implicit or explicit sexual overtones, and is it related to the gender of another? It is important to include same-sex sexual harassment in asking this question, as there has been an increase in this type of harassment.

This type of harassment is typically perpetrated by heterosexuals upon an individual thought to be, or openly declaring himself or herself to be, homosexual. For example, in Cheney, Washington, in 1999, parents of two boys filed suit against the school resulting from damages incurred as the result of harassment of their sons.

Students believed one of the boys to be homosexual. Repeated incidents of verbal (including threats, name-calling, intimidation, etc.), and occasional physical abuse of both boys had gone largely unchecked. Reports to teachers and school administrators had been generally ignored, an unfortunately common non-response, which often comes up during trials. The harassment was allowed to continue and escalated in the process. The parents temporarily pulled both boys from school due to concerns for their safety and actively pursued sexual harassment litigation.

 

Sexual harassment can take many different forms. The following screens display various examples of unacceptable and harassing verbal behaviors as listed in the University of Maryland College Park’s “Sexual Harassment Education Resource Manual”: continuous idle chatter of a sexual nature and graphic sexual descriptions; sexual slurs, sexual innuendoes, and other comments about a person’s clothing, body, and/or sexual activities; offensive and persistent risqué jokes or “jesting” and “kidding” about sex or gender-specific traits; sexual teasing; suggestive or insulting sounds such as whistling, wolf-calls, or kissing sounds.

Sexually provocative compliments about a person’s clothes or the way their clothes fit; comments of a sexual nature about weight, body shape, size, or figure; comments or questions about the sensuality of a person, or his/her spouse or significant other; pseudo-medical advice such as “You might be feeling bad because you didn’t get enough” or, “A little Tender Loving Care (TLC ) will cure your ailments”; telephone calls of a sexual nature, by an employee or student, to an employee’s or student’s residence–it could be sexual harassment whether or not the calls pertain to business or academic matters.

Staged whispers or mimicking of a sexual nature about the way the person walks, talks, sits, etc.; implied or overt threats if sexual attention is not given, such as a blatant threat of giving a poor efficiency report, work evaluation, or grade if sexual favors are not forthcoming; distribution of written or graphic materials that are derogatory or of a sexual nature; repeated unsoli Another basic question that needs to be asked in determining sexual harassment is whether there is a real (supervisor to staff) or perceived (between staff or between students) power imbalance.

cited propositions for dates and/or sexual intercourse.

Because of the increasing litigation of cases of sexual harassment resulting from workplace romances, it is exceedingly important that employees use extreme caution in pursuing relationships with other staff persons. Issues of power are often at play in these situations.

All of the lawsuits and legal claims consist of the following components (Villiume, 1997, p. 40):

• The victim claims that their employee/partner exerted power over the victim in the workplace and in the relationship.
• The victim was seduced sexually, coerced, and/or sexually assaulted (acquaintance rape) by the employee/partner.
• The victim claims a conflict of interest between the workplace relationship and the romantic relationship, which creates a hostile work environment.
• The victim claims workplace retaliation by the employee/partner and/or the employer.
• Other employees claim their futures and jobs have been affected by favoritism.

Not only are romantic relationships problematic by themselves, but these types of relationships may also create an environment in which sexual harassment is more likely to occur. Romantic relationships in the workplace create conflicts of interest, ethical dilemmas, and nepotism.

Furthermore, they may potentially add to or help to establish what has been referred to as “sexual pollution” and lead to charges of hostile work or educational environment. Simply put, these are behaviors that are considered by the recipient to be offensive or disturbing, but do not themselves necessarily constitute sexual harassment.

Some examples of this are the use of “pet” names such as “dear” or “sweetie,” referring to others as “babe” or “hottie,” and categorizing groups based on sex as “pigs” or “gold-diggers.”

Persistent use of this terminology can create an environment which is simultaneously more conducive to enabling harassment, increasingly at risk as a hostile work environment, as well as negatively impacting the psychological well being (and thereby performance) of students, faculty, and staff.

We should be concerned about sexual harassment not only because it is illegal and potentially puts our organizations at risk, but also because it impacts our organizations and individuals within our organizations. Sexual harassment at work can have very serious consequences both for the harassed individual and for others who experience it secondhand.

The consequences to the individual employee can be many and serious. In some situations, the victim risks losing her or his job or the chance for a promotion if she or he refuses to give in to the sexual demands of someone in authority. In other situations, the unwelcome sexual conduct of co-workers makes the working conditions hostile and unpleasant, sometimes leading the employee to quit.

Sometimes, the employee is so traumatized by the harassment that serious emotional and physical consequences result—and very often, the person becomes unable to perform her or his job properly. It is estimated that 90 to 95% of sexually harassed women suffer from some form of stress reaction. In addition, victims of sexual harassment lose $4.4 million dollars in wages and 973,000 hours in unpaid leave each year in the United States (Equal Rights Advocates, 2008).

The consequences to working women as a group are no less serious. Sexual harassment has a cumulative, demoralizing effect that discourages women from asserting themselves within the workplace.

It can reinforce stereotypes of women employees as sex objects. The effect on the morale of all employees can be serious. Both men and women in a workplace can find their work disrupted by sexual harassment even if they are not directly involved. Sexual harassment can have a demoralizing effect on everyone within range of it, and it often negatively impacts organizational productivity overall.

The effects of sexual harassment, of course, vary from person to person, and are contingent on the severity and duration of the harassment. However, victims of severe or chronic sexual harassment can suffer the same psychological effects as rape victims. This impact can be aggravated if a victim becomes the target of retaliation or backlash after complaining about the harassment.

Sadker and Zittleman (2005) argue that people who have experienced sexual harassment occupy a place in our society that is similar to that of rape victims in the past, and that they can be abused further by the system that is supposed to help and protect them. The treatment of the victim during an investigation or litigation can be brutal, and add further damage to the victim’s life, health, and psyche.

Depending on the situation, a sexual harassment victim can experience anything from mild annoyance to extreme psychological damage, while the impact on a victim’s career and life may be minimal or end her or his career.

This exercise contains some of the effects a sexual harassment victim can experience: Decreased work or school performance as the victim must focus on dealing with the harassment and the surrounding dynamics and/or effects; psychological effects of harassment can also decrease work and school performance. Increased absenteeism to avoid harassment, or because of illness from the stress. Having to drop courses or change academic plans; academic transcripts may be weakened because of decreased school performance.

Retaliation from the harasser, or colleagues/friends of the harasser, should the victim complain or file a grievance (retaliation can involve revenge along with more sexual harassment, and can involve stalking the victim). Having one’s personal life offered up for public scrutiny–the victim becomes the “accused,” and her or his dress, lifestyle, and private life can come under attack.

Defamation of character and reputation. Loss of trust in environments similar to those in which the harassment occurred. Loss of trust in the types of people who occupy positions similar to those of the harasser or their colleagues. Extreme stress upon relationships with significant others, sometimes resulting in divorce; extreme stress on peer relationships, or relationships with colleagues.

Being ostracized from professional or academic circles. Having to relocate to another city, another job, or another school. Loss of job and income; loss of tuition because of having to leave school.

Loss of references/recommendations. Loss of career. Weakening of support network: colleagues, friends, and even family may distance themselves from the victim or abandon the victim altogether.

Some of the health effects, psychological and physiological, that can be experienced by someone who has been sexually harassed include: Depression, anxiety and/or panic attacks, traumatic stress, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sleeplessness and/or nightmares, shame and guilt, self-blame, difficulty concentrating, headaches.

Fatigue or loss of motivation, difficulties with time (forgetting appointments, trouble gauging time), stomach problems, gastrointestinal disorders, eating disorders (weight loss or gain), feeling betrayed and/or violated, feeling angry or violent toward the perpetrator, feeling powerless, helpless, or out of control.

Increased blood pressure, loss of confidence and self-esteem, overall loss of trust in people; problems with intimacy, problems with sex (sexual dysfunction), withdrawal and isolation, suicidal thoughts or attempts, suicide.

It’s clear that sexual harassment can have a huge impact on individuals and groups of individuals, as well as on organizations as a whole. Chapter three of this course will describe how an individual and an organization can prevent and remediate situations that may fall under the category of sexual harassment. The next chapter will address bullying and cyber-intimidation.

The complainant is the only female in the group. The alleged offender is another staff person. Her co-worker constantly harassed the complainant verbally and physically. He called her “honey,” “sweetie,” and “baby” repeatedly and tried to hug her and rub up against her, and attempted to touch her breast. The complainant worked this issue personally through the chain of command up to the vice-president, with no relief. An internal investigation confirmed evidence of sexual harassment. Four months later, the complainant asked to reinstate the complaint, as the harassment didn’t stop. Administration denied the request.

What inappropriate behaviors resulted in the complainant’s alleging discrimination?
What specific actions could the complainant have taken to confront the harasser?
What impact did and could this have on the individual and the organization?
What could have been done to resolve this case earlier?

 

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