Sadly, the mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner has been accused of sexual harassment. This accusation has lead to great media publicity in the city of San Diego. Given this unfortunate controversy, it is helpful to define sexual harassment, the effects on victims and how to handle sexual harassment. Unfortunately, sexual harassment is extremely prevalent. It impacts approximately 40 to 60 percent of employed women, and similar proportions of female students in colleges and universities.
Research demonstrates that the majority of sexual harassment is unrelated to sincere sexual or social interest. Instead, it is offensive, frightening and insulting to women. Studies suggest that women are often coerced to resign from school or place of employment to avoid harassment. In addition, they may experiences serious psychological and health-related problems as a result. Research illustrates that less than 1 percent of accusations are false. In fact, women rarely file complaints even when it is warranted. Studies indicate that simply ignoring the sexual harassment is ineffective. Individuals engaging in the harassment generally will not stop on their volition. Ignoring such behavior may be inaccurately perceived by the harasser as consent, agreement or encouragement.
The legal definition of Sexual Harassment According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is: “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:
Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment;
Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or
Such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantial interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.”
There are various types of Sexual Harassment:
Gender Harassment: Generalized sexist statements and behavior that convey insulting or derogatory connotations about women. Examples include insulting remarks, obscene jokes or humor about sex or women in general.
Seductive Behavior: Unwanted, inappropriate and offensive sexual advances. Examples include repeated unwanted sexual invitations, insistent requests for dinner, dates, or persistent communication.
Sexual Bribery: Solicitation of sexual activity or other sex-linked behavior by promise of reward; the proposition may be implicit or explicit.
Sexual Coercion: Coercion of sexual activity or other sex-linked behavior by threat of punishment; examples include negative performance evaluations, withholding of promotions, threat of termination.
Sexual Imposition: Gross sexual imposition (such as coercive touching, feeling, grabbing) or sexual assault.
Research shows that gender harassment is most common, followed by seductive behavior. The defining characteristic of sexual harassment is that it is unwanted. Consequently, it is critical to clearly let an offender know that certain actions are unwelcome.
Effects of Sexual Harassment
Being sexually harassed can devastate your psychological health, physical well-being and career development. Women who have been harassed often change employers, career goals, job assignments, educational programs or academic majors.
Depression, anxiety, shock, denial
Guilt, blame, isolation, anger, fear, frustration, irritability
Insecurity, embarrassment, feelings of betrayal, confusion, powerlessness, shame, low self-esteem
Sleep Disturbances, nightmares
Phobias, panic reactions
Decreased job satisfaction
Unfavorable performance evaluations
Loss of job or promotion
Drop in academic or work performance due to stress
Withdrawal from work or school
Change in career goals
What Can You Do If You Are Harassed?
There is no one size fits all way to respond to harassment. Every situation is different and only you can evaluate the problem and decide on the best response.
Friends, affirmative action officers, human resource professionals and women’s groups can offer information, advice and support. The only thing you can be absolutely certain of is that ignoring the situation will not cause it to disappear or cease. Most importantly, DO NOT BLAME YOURSELF FOR THE HARASSMENT. It is not your fault. Place the blame where it belongs–on the harasser.
Many Women Have Found These Strategies Effective:
Say NO to the harasser! Be direct and assertive.
Write a letter to the harasser. Describe the incident and how it made you feel. State that you would like the harassment to stop. Send the letter by certified mail. Keep a copy.
Keep a record of what happened and when. Include dates, times, places, names of persons involved and witnesses, and who said what to whom.
Tell someone; do not keep it to yourself.
Finding out who is responsible for dealing with harassment on your organization and whether you can talk in confidence to that person. Almost all organizations have sexual harassment policies, procedures and individuals or counselors who administer them.
Find out what the procedure is at your workplace or school; it is the organization’s responsibility to provide you with advice, help and support, but such meetings at the workplace can provide an important record if legal action is ever advisable.
If you are experiencing psychological distress, you may want to consult a psychologist or other mental health professional who understands the problems caused by sexual harassment.
Source: Journal of the American Psychological Association
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