After watching Laura Bates “Everyday Sexism” Ted Talk, I felt inspired to write about sexual harassment. As a trauma therapist, I work a lot with people who have experienced sexual violence but often people brush over sexual harassment as if it’s a lesser issue. It is as if there is a certain level of cultural acceptance around it and the message is “Don’t be so sensitive. It’s only a joke”. Laura Bates provides several examples of sexual harassment in order to bring to light everyday experiences women endure. She also provides examples of times women and men stood up to sexual harassment and challenged societal norms. She mentions one incident where a man was harassing a woman on the street and another man walked over to him and asked him why he was doing that and he didn’t have an answer. He had grown up in a world where that was just what men did and he had never questioned it. As we spoke about in an earlier blog, sexual harassment, like sexual assault is not just a women’s issue.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment includes any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment can include many different circumstances such as unwanted pressure for sexual favors, unwanted touching, unwanted sexual looks or gestures, unwanted sexual teasing or jokes, cat calls, whistling at someone on the street, sexual innuendos, sexual comments about someone’s clothing or physique, or sexually aggressive signals. I would also include sexual discrimination in this which consists of making decisions (employment or otherwise) based on someone’s gender. This may include paying women less for the same job or making assumptions about someone’s abilities based on their gender. Sometimes companies will create a culture where sexual harassment is acceptable and is fed by a culture of silence.
It’s 2019, Aren’t We Past This?
With everything in me I wish I could say yes. The evidence suggests otherwise however. As I am writing this blog, I just saw a news feed pop up on my phone entitled “High school girls in Maryland fight back after finding list ranking their looks”. Thankfully, when the girls came across the list, they decided “boys will be boys” is no longer and excuse and they organized a meeting where they sought to educate both boys and girls on the effects of sexual harassment. They shared about how being ranked based on their looks led them to question themselves and their worth. One girl said, “When I saw the list my initial reaction was to just feel kind of gross”. Unfortunately, this feeling of shame and self-doubt penetrates our culture on a daily basis. The punishment for the boy who created the list, one day in detention.
Effects of Sexual Harassment
Studies suggest that as many as 70 percent of women and 45 percent of men have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace. While sexual harassment can wreak havoc on a work culture, there are also effects on the victims of sexual harassment. I once had a patient who’s boss took a picture up her skirt. When she brought the issue to HR, they told her she should just stay away from him. This led her to feel constantly on guard and anxious at work to the point where she eventually had to leave as it was effecting her mental and physical well-being. Below are some ways sexual harassment can impact individuals.
Physiological Reactions may include headaches, sleep disturbances, increased blood pressure due to stress, and gastrointestinal issues due to anxiety.
Psychological Reactions may include depression, anxiety, shock, denial, anger, fear, frustration, insecurity, embarrassment, confusion, feeling powerless, shame, self-blame, guilt, low self-esteem, and isolation.
Career Related Effects may include decreased job satisfaction, absenteeism, drops in performance, loss of job or promotion, and feeling unsafe at work.
What Can I Do About It?
Sexual harassment feeds on a culture of silence. When people ignore the harassment and pretend it doesn’t exist, the culture of silence continues. Below are some ways you can stand up to sexual harassment…
- Name the Behavior. Again, unfortunately we live in a society where sexual harassment has been normalized. By naming the behavior for what it is, we can begin to create a new narrative around it.
- Be honest and direct.
- Hold people accountable. It is not helpful to make excuses for the person harassing others. Statements like “That’s just how he is” contributes to a culture where sexual harassment is allowed to continue.
- Resist the urge to normalize.
- Don’t pretend it didn’t happen. Bystander behavior allows the harassment to continue. When someone is confronted about their behavior, they may think twice before harassing someone next time.
- Listen to and Believe Victims.
- Engage in Self Reflection. Ask yourself if you are contributing to an unsafe environment or if you are allowing someone else to do so.
If you would like to know more about Shannon’s services, contact her today for a free consultation.
Bio: Shannon McHenry is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a specialty focus in childhood trauma, rape and battering, and PTSD. She is a trauma therapist in Los Angeles and works with clients in her offices in Los Feliz and Torrance. Combining clinical experience with a passion to support women in repairing their relationships with themselves and others, she has supported many to create a long-lasting recovery from destructive behaviors. Call Shannon today to book your first appointment.