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Psychological, Mental Health, And Emotional Side Effects of Harassment

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Psychological Effects of Harassment:-

Sexual Harassment is globally perceived to be an offensive act aimed at violating the fundamental human right of women and also violating their dignity. This negative trend has a very adverse effect when it occurs within an organizational setting. This is because apart from the physical and psychological trauma it exposes the victims to, their productivity are greatly affected.[1]

Sexual harassment in the workplace is nothing new, but the issue is seeing a tidal wave of recognition and attention as celebrities, co-workers and others are accused of sexual misconduct. Through their stories, we’ve learned that sexual harassment has serious after effects on its victims, and can cause not only mental health issues but physical effects as well.

Dr. Colleen Cullen, a licensed clinical psychologist, notes that for victims of sexual harassment, the most common diagnoses are depression, anxiety, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).[2]

Unwanted sexual advances undermine women’s sense of authenticity. But the mental health consequences for women can also be dire. Not only can they experience high stress and often depression, but their idea of selfhood can also be undermined. Women’s sense of authenticity is often damaged as they try to cope with unwanted sexual advances. They must change their behavior to try to minimize such advances.

Women face a dilemma that few men ever have to confront. While being urged to be authentic, to be true to the person they really are, to be open and honest, women also confront the need to disassemble, hide, and pretend. Unfortunately, too often the norms in the workplace have been that powerful men are allowed to be predatory and get away with bad behavior.

If women protest, they are grilled about their own actions. What were you wearing? What were you drinking? Why did you wait to come forward? If women try to just “grin and bear it,” they not only face negative consequences, but they also lose out on the mental health benefits of being authentic.[3]

The media and entertainment industries have been the most visible targets of the movement against sexual harassment. But this problem also exists in other industries.

“Over 50% of the 869 founders who took the survey have been or know someone who’s been sexually harassed in the workplace. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, the results to this question were extremely gendered — 78% of female founders said they’ve been sexually harassed or know someone who’s been sexually harassed, compared to 48% of male founders.

They also split on public perception of the issue. 70% of female founders said sexual harassment in the industry is still underreported vs. 35% of male founders. And men were 4 times more likely than women to say the media’s overblown the issue (22% vs. 5%).”

Women trying to find the money for startups are especially vulnerable, because men hold the purse strings, and without their money, nothing happens.

Such women told CNN horror stories. One woman looking for funds from a German investor said she got an email from the man saying how attractive he thought she was. He added, “I will not leave Berlin until I have sex with you. Deal?” Another woman in the U.S. was meeting with a potential investor and remembers, “I felt my leg being grabbed under the table and I thought, ‘Holy Moley, this is real.’”

The voices in the many MeToo hashtags underscore the heavy price women pay for compromising their authenticity in order to keep their jobs, build their careers, and pay the bills.

Joan Cook, a psychologist and associate professor at Yale University, says that survivors are often scared or angry, “but keep their mouths shut, in fear of negative consequences such as not being believed.’ However, “Keeping quiet doesn’t make the degradation go away. For many years and decades, survivors live in silence and disgrace, thinking they were the only ones. That there was something terribly unique about them that caused this to occur, that they somehow brought it on themselves; they stew in a spiral of self-loathing.” Nor does the sense of being inauthentic easily disappear.

Many victims tell similar stories of having to forego their authenticity as they put on a smile and deal with unwanted sexual advances. And powerful men can often just pay off women who complain, reaching agreements that gag their female victims.[4]

Kathryn Minshew, the founder of the career website The Muse, told The New Yorker about her encounter with an investor when she tried to raise money for the site.

“We went to sit, and the next thing I knew he was so close to me.” She wound up wedged between the arm of a sofa and the man as he leaned into her. She left, rattled and knowing her behavior had not represented her authentic self. “It’s funny, because I think if you had asked me, ‘What would you do in that situation?’ I would have said that I would have been so much more badass and assertive,” she said. “But then it happened…”

The question remains: Will the rash of media stories that have led to the firing or resignation of powerful men be just a flash in the pan—especially in the Tech World?

One problem is that few women hold the top jobs in companies. Melinda Gates, the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, says that “the asymmetry of power is ripe for abuse.”

But perhaps the chorus of voices from the #MeToo movement is having an effect. The recent Uber sexual harassment scandal that led the CEO to resign caused financial upheaval for the firm. Patrick Quinlan, CEO of the analytics company Convercent told that he has seen a change in the way tech companies are facing the issue. Up until the recent past, “companies wanted to have the ostrich view of ethics, which is, ‘If I don’t hear it and see it, it’s not happening,’” he says. “A big change we have seen is that companies realize you’re much better off identifying the problem and working to solve it. That evolution is happening fast.”

This is an encouraging first step, but will circumstances change so that women no longer have to pay an outsized price in terms of their mental health and their sense of authenticity? Will the #MeToo hashtags become a thing of the past?

The answer, at present, is still unknown.[5]

Work Ethics and Harassment:-

Workplace harassment is belittling or threatening behavior directed at an individual worker or a group of workers.

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Recently, matters of workplace harassmenthave gained interest among practitioners and researchers as it is becoming one of the most sensitive areas of effective workplace management because a significant source of work stress is associated with aggressive behaviors at the workplace. In Asian countries, workplace harassment is one of the poorly attended issues by managers in organizations. However, it attracted lots of attention from researchers and governments since the 1980s. Under occupational health and safety laws around the world, workplace harassment and workplace bullying are identified as being core psychosocial hazards. Overbearing supervision, constant criticism, and blocking promotions are all considered workplace harassment.[6]

Sexual harassment constitutes acts such as unwelcome sexual advances which affects an individual’s employment. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that in the financial year 2008, the agency received sexual harassment charges totaling to 13,867. Plaintiffs recovered up to $47.4 million of monetary claims. The ethical implications of sexual harassment are concerned with questions of what is acceptable and unacceptable within the workplace from the perspective of both women and men.

The acts of one perpetrator of sexual harassment can create sexually hostile environment. This means that both female and male employees will be wary of losing their jobs unless they give in to sexual advances by employers or managers. Employees who perpetrate sexual harassment against others also put indirect pressure on others to either leave the job, to report their acts or to tolerate these acts. Adverse sexual harassment such as discrimination and sexual favoritism can demoralize otherwise hardworking employees.[7]

Although interest in business ethics has rapidly increased, little attention has been drawn to the relationship between ethics and sexual harassment. While most companies have addressed the problem of sexual harassment at the organizational level with corporate codes of ethics or sexual harassment policies, no research has examined the ethical ideology of individual employees.[8]

Mental Health Effects:-

Sexual assault can have a variety of short and long-term effects on a victim’s mental health. Many survivors report flashbacks of their assault, and feelings of shame, isolation, shock, confusion, and guilt. People who were victims of rape or sexual assault are at an increased risk for developing depression, PTSD, Substance Use Disorders, Eating Disorders, Anxiety.

Having a previous history of being a victim and negative reactions from family, friends, and professionals worsen the impact of sexual violence on mental health. Because sexual trauma can have such a serious impact on mental health, it’s important that services and supports consider and address the trauma that many individuals have experienced. If you have concerns about your mental health, take a mental health screen.[9]

For women in midlife, exposure to sexual harassment and sexual assault is widespread and associated with higher blood pressure (BP, harassment), poorer mental health (assault), and poorer sleep (both), according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Rebecca C. Thurston, PhD, a board member of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), and associates investigated the relationship between the history of sexual harassment and sexual assault, and BP, depressed mood, anxiety, and quality of sleep among midlife women.

A total of 304 nonsmoking women aged 40 to 60 years (mean age, 54 years) with no history of cardiovascular disease (CVD) underwent physical analysis including BP, height, and weight measurement, as well as medical history assessment. A psychosocial questionnaire was included to record workplace sexual harassment, sexual assault, depression, anxiety, and sleep quality. Sexual harassment was identified as experiencing physical or verbal sexual harassment in the workplace, and sexual assault was identified as unwanted sexual contact.

Of the cohort, 19% of women (n=58) reported having experienced sexual harassment at work, and 22% of women (n=67) reported a history of sexual assault.

For women who were not taking antihypertensive medications, the odds of stage 1 or 2 hypertension were significantly greater for sexual harassment and odds of clinically poor sleep were also associated with sexual harassment. Sexual assault was significantly associated with greater odds of clinically increased depressive symptoms, anxiety, and poor sleep.[10]

Emotional Side Effects of Harassment:-

Sexual violence can have psychological, emotional, and physical effects on a survivor. These effects aren’t always easy to deal with, but with the right help and support they can be managed. Learning more can help you find the best form of care to begin the healing process.


Depression is a mood disorder that occurs when feelings associated with sadness and hopelessness continue for long periods of time and interrupt regular thought patterns. It can affect your behavior and your relationship with other people. Depression doesn’t discriminate—it can affect anyone of any age, gender, race, ethnicity, or religion. In 2012, an estimated 16 million adults experienced depression, according to the NIH.

It’s normal for survivors to have feelings of sadness, unhappiness, and hopelessness. If these feelings persist for an extended period of time, it may be an indicator of depression. Depression is not a sign of weakness and it’s not something you should be expected to “snap out of.” It’s a serious mental health condition and survivors can often benefit from the help of a professional.


A flashback is when memories of a past trauma feel as if they are taking place in the current moment. That means it’s possible to feel like the experience of sexual violence is happening all over again. During a flashback, it can be difficult to connect with reality. It may even feel like the perpetrator is physically present.

Flashbacks may seem random at first. They can be triggered by fairly ordinary experiences connected with the senses, like the smell of someone’s odor or a particular tone of voice. It’s a normal response to this kind of trauma, and there are steps you can take to help manage the stress of a flashback.[11]

Self-Harm –

Deliberate self-harm, or self-injury, is when a person inflicts physical harm on himself or herself, usually in secret.

Substance Abuse –

If you are concerned that you’re using substances in a way that could be harmful to your health or have concerns for someone you care about, consider learning more about the warning signs and places to find support.[12]

Eating Disorders –

Sexual violence can affect survivors in many ways, including perceptions of the body and feelings of control.

Sleep Disorders –

Symptoms of sleep disorders can include trouble falling or staying asleep, sleeping at unusual times of day, or sleeping for longer or shorter than usual.

Suicide –

Suicide is preventable and suicidal thoughts aren’t permanent. If you are thinking about suicide, there are resources to give you the support you need to get through this tough time.

Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse –

Many perpetrators of sexual abuse are in a position of trust or responsible for the child’s care, such as a family member, teacher, clergy member, or coach.[13]

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Psychological, Mental Health, And Emotional Side Effects of Harassment. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from
“Psychological, Mental Health, And Emotional Side Effects of Harassment.” Edubirdie, 18 Mar. 2022,
Psychological, Mental Health, And Emotional Side Effects of Harassment. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 8 Feb. 2023].
Psychological, Mental Health, And Emotional Side Effects of Harassment [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Mar 18 [cited 2023 Feb 8]. Available from:
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