Sexual harassment can take place in an informal social situation such as at a party, or in structured situations such as in a school or work environment. Despite where the harassment took place, sexual harassment is never appropriate. Everyone has the right to feel safe, despite where they are and what they are doing.
Sexual harassment does not only impact the victim over the short term. It can also have detrimental effects over a long period of time. These effects are far-reaching and impact your mental well-being, physical health, relationships with family and friends, eating and sleeping habits. It can also impact your overall motivation and attitude towards relationships and life.
If you have been sexually harassed, remember that you are not alone. Although it feels like such an isolating experience, sexual harassment is unfortunately all too common. In order to help you be better informed, we researched the six key detrimental effects of sexual harassment:
1. Feelings of Guilt
Despite the harassment being entirely out of control of the victim, the victim often tends to feel angry, helpless, embarrassed and disgusted at themselves. Indeed, the victim often feels like they did something wrong in order to cause the harassment. These feelings of self-blame and guilt are the most damaging to the victim in the long run.
In order to work through these feelings before they become deep rooted, the victim must take time to talk with a psychotherapist. It is extremely important to discuss your feelings with someone and to gain a fresh perspective on the issue. Organizations should also provide adequate mental health support to employees during this time, as well as solidify their training programs on workplace sexual harassment.
2. Changes in Appetite and Sleep Disturbances
A sexual harassment victim will often feel like they are experiencing changes in their appetite and sleep patterns. These changes could either translate as increased appetite and increased sleep or the inverse, a lack of appetite and a lack of sleep. There is no clear pattern.
Again, it is helpful to talk to someone as soon as you notice such changes. Changes in sleep patterns and in appetite are manifestations of bigger emotional issues. It is important you seek help to alleviate these effects of sexual harassment.
3. An Inability to Focus
Most sexual harassment victims will note that they are having a hard time focusing on the tasks at hand. Whether it means that you are struggling at work, or having a hard time focusing at school, these are all due to the harassment.
Often, the victims will indicate that they keep replaying the harassment event in their minds, which makes it difficult to concentrate on much else. If you are struggling to focus following a sexual harassment, seek out the help of a counsellor.
4. Pervasive Feelings of Shame and Doubt
Victims of sexual harassment often feel ashamed of themselves, and they also tend to think about what they did wrong in that situation. This is a dangerous feedback loop that victims must avoid falling into, because it is so difficult to get out of it.
These feelings of shame, guilt and doubt are not just felt in isolation to the event. They are felt across everything that the victim does. Those feelings can lead to severe mental health struggles, body image issues, and low self-esteem down the line.
5. Increases the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Believe it or not but sexual harassment increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. This is because sexual harassment elicits feelings of stress, and these feelings tend to raise one’s blood pressure. Over time, that spike in blood pressure can develop into cardiovascular disease.
As such, sexual harassment mimics the same type of physiological response that one would feel in a “flight or fight situation.” Although it is necessary in certain situations, if felt over the long term, these effects of sexual harassment can be extremely damaging to one’s health.
6. It Leads to Aches and Pains
Sexual harassment does not only cause mental stress and anguish, but it also harms the body. In a Canadian study with nearly 4,000 women, it was deduced that women who reported having been sexually harassed were far more likely to experience neck pain.
Although this symptom area needs more research devoted to it, it is evident that women in this situation suffer physically as well as mentally. Sexual harassment leaves many marks on its victims, and it is necessary for health care professionals to be armed with means to address both mental and physical issues.
After a sexual harassment incident, the first thing to do is go talk to someone you trust. It doesn’t necessarily need to be anyone in law enforcement or the legal realm, it can be a trusted member of your family or a friend. It is important to remind yourself that you have lots of support.