Sexual harassment at work often triggers strong emotional reactions from the harasser’s target.
Researchers note that mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are common, and for some people, physical health also declines.
Mental health problems
People who experience harassment early in their careers may suffer long-term consequences that include depressive symptoms and lower self-esteem and self-confidence. It often affects job performance, even for those who leave the company where the harassment occurred.
Some victims of sexual harassment that leads to violence or assault may suffer post-traumatic stress disorder.
Another sexual harassment factor that may cause or exacerbate symptoms includes having others minimize or dismiss the experience as trivial rather than recognize the trauma of the situation. Victims who receive this type of treatment from co-workers, supervisors or others may be subject to self-doubt and denial, which can compound the trauma and lead to PTSD, even when the inappropriate behavior did not include violence.
Physical health problems
Workers who suffer sexual harassment cannot deal with the mental effects of the trauma, the overwhelming nature of the situation may lead to physical health problems, as well. The stress could cause hives, insomnia, hair loss or weight problems. Physical conditions may also include headaches, high blood pressure or muscle aches, to name a few. It could even cause heart problems in the long term.
Vicarious health problems
The stress of sexual harassment in the workplace may affect colleagues of the person experiencing the harassment. Workers may worry about the effects on their careers if they come forward and report the behavior, but keeping the behavior a secret and seeing a co-worker suffer is likely to increase the ill effects for everyone involved.
Sexual harassment is illegal, and the law protects both the victim and the person who reports the behavior from retaliation. Anyone who experiences sexual harassment or retaliation may file a complaint with the EEOC.