Sexual harassment at work


Women react to sexual harassment at work in ways that differ from one individual to another.

Direct reactions, e.g. feelings of disgust, indignation and outrage, paralysis, insecurity and withdrawal, are frequent. The first shock is followed by feelings of powerlessness, helplessness and the feeling of being at the mercy of the offender. This is often compounded by self-doubt and feelings of guilt, e.g. the feeling of having behaved in the wrong way perhaps, not having defended yourself properly or having had a reaction that was “a bit over-the-top”. Given these feelings of shame, many women keep silent about the incident.

Sexual harassment at work can have far-reaching and lasting physical, psychological and economic effects on women: Some examples are anxiety disorders, sleep disturbances, nightmares, eating disorders, pain reactions, sexual problems and conflicts within their relationships, which require medical treatment or therapy.

For many women, sexual harassment at work is a tremendous strain, which can also adversely affect their efficiency. They quite often ask for a job transfer although this is not what they actually want. They hand in their resignation, give up the profession they have learned, or abandon their careers. This means that long-term consequences can also include unemployment or even incapacity for work.

The extent of sexual harassment of women at work in connection with the consequences shows that this form of sexualised violence diminishes women’s opportunities in their work life, and causes significant knock-on costs for society due to loss of efficiency, absenteeism, medical treatments, therapy, unemployment and incapacity for work.