Causes And Outcomes Of Sexual Harassment

The Integrated Process Model of Sexual Harassment in Organizations by Fitzgerald and colleagues12,14 outlines how workplace sexual harassment is related to an organization's climate and job-gender context and then harms an employee's work, psychological, and physical health (see figure 1). In this model, organizational climate refers to the organization's tolerance of sexual harassment (e.g., harassment is modeled by superiors, harassers are not reprimanded). The job-gender context refers to a workgroup's ratio of men to women and whether the job is traditionally considered a man's or a woman's job. Workplaces that are generally tolerant of harassment, traditionally male-dominated occupations, and workgroups comprising more men than women typically have increased rates of harassment.

Job-related

Job-related

Outcomes

Figure. 1.1. The integrated Process Model. The integrated process model of the antecedents and outcomes of sexual harassment in organizations (Fitzgerald et al., 1995b; 1997a). Fitzgerald, L.F., & Shullman, S. L. (1993). Sexual harassment: A research analysis and agenda for the 1990's. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 42, 5-27.

Outcomes

Figure. 1.1. The integrated Process Model. The integrated process model of the antecedents and outcomes of sexual harassment in organizations (Fitzgerald et al., 1995b; 1997a). Fitzgerald, L.F., & Shullman, S. L. (1993). Sexual harassment: A research analysis and agenda for the 1990's. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 42, 5-27.

The integrated process model of sexual harassment also indicates that increased harassment is associated with a number of negative outcomes, such as lowered work satisfaction, increased absenteeism, depression, post-traumatic stress symptoms, and gastrointestinal problems.4,21,22 Stress and appraisal theories23 posit that how an individual perceives, or appraises, an event influences one's distress in response to an experience. How a target appraises a sexual harassment experience mediates the relationship between sexual harassment and negative outcomes.24,25 The appraised severity of the harassment is affected by a variety of factors, such as being threatened or fearful as a result of the harassment,26 the length of time over which one was sexually harassed, whether or not physical contact was made, and what type of harassment occurred. Harassment incidents that continue over a long period of time, occur frequently, and involve unwanted physical touch or sexual coercion are all associated with more negative appraisals of the harassment.27 In addition to the harassment itself, factors related to who the perpetrator and target are also matter. For example, harassment by someone of higher organizational status is associated with more distress.24 Further, being singled out for harassment versus knowing that harassment is also directed toward others in the workgroup is associated with worsened outcomes.27 Among Black women, sexual harassment by White men was associated with greater distress than harassment by Black men, and experiences that included racialized sexual harassment further increased their distress.28

Sexual harassment harms those targeted,29,30 and this harm may persist for years after the harassment has ended.5 Many studies have documented the extensive physical and emotional costs for those who have been harassed. It is believed that costs to emotional well-being are directly related to harassment, whereas the physical health consequences are by-products of the increased psychological distress associated with sexual harassment.20 More specifically, sexual harassment has been linked to gastrointestinal (heartburn, diarrhea, stomach pains), musculoskeletal (headaches; pain in joints, muscles, back, and neck), and cardiovascular symptoms (chest pain, tachycardia), headache, eyestrain, skin problems,24,31 and chronic diseases, such as hypertension, neurological disorders, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and so on.32

The negative effect of sexual harassment on psychological well-being is far reaching. As a pervasive, chronic, and often traumatic event, sexual harassment can lead to symptoms of posttraumatic stress.3,33,34 Initially, sexual harassment was not considered sufficiently traumatic to warrant a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many researchers have challenged this assumption, arguing that sexual harassment meets the criteria for a diagnosable trauma as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV).35 If post-traumatic symptoms are examined, it is clear that the frequency and severity of post-traumatic stress symptoms are strongly associated with the frequency and severity of the sexual harassment experience.3,4 This relationship is found when studying rates of harassment and discrimination across one's lifetime or only examining recent events and is found across situations (e.g., harassment in the workplace, in school, or by strangers in public).5,20,33 Post-traumatic stress symptoms related to sexual harassment have also been documented across several studies and populations, such as college students,3,4,36 Marines,31 litigants,34 Turkish women,37 and Black women.28,38 These studies show that sexual harassment is traumatic and commonly leads to symptoms of posttraumatic stress; therefore, a PTSD diagnosis is warranted when the criteria have been met.

Sexual harassment may also explain a portion of the difference in rates of depression and eating pathology among women and men. Women are twice as likely to develop depression39 and more likely to experience sexual harassment compared to men.40,41 Further, depression is higher among those who have experienced sexual harassment compared to their nonha-rassed counterparts, leading some to theorize that gender differences in the rates of certain disorders are related to women's higher risk of experiencing discrimination and sexual harassment.42,43 Eating pathology and body dissatisfaction are also associated with sexual harassment, but this can occur for multiple reasons. Sexual harassment often damages self-esteem, particularly body-based self-esteem, which then puts one at risk for increased eating pathology (sexual harassment syndrome).44,45 Sexual harassment also increases one's body scrutiny and dissatisfaction, which further increases one's risk for disordered eating.45,46,47 Finally, when women's bodies are evaluated and objectified through sexual harassment experiences, targets may internalize this image (self-objectification) and spend increased time monitoring their bodies (self-objectification theory).48 In turn, excessive body monitoring can increase body image distortion, shame, anxiety, restrictive eating, binge eating/bulimia,49 and depression.50,51,52

Self-medicating via the misuse of cigarettes, prescription medications (e.g., sedatives and antidepressants), and alcohol are not uncommon among those who have been sexually harassed.53,54 Clearly, many victims of sexual harassment use such substances to reduce their associated feelings of stress, depression, anxiety, hostility, and a perceived lack of control related to being sexually harassed.53-55 These negative health behaviors used to cope with harassment are detrimental to long-term health.56,57

Work-related tasks and perceptions are also harmed by sexual harassment. For example, those who have been sexually harassed report increased absenteeism and lower job satisfaction, work productivity, supervisor satisfaction, and organizational commitment.21,24,58 These behaviors not only reflect employee distress but also result in soaring organizational costs. The

U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board analyzed the costs of sexual harassment in terms of these negative work behaviors and determined that the U.S. government loses more than $327 million dollars every year due to factors such as employees' decreased productivity and absenteeism related to sexual harassment.59 However, this figure is a vast underestimate of the true costs of sexual harassment because it does not include the cost related to the harasser (e.g., decreased productivity while engaging in harassment), changes in work behaviors by coworkers that have witnessed the harassment (e.g., decreased morale and productivity), or any of the costs of investigating, mediating, or litigating harassment charges.60

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