NiCole T Buchanan and Zaje A Harrell

When most women reflect on their lives, they can recall at least one event that could be considered sexual harassment. For many, these events hearken back to high school, or earlier, and include comments made about her body, requests that she perform a sex act, or being groped by a boy, or group of boys, as she walked down the hallway. By college, a young woman may recall an instructor commenting on her body or hinting that she might discover her grade will improve if she will go on a date. By the time she finally enters the workforce, she may have a plethora of harassment experiences that have been so commonplace that few would recognize them as abusive. Once employed, she may be confronted by coworkers, bosses, and even supervisees that repeatedly make comments about her body, what sexual activities they would like to see her perform, or direct demands for sexual compliance that include the promise of a promotion if she does or a demotion if she refuses. Such experiences are not uncommon for the vast majority of girls and women, making sexual harassment one of the most common educational and occupational hazards girls and women face.

Many studies have substantiated that during their working lives, approximately half of all working women will experience at least one sexually harassing incident at work.1,2 Those who have been sexually harassed are likely to experience a variety of negative psychological, health, and work/ academic outcomes, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress; job and supervisor dissatisfaction; diminished work productivity; and physical health problems.3,4 Once harassment has ended, these symptoms often do not go away quickly and may persist for many years.5 Sexual harassment is also directed toward men more frequently than previously assumed, and some of these men experience many of the same negative consequences as women.6 For example, approximately 15% of men have had at least one experience of sexual harassment at work,7 and some environments are associated with even greater rates of male harassment (more than 35% of male military personnel experience some form of sexual harassment each year).8 As further evidence of its occurrence, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigates workplace discrimination complaints, reported that men filed 2,204 (15.9%) of the sexual harassment complaints reported in 2008.9

To date, sexual harassment research has largely examined the experiences of White adult working women and has focused little attention on the harassment experiences of other groups, such as working teen girls, harassed men, and ethnic minority women. Thus, questions remain regarding potential differences and similarities in the nature, frequency, and perceptions of sexual harassment across diverse groups of men and women. This chapter reviews current research findings on sexual harassment, including how it is defined as a behavioral and a legal construct, how men experience sexual harassment, and how sexual harassment is often infused with racial undertones when directed toward women of color (racialized sexual harassment).10,11 Finally, the chapter concludes with an example of sexual harassment, representing the experiences of countless victims of harassment.

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