How sexual harassment can affect mental health

Victims of sexual harassment already face several obstacles when they come forward. Their harassers could retaliate. ...

Posted: Jan 26, 2018 4:46 PM
Updated: Jan 26, 2018 4:46 PM

Victims of sexual harassment already face several obstacles when they come forward. Their harassers could retaliate. They could be ostracized by their colleagues. They could lose their job. They could be called liars.

But alongside the economic and social tolls sexual harassment can exact, there's an invisible psychological one as well.

Few people know how to recognize the mental health issues that happen after harassment, says University of Oregon psychology professor Jennifer Freyd.

"Pretty much any common form of emotional or psychological distress can be experienced after sexual harassment," Freyd says.

Related: The decision to name or not name a sexual harasser

People may suffer from anxiety or depressive issues. Some can even be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and the effects may not show up for years.

"A complicated thing here is that if you have a sexual harassment or other traumatic experience and it affects you, which it generally will, you may not recognize it and it may affect you without you knowing why," Freyd says. "And you might try to bury it and not think about it, and then something brings it to mind."

Freyd points out three phenomena harassment victims often experience: betrayal trauma, betrayal blindness and institutional betrayal.

A betrayal trauma can occur when a boss or mentor abuses a positive relationship to harass the victim. That kind of trauma can result in betrayal blindness, which is when a victim intentionally looks the other way to prevent confronting those feelings of betrayal.

Institutional betrayal usually occurs when a company or organization does nothing to prevent or end harassment (or in some work cultures, even encourages it).

Related: Are older generations more tolerant of sexual harassment?

But some researchers still debate whether or not sexual harassment can be counted as a trauma, says Bill O'Donohue, psychology professor at the University of Nevada in Reno and director of the Victims of Crime Treatment Center.

He says workplace harassment in particular can have severe consequences on a person's life.

"Sexual harassment in the workplace can involve more of a threat to a person's wellbeing because their livelihood is at stake," he says. "Not only does it provide all the negative consequences of any sexual assault, but it also affects somebody's ability to put food on the table and other functions that a job provides for you, including a sense of accomplishment, a network of friends, a meaningful career."

With Freyd's guidance, Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In Foundation created a series of "self-care guides" to help women process and share stories of sexual harassment. In addition to seeking help from a mental health professional, Freyd says expressive writing can be a great tool for those who are looking to understand how a variety of mental health problems -- depression, anxiety and more -- can be linked back to their harassment experiences.

"Helping women think about self-care -- what their options are, women coming together in small groups and supporting each other -- we know it's effective, says Rachel Thomas, president of LeanIn.org. "We think it's important to get all those pieces right."

Tell us about the conversations you've had about sexual harassment. Share your response here and your response could be featured in an upcoming story on CNNMoney.

West Lafayette
Clear
60° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 60°
Kokomo
Clear
55° wxIcon
Hi: 55° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 55°
Rensselaer
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 57°
Fowler
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 57°
Williamsport
Clear
60° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 60°
Crawfordsville
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 57°
Frankfort
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 59°
Delphi
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 57°
Monticello
Clear
56° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 56°
Logansport
Clear
55° wxIcon
Hi: 56° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 55°
Dry Weekend with Coldest Weather of the Fall So Far on Sunday Night
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 175893

Reported Deaths: 4286
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion27107796
Lake15351372
St. Joseph10252178
Elkhart9964148
Allen9275235
Hamilton6799122
Vanderburgh648473
Tippecanoe436516
Porter379753
Hendricks3599139
Monroe351538
Johnson3506133
Delaware332081
Clark322467
Vigo296943
Madison275899
LaPorte256267
Cass237426
Kosciusko223529
Warrick214066
Floyd196269
Howard178467
Wayne165634
Dubois158827
Marshall157830
Bartholomew155359
Grant145340
Henry143830
Boone137850
Hancock132444
Noble131135
Jackson126920
Dearborn111028
Lawrence106238
Morgan106040
Clinton100816
Gibson99612
Shelby97937
Daviess97336
Knox91010
Fayette87522
DeKalb86713
LaGrange86115
Harrison85924
Putnam81717
Posey8138
Jasper7665
Miami7355
Steuben7189
Montgomery69422
White67016
Adams6518
Greene61138
Scott58716
Decatur58339
Ripley5338
Whitley5326
Wabash52610
Wells51712
Clay5137
Huntington5135
Starke5029
Sullivan49114
Randolph48811
Spencer4466
Orange44125
Perry44114
Fulton42510
Jefferson4235
Washington4223
Jennings40913
Franklin40626
Jay3996
Pike37618
Carroll37013
Fountain3623
Tipton29823
Rush2964
Vermillion2951
Blackford2766
Parke2754
Newton25211
Owen2291
Martin2100
Pulaski1884
Crawford1751
Brown1563
Ohio1477
Union1300
Benton1200
Switzerland1080
Warren1081
Unassigned0236

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events