Sexual Harassment: Myths and Realities

MYTH: Sexual harassment is rare.

FACT:Sexual harassment is extremely widespread. It touches the lives of 40 to 60 percent of working women, and similar proportions of female students in colleges and universities.

MYTH: The seriousness of sexual harassment has been exaggerated; most so-called harassment is really trivial and harmless flirtation.

FACT: Sexual harassment can be devastating. Studies indicate that most harassment has nothing to do with 'flirtation: or sincere sexual or social interest. Rather, it is offensive, often frightening and insulting to women. Research shows that women are often forced to leave school or jobs to avoid harassment; may experiences serious psychological and health-related problems.

MYTH: Many women make up and report stories of sexual harassment to get back at their employers or others who have angered them.

FACT: Research shows that less than one percent of complaints are false. Women rarely file complaints are false. Women rarely file complaints even when they're are justified in doing so.

MYTH: Women who are sexually harassed generally provoke harassment by the way they look, dress and behave.

FACT: Harassment does not occur because women dress provocatively or initiate sexual activity in the hope of getting promoted and advancing their careers. Studies have found that victims of sexual harassment vary in physical appearance, type of dress, age, and behavior. The only thing they have in common is that the overwhelming majority are women.

MYTH: If you ignore harassment, it will go away.

FACT: It will not. Research has shown that simply ignoring the behavior is ineffective; harassers generally will not stop on their own. Ignoring such behavior may even be seen as agreement or encouragement.

Legal definition of Sexual Harassment

According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:

'Harassment on the basis of sex is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the Education Amendment. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:

Types of Sexual Harassment

Gender Harassment: Generalized sexist statements and behavior that convey insulting or degrading attitudes about women. Examples include insulting remarks, offensive graffiti, obscene jokes or humor about sex or women in general.

Seductive Behavior: Unwanted, inappropriate and offensive sexual advances. Examples include repeated unwanted sexual invitations, insistent requests for dinner, drinks or dates, persistent letters, phone calls and other invitations.

Sexual Bribery: Solicitation of sexual activity or other sex-linked behavior by promise of reward; the proposition may be either overt or subtle.

Sexual Coercion: Coercion of sexual activity or other sex-linked behavior by threat of punishment; examples include negative performance evaluations, withholding of promotions, threat of termination.

Sexual Imposition: Gross sexual imposition (such as forceful touching, feeling, grabbing) or sexual assault.

Of these five types of behavior, gender harassment is by far the most common, followed by seductive behavior. The 'classic' forms of sexual harassment (bribery and coercion) are in fact relatively uncommon, while other forms of sexual imposition happen more frequently than most people think. Recent court decisions have also found that certain types of offensive visual displays in the workplace, such as pornography, can be considered sexual harassment.

The defining characteristic of sexual harassment is that it is unwanted. It's important to clearly let an offender know that certain actions are unwelcome.

Effects of Sexual Harassment

Being sexually harassed can devastate your psychological health, physical well-being and vocational development. Women who have been harassed often change their jobs, career goals, job assignments, educational programs or academic majors. In addition, women have reported psychological and physical reaction to being harassed that are similar to reactions to other forms of stress. They include:

Psychological Reactions

Physiological Reactions

Career-Related Effects

What Can You Do If You Are Harassed?

There is no one way to respond to harassment. Every situation is different and only you can evaluate the problem and decide on the best response.

Friends, affirmative action officers, human resource professionals and women's groups can offer information, advice and support, but only you can decide what is right for you. The only thing you can be absolutely certain of is that ignoring the situation will not cause it to go away.

Above all, DO NOT BLAME YOURSELF FOR THE HARASSMENT. It is not your fault. Place the blame where it belongs--on the harasser. Self-blame can cause depression and will not help you or the situation.

Many Women Have Found These Strategies Effective:

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 151,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 50 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 58 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

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