Our blogs are usually directly related to health since our work involves improving people’s wellbeing. 

Today, I am going to use the space to bring awareness to something that is usually not given much attention.

Sexual assault in the workplace.

Sexual assault is an act in which a person intentionally sexually touches another person without that person’s consent. – (Wikipedia)

“In the US, the average worker spends approximately 55 hours a week or about 33% of their time participating in work related activities, therefore the work environment plays a significant role in the health and well-being of employees.”

Sexual harassment is a lot more common in the workplace than people think. Unfortunately, many still assume that reporting it will not make a difference, while survivors who reported previous sexual assaults to no avail may believe reporting a second occurrence is pointless.

Statistics show that 21% of Americans have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace; 81% of the victims are women. When sexual assault happens in the workplace, the victim can feel threatened, harassed, and unsafe. This can bring feelings of guilt, shame, and fear of talking to somebody about it. This can also contribute to PTSD, depression, continuing anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia, phobias, and poor health.

It can affect not only the victim, but also everyone in the workplace as it creates an environment where employees struggle to succeed since they no longer feel safe.

Many companies claim to not tolerate any kind of harassment or discrimination. Studies, however, show that companies that have a higher percentage of female employees receive the most complaints related to harassment and sexual assault. 80% of the complaints are made against a supervisor or a boss. In most cases, the victim will not report the assault for fear of being fired.

Economic impact of sexual violence

“Sexual violence crosses all socioeconomic lines. However, people living in poverty are at an increased risk for sexual victimization.”

For example, a survey of over 300 women found that women who had experienced sexual harassment had a statistically significant higher incidence of hypertension as well as poor sleep compared to women who had not experienced sexual harassment.

Students who suffer sexual harassment often disengage from classes and their school performance drops. For people in the labor market, sexual assault can bring job dissatisfaction, increased absenteeism, and can worsen relationships with colleagues. Women who are sexually harassed are most likely to leave their jobs to avoid their abuser or because of how their employer handled the assault.

These outcomes, in turn, interfere with longer-term career advancement, especially if women have trouble finding comparable work.

In academia, women who have experienced sexual harassment are more likely to give up a tenure-track job, leave a research team, or step down from a leadership position in order to avoid a perpetrator. Not only does sexual harassment affects women’s economic status, it also hurts the bottom line of organizations through higher employee turnover.

Sexual assault can also hurt productivity not only at the individual level, but also at the group level due to the negative work environment.

“Sexual harassment is a contributing factor in the gender wage gap. When we compare all men and women who work full time, women typically earn 80 cents for every dollar their male counterpart earns. Women’s Equal Pay Day is the symbolic date on which women’s earnings nationwide catch up to men’s earnings from the previous year. For all women in the U.S., this symbolic date in 2020 occurred on March 31st. For Black women, Equal Pay Day did not occur until August 13th. And for Latinas, Equal Pay Day will occur on November 2nd.” – (CWW Issue Brief Economic Impacts of Sexual Harassment)

A growing number of states are working to pass policies that promote economic justice to support women who are the  breadwinners in their family by giving them equal pay, paid time off, paid sick leave and gender equality which will contribute to decreasing sexual assault in the work place.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner (EEOC) has identified five core principles that can be effective in preventing and addressing harassment24:

• Committed and engaged leadership

• Consistent and demonstrated accountability

• Strong and comprehensive harassment policies

• Trusted and accessible complaint procedures and,

• Regular, interactive training tailored to the audience and the organization

This is not a problem that will be solved by zero tolerance policies. In fact, like I have mentioned before, it can worsen the problem in some cases. There is no quick fix to this issue, it will take a change of culture in our workplace and beyond, adapting legal structures that are more inclusive of all workers. 

However, we all know that only relying on our legal system will not bring any considerable changes. It will also take developing preventive strategies that work best for the victims and more awareness from others to become allies in this fight against sexual assault in the workplace.


Written by: Mirela Rodrigues

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