Sexual harassment and abuse can cause long-term, life-altering effects. Victims may experience mental health issues, low self-esteem, and eating disorders, among other things. Worst of all, some victims suffer these effects all at the same time.
In order to understand and support victims and survivors of sexual harassment and/or abuse, it’s important to learn about these long-term effects as much as possible. Continue reading for more information about the long-term physical and psychological effects of sexual harassment and assault.
Mental health issues
Trauma from sexual harassment and abuse can cause mental health issues. Based on a statewide assessment of sexual harassment and assault by the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA,) 38% of female and 14% of male victims suffer from anxiety and depression. Other victims are also reported to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Victims with anxiety often feel ashamed of themselves after their abuse. To hide their shame, they pull back from their loved ones and even from society. Their anxiety is often amplified if their perpetrator is a colleague at work, so much so that some victims, regardless of gender or sexual identity, change or quit their jobs.
Repeated exposure to different forms of sexual harassment in the workplace can lead to a deeper and severe state of depression. This can also make victims quit their jobs or, if that isn’t possible, ask for new job assignments.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
In some cases, victims’ anxiety can develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Even the smallest of things can trigger full-blown panic attacks, flashbacks, and other physical manifestations such as headaches. To avoid triggers, victims tend to shut off the rest of the world.
Damaged relationship with the body
People who have received unwanted sexual attention and repeated sexual harassment also often develop deteriorating relationships with themselves and their bodies.
- Poor body image
Most people already deal with their own body issues. Sexual harassment and abuse can exacerbate these feelings or perceptions. They become hyper-aware of their bodies and start to nitpick every little perceived imperfection to the point that compliments can be taken negatively. Survivors of sexual abuse can also feel disgusted with their own bodies. This can lead to lower self-esteem and, worse, self-harm.
- Eating disorders
Stress and poor body image can cause eating disorders. Victims lose their appetites or suppress it, causing unhealthy weight loss that can cause many other illnesses. They could also secretly binge-eat then purge themselves.
Other victims seek comfort in food and eating. This can cause a dramatic and unhealthy weight gain, sometimes even obesity. In some cases of severe harassment, victims deliberately gain weight to protect themselves from further sexual harassment and abuse.
- Hormonal imbalance
Sexual harassment and abuse are registered in the brain as threatening actions. As a result, the brain releases certain hormones that can lead to irregularities. Some of these hormones can trigger anxiety and make victims feel on edge all the time.
One of our body’s defensive reactions is to produce cortisol, a stress hormone that fuels our fight-or-flight response. It makes our heart beat fast and increases our blood pressure.
Irregular cortisol levels can be dangerous. Too much and you can develop Cushing’s syndrome, with symptoms ranging from weight gain to osteoporosis. It can also increase risk of developing heart disease and/or cancer.
It’s hard to remain composed and professional at work, especially if the harassment or abuse happened in the workplace. They lose motivation, have a hard time concentrating, and avoid their colleagues. As a result, victims’ work performance might slip. They may also feel like targets of sexual discrimination in the workplace.
While there are laws that deal with sexual harassment in the workplace, they can’t protect victims and survivors of harassment and sexual abuse from outcomes of poor work performance. While their company can sympathize and take the necessary steps to protect them from the perpetrators, they probably won’t be able to see past poor performance, no matter how valid the excuse.
Get legal advice from the top sexual harassment lawyers in California
One of the most important steps to prevent sexual harassment and abuse from ever taking place is to hold the perpetrators accountable and without impunity.
Have you experienced sexual harassment and or abuse in the workplace? Do you know someone who has suffered from this kind of sex discrimination? Hogue & Belong may be able to help you or the person you wish to support pursue legal action.