Workers who are subjected to sexual harassment can end up with a range of health and psychological issues, according to scientific research.
The research conducted by the University of Calgary suggests that sexual harassment can lead to anxiety, depression and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
Women are more severely impacted than men
According to the research, women are twice as likely than men to show persistent psychological distress two years after experiencing sexual harassment at work.
They also have worse physical health symptoms and satisfaction with their health.
In one study, women working in male-dominated industries had poorer health as measured by a stress hormone taken after work.
Sexual harassment can cause physiological response
Sexual harassment and assault that occurs at work, or in any other setting, can act as a stressor that produces an involuntary physiological response.
This sort of stress can adversely affect blood pressure, pulse rate and the stress hormone cortisol.
It can also cause heart rate variability.
According to health experts, the biological response to stress can remain, even after the removal of the threat.
This can lead to mental disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and other chronic diseases.
Those who suffer these conditions often turn to unhealthy behaviours to cope, including alcohol and substance use in order to cope with the stress.
These behaviours increase the risk of chronic disease.
Young workers and minorities most at risk
Sexual harassment can affect different people in different ways.
For example, young workers are more likely than older workers to be victims of sexual harassment, and are more likely to suffer adverse health effects as a result.
Minority groups are also more at risk, including migrant and LGBTIQ workers.
Who’s responsible for the health and well-being of workers?
Under Australian law, it is the responsibility of employers to provide a safe workplace for their employees.
Despite this, all too often businesses fail spectacularly to respond appropriately to complaints about sexual harassment.
A nationwide survey of workers conducted last year showed that in many cases, complainants were not satisfied with how their employer handled the matter.
Others didn’t bother making a complaint because they believed the perpetrator would not be punished, or that they wouldn’t be believed, or that they thought it would risk their future career.
Important to speak up
Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan from Discrimination Claims has seen the mental health effects sexual harassment can have on victims.
“We are currently representing a worker who was subjected to the most vile sexual harassment, including being sent inappropriate images and text messages,” he said.
“Not only has she suffered the trauma of the harassment, but she has almost been re-victimised by having to re-live the behaviour and have her version of events questioned.
“I am pleased to say that in her case, we were able to offer her the support and advice she needed, and we have just settled the matter on her behalf and managed to negotiate a huge six figure compensation payment for her.”
Mr Heffernan said exposure to sexual harassment prevents employees reaching their full professional and personal potential and their contribution to broader society.
He says it’s important for all victims of sexual harassment to speak up.
“There is help available, and there are place to go for support and assistance,” he said.
“Our firm are specialists at dealing with sexual harassment complaints – we proudly fight for the victim, and we don’t give up until we achieve justice for them.”
Mr Heffernan advised all employers to have strict policies in place surrounding sexual harassment, and also recommended regular sexual harassment training for all staff to reduce the risk of unlawful conduct and expensive claims for compensation.
If you have experienced discrimination on the basis of an impairment or disability, you may be entitled to compensation.
For specialist help and advice, please call our team at Discrimination Claims today on
1800 4 EQUAL (1800 437 825)
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