Sexual Harassment at Workplace – A General Overview

Sexual harassment whether at work place, educational level at street, at leisure or even at home is a problem gaining increasing recognition in every society.

According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:

Harassment on the basis of sex is defined as Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:

o Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment;

o Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or

o Such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantial interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.”


Sexual harassment is a subjective reality. It has been a fact of life since a very long time but the concept of sexual harassment is relatively new as the term was coined for the first time in mid 1970′s by the working women united institute. Only recently it has been acknowledged as a serious problem. Sexual harassment at work place is the most common one, where the victims find themselves under pressure to grant sexual favors in return for advantages at work or otherwise face a hostile working environment.


Gender Harassment: Generalized sexist statements and behavior that convey insulting or degrading attitudes about women. Examples include insulting remarks, offensive graffiti, and 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 assaults. 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


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 reactions to being harassed that are similar to reactions to other forms of stress. They include:

Psychological Reactions

Depression, anxiety, shock, denial; Anger, fear, frustration, irritability;Insecurity, embarrassment, feelings of betrayal;Confusion, feelings of being powerless;Shame, self-consciousness, low self-esteem
Guilt;Self blame;Isolation

Physiological Reactions

Headaches;Lethargy;Gastrointestinal distress;Dermatological reactions;Weight fluctuations;Sleep Disturbances, nightmares;Phobias, panic reactions;Sexual problems

Career-Related Effects

Decreased job satisfaction ;Unfavorable performance evaluations;Loss of job or promotion;Drop in academic or work performance due to stress ;Absenteeism ;Withdrawal from work or school;Change in career goals


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 womens’ 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:

1) Say NO to the harasser! Be direct.

2) Write a letter to the harasser. Describe the incident and how it made you feel. State that you would like the harassment to stop. Send the letter by certified mail. Keep a copy.

3) Keep a record of what happened and when. Include dates, times, places, names of persons involved and witnesses, and who said what to whom.

4) Tell someone; don’t keep it to yourself. By being quiet about the harassment, you don’t help stop it. Chances are extremely good that you aren’t the only victim of your harasser. Speaking up can be helpful in finding support and in protecting others from being victims.

5) Finding out who is responsible for dealing with harassment on your organization and whether you can talk in confidence to that person. Almost all organizations have sexual harassment policies, procedures and individuals or counselors who administer them. Find out what the procedure is at your workplace or school; it is the organization’s responsibility to provide you with advice, help and support, but such meetings at the workplace can provide an important record if legal action is ever advisable.

6) If you are a union member, speak to your union representative. Unions are generally very committed to eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace.

7) If you are experiencing sever psychological distress, you may want to consult a psychologist or other mental health professional who understands the problems caused by sexual harassment.

In Pakistan almost 180 cases of sexual harassment have been reported in Punjab in the year 2000. Pakistan is reported to be touching the high mark of 80-90% of female workforce.

How Does Childhood Trauma Affect Adult Sexual Behavior?

Many difficulties in sexuality stem from early childhood experiences. Current research shows that in order for a child to develop in healthy ways, the child must develop strong attachment bonds to loving caregivers in its environment. The child needs the stability and empathy of a consistent, loving caretaker in order to form healthy attachment patterns that will enable the child to develop into a healthy adult, who is also capable of forming stable and healthy attachment bonds in adult relationships. Many difficulties that individuals experience in their relationships, whether it is sexual anxiety or out of control sexual behavior, are coping mechanisms designed to address the attachment difficulties they experienced in childhood. These mechanism then become entrenched adult patterns that are directed at regulating intimacy in close relationships. Much of these kinds of difficulties in intimacy can be traced to difficulties in the attachment patterns of the individual in early life and childhood. These ruptures in healthy attachments of the child can also be viewed as early forms of trauma.

Likewise, specific instances of early trauma can profoundly impact the course of an individual’s sexual development. These traumas, depending on their nature, severity, and age of onset, can create dysfunctional patterns of behavior, ranging from sexual dysfunction and anxiety, to sexual compulsivity and re-enacting, to disturbing sexual thoughts and obsessions. These traumatic events, whether acute or chronic, can profoundly rupture an individual’s ability to form healthy bonds and attachments with important individuals in the individual’s environment. These attachment difficulties can manifest themselves as difficulties in intimacy. Sexual dysfunctions and compulsions are often a defense strategy employed unconsciously by an individual to regulate these anxieties around intimacy. Sexuality often manifests as a symptom of an individual’s attachment rupture. Someone’s sexuality and their struggle in intimacy can be understood deeply by exploring the connection between their sexual symptoms and their attachment experience.

Often, someone’s sexual thoughts and behavior are used as a coping mechanism to deal with past traumas and disturbing events from the past. These behaviors, whether sexual compulsivity, anxiety, dysfunction, or specific fetishes, are used as a means to make sense of and master the traumatic events. Often certain dysfunctional behaviors will be replayed over and over in order to achieve a sense of mastery over traumatic events in the individual’s life. In this way, the individual may feel a sense of powerlessness or being out of control when caught in a cycle of harmful and compulsive behavior.

Psychotherapy can be used effectively to address these kinds of sexual concerns. A psychotherapist trained in working with clients who have sexual difficulties can help the client process and regulate their own emotions, to confront pathogenic and dysfunctional beliefs about one’s sexuality, and create proper boundaries for the expression of healthy sexuality. An integrative approach would combine cognitive-behavioral as well as psychodynamic techniques, along with psycho and sexual education to help clients understand the basis of their own problems, as well as help to adopt more healthy ways to think about and express their sexualities.