#MeToo No More?

From Drugs.com - December 4, 2017

#MeToo No More?

MONDAY, Dec. 4, 2017 -- From the hills of Hollywood to the halls of Congress, it's now clear that sexual harassment in the workplace has long been a fact of life for working women.

But while the media highlights high-profile firings -- NBC anchor Matt Lauer and NPR showman Garrison Keillor among the latest -- little attention has been given to the stresses sexual harassment places on its victims, mental health experts say.

People who are sexually harassed often struggle with psychological problems caused by their workplace ordeal, which can lead to issues affecting physical health, according to the experts.

But now, the United States may have reached a tipping point where victims are unwilling to suffer in silence any longer, said psychologist Kim Elsesser, author of Sex and the Office: Women, Men and the Sex Partition That's Dividing the Workplace.

"People feel they are more likely to be believed and taken seriously if they come forward," Elsesser said. "Social media attention and media attention on the high-profile perpetrators has made other women feel more powerful and stronger in coming forward.

The road to this point has been a tough one for millions of women, however.

Bouts of depression, anxiety and stress are the least of the psychological problems caused by sexual harassment, said Ann McFadyen, an associate professor of strategic management at the University of Texas at Arlington.

In more severe cases, victims can suffer flashbacks and panic attacks that occur as part of post-traumatic stress disorder, McFadyen said. They also may be more inclined to develop a substance abuse problem or attempt suicide.

"The anxiety becomes pretty intense and regular," said Debra Borys, a Los Angeles psychologist who specializes in the causes and impact of sexual harassment. "Women can come to dread work. It affects their concentration. They can become depressed and feel helpless."

Victims also can develop physical symptoms such as stomach problems, headaches and other stress-related ailments, Borys said.

These health problems can crop up even if a person is not a victim of outright sexual assault, McFadyen said. Sexist behavior and unwanted sexual attention can be detrimental to a person's health if it occurs as a matter of course in the workplace.

"If it's frequent but not intense, that still can kind of wear you down over the long term," McFadyen said.

A psychological power play

The relative power that the perpetrator has over the target also can play a part in how strongly sexual harassment affects someone, Elsesser said.

"If the person who is sexually harassing does not have very much power related to the target, then there are far fewer or no physical or work-related symptoms," Elsesser said. "If the guy in the mail room is harassing you, it might be annoying but you are going to experience fewer symptoms than if it's your boss."

Sexual harassment tends to occur most often in male-dominated industries, Borys said.

"It can be especially pervasive where there's a lopsided percentage of men in the power structure versus women," Borys said.

In the past, career women have been tempted to say nothing when faced with low-level harassment like sexist comments, leers and innuendo, Borys said.

"I think sometimes women were thinking the way to be strong is to pretend it does not get to you," Borys said. "It would be handing some kind of victory to their harasser."

But now, some sort of profound change has occurred in America that makes victims less likely to put up with it, the experts contend.

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