By: Rhianna Wesson
When we think of sexual harassment, what often springs to mind is the moment of attack: someone yelling verbal abuse, inappropriately touching another person, or using power dynamics to manipulate a situation. Not frequently raised, however, are the negative after-effects of an attack. Sexual harassment of university students has been found to be a (statistically significant) predictor of various physical, behavioral, academic, and mental consequences – including inability to eat, substance abuse, grades dropping, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Kaufman et al. 2019).
The effects on mental health are the most widely reported consequences of sexual harassment, both by victims and the media (Kaufman et al. 2019). In one study it was found that students who reported to have experienced sexual harassment at university experienced a plethora of mental health consequences including feeling less happy about things that used to make you happy, and feeling easily startled (Kaufman et al. 2019). There is also evidence of a higher likelihood for victims to experience other conditions such as depression, anxiety, stress, and insomnia (Mozes 2018).
A further consequence of sexual harassment identified in some cases was an increase in drug and alcohol use – even extending to substance abuse in some cases – and engaging in more high-risk sexual activity than usual (Kaufman et al. 2019). Victims can become distanced or irritated with people around them. Often these effects can result from the mental consequences of sexual harassment, used as coping mechanisms to deal with the trauma (Kaufman et al. 2019).
These psychological reactions can in turn trigger further repercussions on the individuals’ lives. In a university setting for example, a student who has experienced sexual harassment may struggle to keep up with their courses or social life if they are simultaneously grappling with the psychological aftereffects of the attack (UWC Maastricht 2017). Students reported an inability to complete work, having to drop classes, and grades dropping because of sexual harassment and/or assault (Kaufman et al. 2019).
Finally, a neglected area of consequences of sexual harassment on victims is the financial burden placed on them. Oftentimes, the mental and behavioral consequences can render victims unable to work. This can lead to financial strain. On top of this, it has been found that sexual harassment victims are more likely to struggle financially in the long term (Mozes 2018).
As you now know, there are multiple intertwined consequences of sexual harassment. Many of these are still to be widely recognized, meaning victims continue to struggle to get sufficient support; more must be done for victims of sexual harassment to ensure they can feel safe again (Kaufman et al. 2019).
Kaufman, M. R., S. W. Tsang, B. Sabri, C. Budhathoki and J. Campbell (2019). “Health and Academic Consequences of Sexual Victimization Experiences among Students in a University Setting.” Psychology and Sexuality 10(1), 56–68.
Mozes, A. (2018). “Sexual Assault Has Long-Term Mental, Physical Impact.” WebMD. At https://www.webmd.com/women/news/20181003/sexual-assault-has-long-term-mental-physical-impact.
UWC Maastricht (2017). “Student Sexual Harassment Policy.” UWC Maastricht. At https://www.uwcmaastricht.nl/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Student-sexual-harrassment-policy.pdf.