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Sexual Harassment is Damaging to Women's Health

Sexual harassment is a common, but sometimes under-recognized, workplace hazard that affects up to 70 percent of women and 45 percent of men in the workplace according to a noted a sociologist. Most often it involves a harasser creating a "hostile work environment." This occurs when an employee feels intimidated or uncomfortable due to persistent inappropriate sexual remarks and innuendo in the workplace. Harassment can also involve a "quid pro quo" scenario, where sexual favors are demanded in exchange for keeping one's job.

Victims of harassment can experience strained work relationships and are at risk for a number of health problems. These effects often include the following:

1. Depression

Depression is a common symptom of workplace harassment. A recent study of found that people sexually harassed in their teens and early twenties can experience depressive symptoms lasting more than a decade.

People who experience such harassment have feelings of self-doubt, which can often turn into self-blame. Victims can feel responsible for what was done to them. Self-blame has a negative effect on mental health and may prompt depression.

2. Post-traumatic stress disorder

Studies have found a link between experiences of sexual harassment and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These symptoms include re-experiencing the trauma, and avoidance of people or places that remind the victim of the harassment. Remarkably, women in the military who are sexually harassed are four times as likely to develop PTSD as women exposed to a traumatic event in combat.

3. Elevated blood pressure

Sexual harassment raises blood pressure. One study measures 1,200 union workers who were surveyed about workplace abuse in the past year and given a health exam. Twenty three percent of the workers reported at least one incident of harassment. The researchers found a significant correlation between  arassment and elevated blood pressure in women. Sexual harassment may trigger the same type of physiological reactions as stress, which in turn raises the risk of cardiovascular disease.

4. Sleep disturbance

Sexual harassment has been linked to sleep disturbances. This may be due to the stress and anxiety of the events. Victims may lie awake at night worrying about the events, or the events may cause nightmares.

5. Suicide

Sexual harassment may also lead to suicidal behaviors according to studies. In one such study, it was found that 23 percent of students had experienced at least one incident of unwanted sexual touching, sexual threats or remarks, or indecent exposure in the past six months. Of women who had experienced frequent, unwanted sexual touching, 15 percent said they had made suicidal attempts "often" in the past six months, compared with only 2 percent of subjects with no experiences of harassment.

6. Neck and Back Pain

Sexual harassment also leads to physical aches and pains. Women with neck pain were 1.6 times more likely to report having experienced unwanted harassment.

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