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New study adds to body of evidence that sexual harassment causes physical harm

Most people understand that many victims of sexual harassment go through horrible emotional and psychological turmoil. However, many people do not realize that sexual harassment victims also suffer physical bodily harm due to the harassment. A recent study, for example, explains how sexual harassment can cause harm to the victim’s cardiovascular system, stiffening her blood vessels and harming her heart.

“People often think of harassment as a single event, but much more commonly, it’s a process that happens over time. You keep going to work day after day while this stuff keeps happening,” said Louise Fitzgerald, who has studied harassment in utility workers, office settings and factories. “It’s that prolonged exposure to stress that turns into a physiological reaction.”

This link between psychological trauma and bodily harm should not surprise people who have suffered from psychological trauma. People, for instance, who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience disproportionately high amounts of physical health problems. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a “growing body of literature has found a link between PTSD and physical health. Some studies have found that PTSD explains the association between exposure to trauma and poor physical health. In other words, trauma may lead to poor health outcomes because of PTSD.”

It is important for employers and employees to understand this link between sexual harassment and physical harm. Employees who are experiencing sexual harassment need to understand how damaging sexual harassment can be to their bodies when they are considering what to do about the harassment. Co-workers who witness the harassment also need to understand how harmful that harassment could be when they consider how to support victims. Employers need to realize how damaging sexual harassment can be to their employees and how that damage can hurt their businesses in a variety of ways.

Judges should also consider this growing body of research.  Judges often have to determine whether harassment is severe or pervasive enough to violate the law.  A general rule is that harassment which includes physical touching is more severe than non-physical harassment.  However, this research shows that the gap between the harm caused by physical and non-physical harassment may not be as wide as some judges may think.

The attorneys at the Maine Employee Rights Group have decades of experience helping victims of sexual harassment. If you are experiencing sexual harassment at work, please contact us to learn more about your rights and your options.