Sexual harassment often has adverse effects on the victim’s performance at work. Both the quantity and the quality of work may suffer, as’ well as the employees’ morale, attendance, and ability to work with others. Sexual harassment can cause employers losses in productivity and can lead to greater employee turnover and use of sick leave. The harassment can also harm the victim’s psychological and physical well-being.
Sexual harassment can also have indirect effects ?p society. Many feminist scholars consider sexual harassment to be a form of oppression that men use to maintain male-dominated power structures. Women in fields of work that men have traditionally occupied-such as the military, law enforcement, and fire fighting-experience higher rates of sexual harassment. Some researchers assert that regardless of whether harassment is an intentional attempt to oppress girls and women, it contributes to lower achievement by women in society.
Power differences between men and women, result from society’s traditional sex-role stereotyping and is a major cause of sexual harassment. ? culture tending to place males into greater positions of power than females would expect to have women file a higher rate of sexual harassment complaints because they occupy positions of less authority. When unequal?al power relationships between the sexes are rooted in cultural experiences, work co?texts can provide a foundation legitimizing sexual harassment in the workplace.
Cultural conditioning can create an environment conducive to sexually harassing behaviours. Expectations that women are passive and submissive and that men are aggressive and dominant create situations conducive to these behaviours. ? sexually harassing and hostile workplace can establish specific patterns of verbal and nonverbal communication creating unequal power relationships between men and women.
PSYCHOLOGICAL OPINIONS ABOUT SEXUAL HARASSMENT CLAIMS
While psychologists may offer an opinion regarding the connection between a traumatic event and emotional injury in an accident, that is less clear in sexual harassment. ?he emotional trauma experienced by the victim of sexual harassment is based ?p perceptions about the behaviour of others by the victim. Psychologists are not qualified to determine if sexual harassment took place, because that is a legal question, not a psychological one. However, psychologists can offer an opinion regarding whether a particular action by one individual can reasonably lead t? emotional distress in p another individual. Most of the time, psychologists are asked to evaluate victims of sexual harassment t? assess whether they are exhibiting any psychological distress, and whether that distress appears to be related to specific events ?p the part of another person. ?he court must then decide whether’ those actions were appropriate ?G legal.
Some individuals misinterpret harmless, reasonable behaviour as malicious and specifically directed at themselves. Diagnostically this is called ideas of reference. ?his would suggest an individual with some type of psychological problem who overreacts t? reasonable behaviour because of their own perception of the world and the other person. ?his often occurs in individuals with personality disorders, paranoid disorders, ?G other psychological problems that might involve delusions ?G extreme exaggerations of negative events in their lives. ?therefore, psychological evaluations in sexual harassment cases also focus ?p the expectations of the victim, and whether the victim presents with psychological symptoms which result in exaggerated negative conclusions about others.
For example, a person’s boss is of a different sex than the person. The worker believes that the boss is sexist and discriminates against the worker’s sex. ?he worker requests to work on a specific project, but it’s not chosen. The worker assumes the choice was based on sexist behaviour, rather than merit ?G chance. ?he worker experiences a number of events like this over time, and feels harassed because of it, resulting in depression. Is this sexual harassment? ?he answer depends ?p many factors, such as alternative· reasons for not selecting the worker, whether the worker was selected positively ?p other occasions, whether other individuals had credentials which led to choosing them instead, and whether other individuals of the same sex as the worker experienced similar problems and perceptions.
In addition to evaluating the presence ?G absence of psychological disorders, psychologists may also offer opinions regarding whether a person’s expectations are reasonable, based on the circumstances. Many psychological problems result when we expect people to treat us in an unrealistically positive way. These cases are not clear cut, because they are not based solely ?p the identification of a psychological problem. Ultimately, the court will decide whether there is sufficient evidence to conclude that sexual harassment took place.
Although sexual harassment is not specifically included in Title ??? of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in USA, it flows by regulation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from sex discrimination. It is defined as unwelcome sexual advances requests for sexual fa?ours and other ?verbal ?G physical/ conduct of a sexual/ nature, when linked to employment conditions, as part of a quid pro quo for employment decisions ?G when it creates an offensive, hostile work environment. Sexual harassment behaviours range from sexual innuendo, touching, and flirtatious remarks, to clear-cut sexual assault and rape. Often these are accompanied by retaliation against the victim for reporting it. It is estimated by some that up to 60% of victims ignore sexual harassment, believing that if they complain it will only cause more harm. In recent years, however, sexual harassment litigation has been increasing dramatically. In the past five or six years the EEOC reports that these complaints have almost tripled in number and by the year 2000 it is predicted that they will double again. What sexual harassment is and whether or not it occurred are legal and factual matters, but invariably psychological issues become embroiled in them and psychological opinions are frequently presented as part of the claim. These opinions are usually ones which either clarify the claim or define the damage.
Psychological opinions which attempt to clarify the claim are the most controversial because they draw conclusions or make inferences about factual matters. Since many times it is only the word of the victim against the harasser, these opinions can tip the scales one way or another. Sometimes psychologists who give such opinions, and who may be acting in good faith, do not realize that they are entering a non-psychological area. This is in part because psychologists in a treatment relationship with a patient claiming sexual harassment need to validate the seriousness of the patient’s experience if they are to be helpful. But taking that clinical validation to a courtroom is another story. This is why treating psychologists are inherently biased if they are performing their clinical job well. This is also why independent experts, whose scope of inquiry is broader and who are not allied to the patient, may be in a more objective position to give opinions. Regardless of who is giving the opinion, mental health science has not reached the level of sophistication or accuracy to be able to determine whether an alleged sexual harassment incident actually occurred. No constellation of symptoms, mental status appearance, or psychological test results can do that. Even if suspect factors such a bizarre psychotic account, gross inconsistencies, obvious manipulation or marked personality predisposition are not present, psychologists don’t really know who is Iying, who is fantasizing, and who is embellishing.
However, opinions about a victim’s behaviour in the harassment situation may be appropriate, especially when a fact finder might not understand it otherwise. So, for example, explaining that victims often remain silent because of economic necessity, fear of retaliation, intimidation and powerlessness, or embarrassment may be helpful. But, care must be taken not to conclude that this victim who may have responded that way was, therefore, harassed; in addition, psychological opinions can help clarify typical
response patterns that a victim of sexual harassment exhibits. Reactions such as guilt, self-blame, minimization and denial’ of harassment ?G even disconnecting onself emotionally from the uncomfortable events are not ?unusual .Without an understanding of those types of responses, a victim may be incriminated as inconsistent with having been harassed. Again, focusing on the general pattern of trauma response is not the same as concluding that harassment occurred.
Psychological opinions in sexual harassment claims often ignore more complex organizational and workplace dynamics which form the background of many of these claims. Without input from people at the workplace and review of employment files, the account of the alleged victim stands in isolation from many potential contributing factors. It is not uncommon, for example, for personnel issues such as poor performance, reprimands and warnings, or fear of termination to present a crisis for which a sexual harassment claim serves as a convenient solution. Psychological evaluations which explore all aspects of the work environment, interpersonal relationships there, and work performance can provide a more balanced view of the relative seriousness of the known stressors,
Another area for psychological opinions is identifying personality traits ?G personality disorders which may have created or contributed to the claim. First of all, not all sexual harassment is actionable. It must be severe or pervasive enough to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environment. Similarly, if the claimant is a not a reasonable woman of normal sensitivity, her claim may not prevail. ? number of personality disorders can play an important role in employment litigation and provide an alternative explanation of the claimant’s emotional distress. For e?ample, histrionic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, anti-social personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder are just a few descriptions of people who have unusual sensitivity or are predisposed to maladaptive ways of dealing with others. If there is a clear history ?G pattern of such personality traits, then psychological opinions about them are important for a full understanding of events. Again, this does not mean that the psychological opinion can conclude that an event did not occur, in fact, individuals with some personality disorders may be vulnerable to victimization. Similarly, there may be a personality disorder that is present in the alleged harasser which can help explain a predatory pattern of conduct.
A past history of sexual abuse can predispose a person to a variety of different reactions which may influence a later sexual harassment claim. Since the standard for Iiability in these claims is that of a reasonable woman who is not hypersensitive, the typical eggshell rule of common law does not apply expect as to damages. So, a person who has been previously abused may have developed fear, hyper vigilance, and an unusual sensitivity. In this context, even a trivial innocuous remark may produce an excessive reaction. Also, people with previous sexual abuse are at times people to repetition compulsion which means they have a tendency to repeat past behaviour in spite of the suffering that may have been associated with it. In essence, they recreate the earlier sexual abuse by placing themselves in a position to be abused again. The relevance here is for the defence of welcome ness since the sexual conduct in a sexual harassment claim must be unwelcome and not solicited by the claimant. Finally, individuals who experienced sexual abuse may be so damaged that they fabricate later incidents of abuse as a way of venting their anger. Because of previous experiences, their ability to describe abuse can be quite sophisticated and believable. Psychological opinions in all of these areas can be important sources of clarification about the possible circumstances of a claim.
Psychological opinions which define the damage are seemingly more straightforward since they are based ?p diagnostic criteria. Unfortunately, this is more complicated since the criteria for many mental disorders are arbitrary and easily met by someone just distressed and pursuing litigation. Also, while a psychological opinion may purport to only address emotional harm, it invariably infers that the harm springs from a particular opinion which, in fact, occurred. Tile most striking example is the controversial diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in which the trauma is built into the label. Although attempts have been made to identify specific and objective criteria for this condition, its rampant use in litigation attests to its subjectivity. Most individuals e?posed to a typical traumatic stressor do not develop PTSD, although following a rape the incidence can be high. Long-term lingering emotional symptoms in response to ordinary sexual harassment are unusual unless the nature of the harassment was particularly egregious and pervasive. ‘Psychological opinions are routinely offered ?p emotional damages and the relative effects of alternative causes, the harm from litigation itself, and the secondary gain that comes from an expected financial award. !p traditional tort claims of negligence, the plaintiff must have suffered some harm. In sexual harassment claims, neither economic harm nor emotional harm is necessary. However the degree of damages awarded will undoubtedly be linked to psychological opinions which offer definition for the distress and the disorder suffered.
Every individual has the right to work in an environment free from demeaning and humiliating sexual harassment. Laws that enforce that right are appropriate and help create parity for all workers. But the increase in sexual harassment claims also raises social questions. What behaviours are normal, should be acceptable, and will always be a part of men’s and women’s relationships? What harm comes to individuals ?G classes of individuals when a power gradient is established through sexua1 intimidation? How can the workplace be sensitized and educated about this without becoming cynical? How can a person communicate sensitivity without retribution? How can we accurately distinguish whether a sexual harassment claim is really based ?p the circumstances alleged ?G just a means of empowerment in a confliction and insecure work environment? Psychological opinions may help on some of these questions, but social opinion and public policy will be required for equitable solutions.