The Financial Impact of Sexual Harassment and Abuse
Happy Women’s History Month! This is the one month out of the year that is dedicated to celebrating the contributions and achievements of women in America. Like with Black History Month, we should be celebrating women every day. But unfortunately, that’s not the case (yet), so it’s nice to take advantage of this month to elevate women and the issues affecting them.
Sexual harassment and abuse have been prominent in the news lately, thanks to the #MeToo movement. Up to 85% of women report that they have been sexually harassed at work, according to a 2016 report by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Not only do these crimes affect women emotionally and physically, but they have a financial impact as well. Here are the ways sexual harassment and abuse affect women financially, which you may not have thought about before.
A study by Cleveland State University concluded that 90-95 percent of women who reported sexual harassment experienced physical consequences as a result, such as stress, anxiety, depression, headaches, nausea, insomnia, and PTSD. It can also amplify already existing mental health issues. These issues can manifest physically, leading to things like heart problems, digestive issues, or chronic pain.
This is not to mention the healthcare costs that come along with sexual assault itself. For the women who seek emergency medical assistance after an assault, they will have to pay the medical costs. Even if a person is insured, they can still be charged nearly $1,000 in medical costs after their treatment. This does not happen with other types of violent crime. Are you angry yet?
Mental Health Repercussions
As mentioned above, the vast majority of women who reported sexual harassment experience stress, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. And those are just the women who have reported! We don’t have conclusive data on the women who have experienced harassment and assault but who haven’t sought repercussions for their abusers. Just imagine the additional mental health impacts of bearing these experiences alone.
To add insult to injury, mental health services in the United States are not great. There is still a stigma around therapy and medication, to start. And then, our healthcare system doesn’t make it easy or affordable to access mental health services. An insurance company might make you jump through hoops just to get an appointment, or the services themselves might be prohibitively expensive.
In my own experience, I now have insurance through the marketplace and the insurance company I have only offers therapy from one office location, which is not metro accessible and nowhere near my home. To boot, they also only allow me and other patients to go to therapy once or twice a month, because they want us to “live life outside of therapy too”, which I don’t buy. So, I’m a very privileged women, with access to affordable healthcare, with a partner who owns a car, and the means to take a cab if I need to. Yet, I still feel discouraged from seeking therapy under my current insurance. Just imagine the barriers to women who do not have the same privileges. How are they to get the support they need?
I’ve heard about this a lot during the #MeToo movement. Many women who started out in the entertainment industry left their career after experiencing sexual harassment or abuse in the workplace. Many of these women likely had extremely promising careers, but they no longer felt safe or wanted, so they left the industry.
According to data collected by sociologist Heather McLaughlin and others, about 80% of women who have been harassed leave their jobs within two years. This happens everywhere: tech, education, law enforcement, etc. Not only is this incredibly tragic because it causes women to leave their preferred field, but it can also negatively impact their earning power. When you leave one industry and start over in a new one, you’re starting from the bottom in terms of salary too.
Not only does this affect women individually, but it affects the economy and women as a whole. As women leave their careers to escape sexual harassment and/or abuse, we’re all missing out on their ideas and accomplishments.
Settlements and Litigation
In the news, we often hear about multi-million dollar settlements. But the truth is, that usually doesn’t happen. Most often, women need their paycheck to survive, so they choose not to file a complaint at all. And many abusers know this, which is one of the reasons why they feel so empowered to harass and abuse women in the workplace.
However, companies are paying so. much. money. to settle sexual harassment cases. According to the EEOC, since 2010, employers have paid out $698.7 million to employees alleging harassment through the Commission’s administrative enforcement pre-litigation process alone.
If women do decide to file a complaint or press charges, they likely have to pay out of pocket for legal fees. Many people cannot afford this route.
So what can you do?
When you see or hear someone acting inappropriately, say something. Tell them that you don’t approve of their behavior, and ask them to stop. Go to HR and report what you’ve seen or heard. It can feel uncomfortable, but we’re all responsible for creating safer spaces wherever we go. This is especially true for men! They need to show their friends, family, and colleagues that bad behavior is not acceptable.
To learn more about how to be an active bystander, visit Collective Action for Safe Spaces! Even better, attend one of their bystander trainings.
If someone tells you that they’ve been harassed or abused, believe them. Ask them what you can do to support them. Sometimes, all people need to hear is that they are believed. Other times, they may need you to speak up for them at work, in friend groups, or even in court. If you see someone being harassed at work (or anywhere, really), tell them that you’re there for them. Again, ask how you can support them. The more victims hear that they are believed and supported, the less alone and safer they will feel. Hopefully, this will encourage more victims to come forward to get the justice they desire.
Donate Time and/or Money
There are so many organizations out there fighting against sexual harassment and abuse and supporting survivors. Pick one to donate to or volunteer with.
Here are some wonderful organizations to start with:
Have you experienced financial difficulty due to sexual harassment or assault? If you feel comfortable, share your story in the comments. You are not alone!
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