Sexual harassment in the workplace is a global phenomenon that has varying consequences and repercussions for victims.
In some cases, a victim may experience psychological effects and trauma similar to those of rape and sexual assault victims.
Victims experience profound mental and emotional stress that can result in depression, decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, fear, guilt, and impacts on personal life and relationships. All of these symptoms may also manifest as physical illness, fatigue, headaches and stomach problems.*
Emma Matjila, Transformation Officer at the Department of Human Resources at the University of Pretoria, links the personal impact of sexual harassment on an individual to the broader impact of the company or organisation. 'These symptoms and effects of harassment result in a loss of productivity for the company and increased conflict in teams. There is also a high staff turnover due to people leaving because they were harassed. Staff who are being harassed tend to have a higher rate of absenteeism, as they avoid coming to work,' she says.
However, Ms Matjila believes that employers can assist staff in overcoming pervasive cultures of sexual harassment by having an open channel for victims to come forward. 'This is where campaigns like #SpeakOutUP become important for staff and students, because the emotional and physical well-being of individuals is important to the University. We encourage people to report abuse via the 24-hour crisis line on 012 420 2310 or 0800 006 428, or to call the UP Careline on 0800 747 747 for support,' she says.
* A complete list of symptoms can be found in the Western Cape Government web guidebook on sexual harassment and on Wikipedia.