The denunciation of Harvey Weinstein and his sexual harassment towards several actresses has caused Hollywood to address a cloudy, old and silenced issue that challenges the whole society. These days, people go on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #MeToo: a planetary protest against sexual harassment against women. The #MeToo users seeks to expose all the cases that have been silenced. Others go further, such as the Insta-famous account @dearcatcallers, a Dutch woman who is uploading her selfies taken with the men who harass her on the street. The voices of women to denounce this form of violence to which they are exposed are becoming stronger.
The European Parliament defines sexual harassment as “the situation in which any verbal, nonverbal, or physical unwanted behavior of a sexual nature occurs with the purpose or effect of undermining the dignity of a person, particularly when an environment is created as intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive. ” There is no doubt: sexual harassment is a form of blackmail that has to do with an abuse of power (mostly of men against women). This abuse inevitably affects the physical and psychological health of those who suffer it.
According to UN Women, it is estimated that 35% of women around the world have suffered physical and/or sexual violence from their partner or sexual violence by a person other than their partner at some point in their life. In fact, according to this organization:
“Women who have suffered physical or sexual abuse from their partners are more than twice as likely to have an abortion, almost twice as likely to suffer from depression and, in some regions, 1.5 times more likely to contract HIV, compared to women who have not suffered violence from their partner”
And this is only what is estimated. Therefore, we should consider sexual harassment as a type of psychological violence: bullying, blackmail and catcalling are behaviors that, although not accompanied by physical contact, have a severe impact on the emotions, physical sensations, thoughts and behaviors of the person assaulted.
It is important to say it clearly: being a victim of sexual harassment doesn’t have to destroy you but it does leave a mark on your health that should be taken care of. It’s not always easy to detect what the effects are because they are usually rooted very deeply into the victim’s vulnerability. Below we include three keys that can serve as a guide to observe the consequences of a situation of sexual harassment that you suffered – or one in which you may still be immersed.
Sexual harassment is traumatic, and that is not a dramatization of language. In a strictly technical sense, it is an experience associated with strong impotence, invalidation, helplessness and stress.
Sexual harassment can generate a silenced mourning: the person, usually out of shame or fear of not being believed, tends to silence what happened along with the pain suffered, thus decreasing the possibility of receiving support and reinforcing their sense of having been traumatized.
Sexual harassment lowers your self-esteem. It is never your fault, but it is an experience in which you come to the conclusion that you are someone who should only be rewarded for their sexual favors, someone who is worth only for their physical attractiveness, someone whose limits do not deserve to be respected.
“The pain that is not shared does not heal”
And here everything ends? Not at all. After suffering sexual harassment, it’s important that you take an active role and put yourself in your place. Denounce it, share it, visualize yourself. You don’t have to publish a full-page about what happened to you, but you must tell someone you trust and lean on him or her. The therapist Alba Payàs, expert in grief, says it clearly, “The pain that is not shared is not healed.” Your family, your friends, and your co-workers can be a first line of support. If it has affected you too much, or if it still is affecting you too much, that person who you trust can accompany you. Or, a mental health professional can help you in the process of taking care of that wound that you don’t deserve but that is with you.
The important thing is for you to find your own individual path to recover the power that has been taken from you and to refresh the memory of your own worth. Don’t get hung up on sexual harassment – that’s another important step to take.