Why Does Sexual Harassment Happen?

Sexual harassment takes place in nearly any type of workplace, including the entertainment industry, big tech, the military, law, or even your favorite local restaurant. But why is workplace sexual harassment so pervasive, and why does it happen? While harassers each have their own motivations, psychologists have weighed in on why this unlawful conduct might occur.

Occupational Territory

When women enter into a traditionally male-dominated industry or occupation, men working in the field might attempt to disempower or intimidate women with harassing conduct, or they might be trying to discourage women from pursuing further work in the field. Harassment can be a way for men to try to hold on to positions of power and ensure that women employees do not move up and overtake their positions.

Sometimes, harassing conduct aims to make women uncomfortable enough that they might leave the workplace. In other situations, protecting occupational territory results in so-called “power moves” that are significantly more serious. A male boss might threaten a woman’s job if she does not agree to sexual relations, which can tip the power scales in his favor. None of this conduct is acceptable to try to protect one’s position in the workplace.

The Normalization of Sexual Objectification

Our society tends to promote women as sexualized objects in many ways, and some men bring these ideas and norms into the workplace. This is especially true if women and men employees have different standards for how they must dress or act at work. However, no matter how society presents women – or how women choose to present themselves – it is never a justification for unlawful sexual harassment at work.

Feeling Invincible

Some male employees who rose to the top or made significant contributions to an organization might think they can get away with anything. They might have a sense of power and entitlement due to their success that leads them to violate the rights of women employees through sexual harassment. If a man feels indispensable to a company, he might have few boundaries regarding how he treats others in the workforce.

It is important to note here that sexual harassment does not always take place between a male harasser and a female victim. A woman who feels integral to a company might treat male employees in lesser positions wrongfully due to feelings of invincibility, as well.

Discomfort with the Unfamiliar

In addition to male-female sexual harassment, this type of unlawful conduct can also happen based on an employee’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender nonconformity. Some others in the workplace might not feel familiar with those who are in the LGBTQ community, which might lead them to engage in offensive and harassing conduct. The law protects a diverse workforce, and employers should take steps to ensure such sex or gender-based harassment of others is not tolerated.

No matter what might lead to sexual harassment at work, victims have the right to be free from such conduct in employment. If you believe you are a victim, speak with a workplace sexual harassment lawyer as soon as possible.

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