During the ongoing Mental Health Awareness Month, there should be a conversation about how verbal bullying in the workplace affects mental health.
Jayanti P (she did not want her full name released), who works in the media, was shocked when, just a week after joining a new workplace, her boss showed her some inappropriate videos under the guise of ‘being nice’. ‘. “At first I didn’t know how to react and I told him that I felt uncomfortable watching these videos with him, but he laughed it off,” says Jayanti, 32. Having undergone Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) training at the office, she knew this could be reported, but when she talked about it with her family and friends, they said she was “making a big deal out of it” and “spoiling a perfect place”. . good working relationship when he didn’t make a move on her or physically assault her.” Jayanti was shocked by this response, and went ahead and filed the complaint against all the resistance anyway. Her case is currently being reviewed by her organization’s Human Resources (HR) department.
While it is true that most companies have made POSH training mandatory and have made it, at least in theory, easier for employees to report cases of sexual harassment, it is not so easy in practice, especially when the harassment is of a which can be ruled out as ‘non-harmful’. But non-physical sexual harassment can be just as virulent and can affect the mental health of victims just as strongly, including creating a lack of self-confidence, imposter syndrome, and a lack of faith in oneself. judgment. Ultimately, it can have a considerable impact on a person’s productivity and career growth.
Nonverbal sexual harassment can include a variety of behaviors, such as inappropriate or lewd comments, suggestive jokes, unwanted attention, or pressure to engage in a sexual relationship. These behaviors can create a hostile work environment and make the victim feel anxious, depressed, and even traumatized. Studies have shown that non-physical sexual harassment can have long-term emotional and psychological effects similar to those experienced by victims of physical assault. This is only made worse when the victim’s own support system and the women within it are also unsupportive if the harassment was not physical in nature.
Co-workers often dismiss cases of non-physical sexual harassment, downplaying the experience, says Samriti Makkar Midha, co-founder of POSH at Work and a clinical psychologist. “Even some people close to the victim may play devil’s advocate and give the defendant the benefit of the doubt in such cases. This doesn’t help because it trivializes and minimizes the experience of the harassed person,” says Midha. While most people who make these comments may do so out of protective instinct, they often backfire on the victim.
It is crucial to acknowledge and validate the experiences of those who have been subjected to non-physical sexual harassment. Dismissing or trivializing your experiences can lead to a sense of isolation and a reluctance to seek help or report incidents. Fostering open communication and empathy for victims can foster a supportive environment that allows them to heal and seek justice. Employers, colleagues and friends need to recognize that non-physical bullying is just as harmful as physical forms and should be approached with the same level of seriousness. Providing resources and education on how to understand and respond to sexual harassment can empower people to identify and address these issues and ultimately create safer and more inclusive workplaces and communities.
Midha, in collaboration with POSH at Work, has established essential guidelines that all organizations must follow to address sexual harassment allegations with the necessary sensitivity and understanding. While organizations may adhere to these protocols, it is often the reactions and attitudes of individuals within the organization or those close to victims that significantly influence victims’ experiences. The support and responses received after taking the courageous step of reporting the harassment can determine the course of a victim’s recovery and experience throughout the hearing process. Midha suggests some ways to support victims of non-physical sexual harassment:
- Listen without judging: When someone shares their experience with sexual harassment, it is important to listen carefully and avoid interrupting. Show empathy and understanding by validating their feelings and acknowledging the courage it took them to speak up.
- Offer emotional support: Let the victim know that you are there for her and that her feelings are valid. Encourage them to seek professional help if necessary, such as therapy or counseling, to help them cope with the emotional and psychological effects of bullying.
- Encourage Reporting: Support the victim in reporting the incident to the proper authorities, such as Human Resources or a supervisor. Reporting can help hold the harasser accountable and prevent future incidents.
- Advocate for a Safe Work Environment: Work with the victim to address and change the workplace culture that allows for sexual harassment. This could include proposing and implementing policies, providing training, and promoting awareness of the issue.
- Help the victim access resources: Share information about support groups, counseling services, and legal options that may be available to them. This can help empower the victim and give them tools to deal with the consequences of bullying.
Non-physical sexual harassment is a critical problem with the potential to cause long-term psychological damage to those affected. As friends, family, and colleagues, it is essential that we aim to be empathetic and caring listeners, working together to dismantle the stigma surrounding non-physical bullying and allow victims to heal and regain their sense of identity. Recognizing the profound consequences of these types of incidents is a vital step in fostering safer and more inclusive workplaces where respect and dignity are afforded to all.
To accomplish this, we can educate ourselves and others about the various forms of non-physical sexual harassment, which can include verbal comments, suggestive gestures, and inappropriate online communications. In addition, we must actively challenge victim-blaming attitudes and strive to create an atmosphere in which people feel comfortable talking about their experiences without fear of judgment or reprisal. Fostering open communication and trust can help raise awareness and reinforce the fact that everyone is entitled to a harassment-free environment.