Sexual Harassment– Break the Social Stigma

The #MeToo conversation has been a powerful force in the increased awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace, Sexual Harassment–Break the Social Stigma. During this movement, a large part of the #MeToo conversation has been focused on women and their experiences. However, it’s important to note that sexual harassment can happen to anyone, anywhere, and in many forms. New research by Stop Street Harassment found that 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men have experienced some form of sexual harassment in their life.

The most common forms of sexual harassment and assault reported include:

  • Verbal sexual harassment: 77 percent of women and 34 percent of men
  • Physically aggressive forms of sexual harassment, unwelcome sexual contact, flashed or shown genitals: 62 percent of women and 26 percent of men
  • Cyber sexual harassment (phone, text and online): 41 percent of women and 22 percent of men
  • Sexual Assault: 27 percent of women and 7 percent of men, and almost all of the survey’s participants had experienced sexual harassment.

During this survey, common forms of sexual harassment and assault were broken down by phrases, physical touches and other examples including women reporting whistling, honking, calling out at them, and men reporting being misgendered and being touched in inappropriate ways.

This article is going to discuss to discuss sexual harassment in the workplace, the perceptions surrounding men and women that keep them from coming forward, and with their experiences and seeking the justice they deserve.

Sexual Harassment break the social stigma photoby William Stitt_Unsplash
Photo by William Stitt on Unsplash


In a 2016 study, Report of the Co-Chairs of the EEOC Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace, it was reported that in the previous year, one-third of the 90,000 cases the EEOC received were allegations of sexual harassment. This included unlawful harassment based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, race, disability, ethnicity, color, and religion.

Thirty-three percent, over 29,000 of the cases reported were sexual harassment–how many other cases remain unreported and unremedied?

Three out of four individuals who experienced harassment did not talk with their supervisor, human resources officer or representative about their experience. They did not report their allegations to the EEOC. Why?

The most common response to unreported sexual harassment allegations was to avoid their harasser, they were in denial of the situation, they were afraid that they would not be believed and that nothing would happen.

Why is it that men and women are afraid of not being believed, and that nothing would happen as a result of their claims?

In a 2001 study of 102 rape survivors done by Rebecca Campbell from Michigan State University, Courtney e. Ahrens from California State University, and three others, found that the “contribution of positive social reactions such as providing support, listening and believing had negligible effects on a survivors recovery, while negative social reactions such as blaming had negative effects.”

Due to the cultural and social perceptions surrounding sexual harassment and assault, as well as the fear of workplace retaliation, men and women can find it difficult to step forward with their experience.


Sexual harassment can happen to anyone, anywhere, and in many forms. Because of cultural and social perceptions of sexual harassment and its implications–a staggering amount of boys, men, girls, and women feel that they can not come forward and accuse their aggressor.

Negative perceptions work effectively in silencing victims and seriously impair the healing process in the aftermath of sexual trauma. It can make them not want to speak about their experiences, withdraw from their loved ones and never face their harasser.

There are four “well-known” negative perceptions that can hinder men and women from coming forward.

1. Men and boys cannot be sexually harassed or assaulted.

According to a 2005 U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) study, 16 percent of men were sexually abused by the age of 18.

Because of the cultural and social perception that men can “take care of themselves” because they are supposed to be “masculine,” men are believed to not be vulnerable.

Sexual Harassment break the social stigma photo by Analise Benevides Unsplash

2. Sexual harassment only happens between opposite genders.

This is not true. Men can sexually harass men. Women can sexually harass women. Men can sexually harass women, and women can sexually harass men.

For example, if a woman was being told she was too “masculine” or a man was told he was too “feminine” and was being called names or treated differently because of this, it could be grounds for a workplace sexual harassment case.

Sexual Harassment break the social stigma photo by Timothy Paul Smith Unsplash

3. Sexual harassment can only happen if the harasser is in a state of power.

This is also false. Sexual harassment can occur between co-workers.

In the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.

In the previous article, I discussed Paula Johnson’s, president of Wellesley College in Eastern Massachusetts, quote regarding sexual harassment in higher education, “the cumulative effect of sexual harassment is extremely damaging.” She then went on to urge the public to understand that sexual harassment is inherently about power dynamics, “the put-downs as opposed to the come-ons.”

Power dynamics do not only extend to boss and employee. It can be as simple as feeling inferior to the abuser because of the harassment that has ensued.

Sexual Harassment break the social stigma photo by David Preston Unsplash
Photo by David Preston on Unsplash


Men, like women, can suffer from the same physical, mental and emotional effects of sexual harassment and abuse.

As mentioned, many can feel shame and start to self-blame. According to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), other side effects can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Avoidance of loved ones
  • Being on edge
  • Guilt

Not only do victims experience physical and emotional effects of sexual harassment and abuse, but they can also experience monetary damage as they may be out of work during this time, in which case they may have a case for workplace retaliation.

According to one study, “75 percent of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation.”

If you have experienced retaliation as a result of coming forward with your allegations, we can help you. Additional resources regarding workplace retaliation are available here.

If you or someone you know feels that they have been the victim of workplace sexual harassment, assault or workplace retaliation it is crucial that you speak up as soon as the incident happens.

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) dictates that you have 300 days from the last discriminatory act to file an official complaint.

Any documentation of these allegations that you can provide to our team would be helpful as it will aid in your case. At the Law Offices of Michael O. Shea, we want you to have a safe and comfortable environment where you can discuss your sexual harassment allegations openly. During this time, we help you seek proper justice against your harasser. You are not alone.

Working with an experienced attorney can ensure that your rights are protected and a successful resolution is reached on your case. The Law Offices of Michael O. Shea have 25 years of experience working in employment law and litigation with a focus as a sexual harassment lawyer in Massachusetts.

Call today for a free consultation.