Sexual Harassment and Assault: A Costly Tax for Women

I am the survivor of both sexual assault and rape, and I understand all too well the high cost, or tax, that women pay for being treated as sexual objects. I experienced sexual assault as a child, an adolescent, a young woman, and a middle-aged woman. I have never talked about most of these experiences, but I believe that women now need to speak out to make it clear that disrespecting women is a real problem, not just “locker room talk.” Sexual assault and violence are serious problems all over the world and not small problems in our country. Amanda Taub of the New York Times reports the following:

  • One in four women in the United States have been sexually assaulted.
  • One in five women in the United States are victims of rape or attempted rape.

The cost to women who experience sexual assault and harassment in its many forms — many of which were clearly described in the Access Hollywood tape that recorded Donald J. Trump boasting of grabbing, groping, kissing, leering, and committing other violations of the personal boundaries of women without their consent — occurs on many levels. The cost can be emotional trauma that can be permanently damaging to one’s confidence and self-image, not to mention the pain and humiliation of rape. I particularly resonate with Taub’s description of the impact of sexual assault on women as an “opportunity tax.”

Women are taught early in life that they are responsible for avoiding sexual assault and that it is their fault if it happens to them. Taub cites social scientist Professor Leong, who explains the opportunity tax: “Whereas men can freely seize opportunities, women must pause and weigh the costs of” meeting alone with a professor, going out to dinner with a male client, networking after hours with colleagues at a conference, meeting alone with a potential investor, or going on a business trip with a male boss. Because of sexual harassment and assault, many women quit jobs, leave professions, or step back to avoid risk, thereby damaging their careers and limiting their life choices.

A lot of women have come forward to tell their stories since Trump’s words and tone in the Access Hollywood recording struck a chord with many of us. We are outraged by the dismissal of his remarks as “locker room talk.” Jonathan Miller sums up Trump’s statements well, writing that they reflect a “rape culture” in our larger society. He explains that talking about objectification of women’s bodies results in the cultural conditioning of men and boys to feel entitled to treat women as sex objects. This is also described by Sam Polk as “bro talk.”

Yes, Trump’s comments struck a nerve. Kelly Oxford posted a tweet sharing her experience of sexual assault on Friday night when the Access Hollywood tape was released, and by Monday morning twenty-seven million people around the world shared first-person accounts or visited her Twitter page. Shortly before the Access Hollywood tape came to light, I published an article on why sexual harassment happens, and received more than two hundred stories and comments and over 10,000 viewings from readers all over the world on LinkedIn. The following are a few of those comments from my readers:

  • I work in silence. It’s not nice bosses that have the upper hand over employees.
    Female Housekeeper
  • I was in a position in which a high ranking male would look at various parts of my body in a very lewd manner. When I filed a complaint, it became his word against mine and nothing was done. I was asked to transfer to another location.
    Female Technician
  • I think a lot of sexual harassment begins at home. Dad belittles Mom, Mom tries to keep a straight face because the kids are watching. Daughter grows up and gets married to a man much like Dad. This carries over into the daughter’s work life — trapped, not knowing which way to turn, ignoring degrading remarks in order to put food on the table.
    Female Author and Business Owner
  • One college professor grabbed my backside while at a business club event. Another offered to give me a better grade if I “went out” with him. I took the lower grade. Things like this happen more frequently than reported.
    Female Technical Professional
  • This is still a huge problem. I recently wrote about my own experiences with sexual harassment by an executive and admitted my own fear of speaking out because I worried it might damage my reputation.
    Female Entrepreneur
  • In India, a deeply rooted culture of patriarchy plus inherent misogyny form a dangerous basis of judging the seriousness of any sexual harassment complaint made at the workplace.
    Female Financial Advisor in India

It is not easy to speak out when demeaning and traumatizing things happen to you. It helps when we can share our stories and know we are not alone. We must come out of the shadows with our stories and support each other. Together we can pressure our society to stop perpetuating a rape culture and to end this opportunity tax for women.

Please share your story here, if you have one to tell.

Anne Litwin, Ph.D. is an Organizational Development and Human Resources Consultant, Keynote Speaker, and Author of ‘New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together.’

Originally published at annelitwin.com on November 28, 2016.

Author of ‘New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together', OD Consultant, Keynote Speaker, and Workshop Trainer

Author of ‘New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together', OD Consultant, Keynote Speaker, and Workshop Trainer