Sexual Harassment Literature Review

Sexual harassment in the workplace


The concept of sexual harassment at workplace is a debatable global topic. Despite the increasing enactment of legislative acts aimed at reducing the problem, sexual harassment is considered as one of the most prevalent forms of workplace bullying in modern organizations. No organization can comfortably claim to be free from sexual harassment, and the frequency of such cases underlines the importance to carry out research on the prevalence, sources, effects, and policies that can help reduce the impacts brought about by the issue. Sexual harassment is unacceptable behavior, and it is, therefore, prudent for scholars and organizational leaders to understand the underlying factors to ensure that such cases are no more in the modern society (Anticol & Cobb-Clark, 2003). In this paper, I will discuss works from different scholars and researchers on this concept. There have been numerous studies on the topic with the objective of understanding the causes and possible solutions to sexual harassment at work place.

Literature Review

Sexual harassment at workplaces has been given different definitions resulting from the different perceptions of different cultures. Some scholars have argued that which one organizational setting would refer to as sexual harassment may not be the case in another setting. Some of these actions would be referred to as flirting or jokes among the employees of the organization and may be a source of joy at the work place. The other source of discrepancy in the definition is brought about by the worldwide disagreement upon various specific behaviors deemed to comprise sexual harassment (Erdreich et al., 1995).  For instance, Pakistan law defines sexual harassment as any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors, or any written or verbal communication or sexually demeaning attitudes causing interference in the workplace. (Chamberlain et al., 2008).  Sexual harassment has also been defined as sexual advances be it in touches, looks, or even jokes that undermine the diligence of the victims. Of course, forcing a worker to have sex, or rape, is also considered to be sexual harassment.

Previous studies have also been actively involved in determining the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace. The studies have confirmed the prevalence of the sexual harassment in the workplace across different organizations.  For instance, the work of Bergman asserts that sexual harassment is prevalent in many organizations including in the military. Studies have suggested that sexual harassment against women has been a historical occurrence in the military and has been increasing over the years (Bergman & Henning, 2008).According to the study, most women in the military have suffered immensely from sexual harassment from their male counterparts. Besides being prevalent in different organizations, the acts of sexual harassment cuts across class, gender, and race, however, it is imperative to note that female workers are prone to sexual harassment as compared to the male workers (Bell et al., 2002). According to Waugh (2001), female workers in low-wage, remote-area, and male-dominated workplaces are more susceptible to sexual harassment. From the study, it is evident that more than 80% of females in such organizations have suffered from different forms of sexual harassment (Bell et al., 2002). To add salt to injuries, more than 22% of these women remain silent on these issues. Studies have shown that most women who experience the sexual harassment incidents do not seek redress nor are they encouraged to address the issues.

More studies have tried to find an explanation as to why women are prone to sexual harassment as compared to the male counterparts. According to the studies, women have been victims of sexual harassment since, for many years, society has viewed women as second-class citizens. Sexual harassment has been described as a form of gender discrimination that is mainly directed to women. The women have over the years been victims of gender disparities and being subordinate to their male counterparts. Further studies have attributed ignorance to the increased prevalence of sexual harassment on women (Chamberlain et al., 2008). It is argued that most women do not understand their rights and thus making it difficult for them to rise to the occasion and say no to sexual harassment. Most organizations have failed to recognize the menace of sexual harassment and thus failing to give the concept the desired levels of attention.

Studies have also attributed values and social norms as other factors that trigger sexual harassment against the female workers. According to the studies, some cultures support the fact that men are superior to women and thus should possess high positions as compared to women.  This has given men an opportunity to take advantage of their superiority to solicit sexual favors from junior females (Lewis, 2013). Some women feel inferior and naïve thus having the connotation that man hold condescending entitlements. Such increased gender disparities at workplaces explain the escalating cases of sexual harassment in the modern organizations. To make the matters worse, most of the female victims have chosen to remain silent on this matter thus they will never get justice.  In cases where women speak of the prevalence of sexual harassment, there is little or no action taken. In most cases, women are blamed for being victims of sexual harassment thus giving perpetrators of the crime scot free.

There have also been numerous studies aimed at understanding the effects of sexual harassment on the employees and the organization at hand. Most of these studies have suggested that sexual harassment has adverse effects on the employees since it substantially affects and disturbs their performance (Bell et al., 2002). Cases of sexual harassment bring about a hostile working environment and consequently lead to a decline in the level of performance from employees (Runge, 2006). The research further argues that cases of sexual harassment are also an explanation of increased absenteeism and loss of valuable workforce (Uggen & Blackstone, 2004). Most victims of sexual harassment are said to be victims of low self-esteem, increased work dissatisfaction, loss of trust and increased frustration whose overall effects is low productivity within organizations.

Besides economic downturns associated with sexual harassment, studies have also found some negative social influences associated to sexual harassment at the work place. The studies have outlined cases of insomnia, loss of interest of the family, and increase depression, which are some of the social issues that are associated with sexual harassment (Chamberlain et al., 2008). It is evident that sexual harassment is a major source of health, economic, and safety problems in modern day organizations and employees. Increased cases of sexual harassment have resulted in excess stressful moments and in extreme cases, there are instances of suicides among the employees (Uggen & Blackstone, 2004). There are instances when victims of sexual harassment feel that they are no longer fit in the society and ends up committing suicide. Additionally, the studies have also confirmed a tremendous increase in mental and physical stress among the victims of this crime (Chamberlain et al., 2008). As a result, the organization will suffer from increased rate of staff turnover, increased tardiness, and lack of harmony within the workplace. Supervisors and other top managers in an organization may be in a sour relationship with junior members creating adverse effects on the overall productivity.

As aforementioned, the prevalence of sexual harassment among the employees is real and an alarming situation in the modern organizations. Most of the studies have confirmed that this is outdated practice and should not be happening in the 21st century (Uggen & Blackstone, 2004). Previous studies have indicated an upward trend in the cases of sexual harassment and thus increasing the need for having policies and organizational practices that will lead to a decline in the cases of sexual harassment. It is imperative that managers of the modern organization should understand the prevalence of sexual harassment and put in place different and effective methods that can substantially reduce the crime (Uggen &Blackstone, 2004). Studies have shown that despite the increased legal provisions to safeguard and prevent sexual assaults, the legal approach has not realized the desired outcomes. Most of the cases concerning issues of sexual assaults have not administered justice to victims of sexual harassment. This can be explained by the fact that the rules are not very strict and offenders of sexual harassment will always get their way out. Perpetrators of these acts are also senior people in organizations and will always manipulate such cases to an extent that they even never get in the corridors of justice.

From the previous studies, it is evident that most of the cases of sexual violence in workplaces go unnoticed. This is explained by the fact that most victims of sexual harassment are victimized by their seniors and fear to speak out for fear of further victimization and lose their jobs (Sullivan, 2004). It is prudent for organizations to cultivate a culture that promotes peaceful environment and coexistence among the employees in a workplace.  It is imperative that men in organizational management should uphold respect to women and should not take them as inferior to get sexual favors from them (Chamberlain et al., 2008). Besides cultivating a culture that condemns the vice of sexual harassment, it is also wise for the organizations to reinforce laws that prohibit sexual harassment in such settings.

It is the responsibility of the organization to ensure that organizational policies in the organization are strict enough to limit the extent of sexual harassment in the organization. Organizations should embrace a culture where the vice is considered a great offense and a shameful act. It is the responsibility of the organization to increase awareness in the workplace and ensure that appropriate disciplinary measures are taken against the offenders of the crime. Additionally, the researchers have also recommended that employees who face sexual harassment should be given an opportunity to voice their concerns (Uggen & Blackstone, 2004). Some studies have also explored the possibility of setting up complaints committee that should be obliged to handle issues of sexual harassment. Organizations should be made aware that the sexual harassment is unethical behavior that will not be tolerated in such organizations.

Studies have also emphasized the importance of sensitizing employees concerning their rights in the workplace. This is regarded as the most efficient remedy to the increasing cases of sexual harassment rampant in the modern society (Uggen & Blackstone, 2004). With adequate information, employees will be well-equipped to understand when their rights are infringed upon and take appropriate actions. There is no doubt that it is unethical to subject victims of sexual harassment to additional anguish. It is, therefore, prudent for the employees to have adequate legal options to address the issues of sexual harassment in workplace settings (Chamberlain et al., 2008). It is imperative that all the players in a workplace be sensitized with the dangers associated with the sexual harassment.


As earlier mentioned, the cases of sexual harassment are a reality and great shame to the modern workplace. Several studies have been carried out to understand the extent of the issue, its prevalence, causes, and possible remedies to the problem. Sexual harassment is of different forms, both verbal and non-verbal behavior, which lowers the dignity of the affected persons. These studies have confirmed that female workers are more prone to sexual harassment as compared to the male counterparts. It is, however, imperative to note that there are also some isolated cases of male victims of sexual harassment as well as same-sex assault where men assault fellow men and women assault women (Niebuhr &O’ Donohue, 1997). In fact, sexual harassment in the workplace is a threat which has adverse effects on the victims as well as the organization. It is, therefore, paramount that organizations should put in place measures that will help reduce instances of sexual harassment for improved productivity. In conclusion, sexual harassment is an outdated, discriminatory practice that should have no place in the modern society.



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