In the workplace, people have legal protection against sexual harassment because lawmakers recognize its prevalence and the harm that it causes. However, some people may wonder why certain behaviors are a problem when they do not necessarily mean any harm by them. 

Whether people intend to harm others or not is not the issue, though. What matters is what happens when they cross the line. 

Defining the behavior 

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment covers a wide range of behaviors, from saying something offensive about a person’s sex in general to offering a promotion in exchange for a sexual favor. The harassment could come from anyone: a superior, a co-worker, a client or a customer. 

A co-worker may tease another or make an offhand comment without crossing the line. However, if these continue to the point that the work environment feels hostile or offensive to the person on the receiving end, they become harassment. 

Identifying the victims 

Although anyone can become the victim of sexual harassment, it affects women disproportionately. According to MarketWatch, an estimated 81% of women in the U.S. have become targets of such behaviors in the workplace at some point in their lives. 

Revealing the harm 

Sexual harassment causes well-documented psychological trauma. Often, women who experience it in the workplace develop depression, low self-esteem, negative body image and anxiety. They report suffering from trouble concentrating and feelings of shame. 

But a study by JAMA Internal Medicine reveals that there are often physical effects, as well. Women’s risk of illness and injury increases and they are more likely to suffer high blood pressure, sleep problems, anxiety and other mood problems. 

The impact goes even deeper, though. Health professionals have identified links between these health conditions and high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease — the number one killer of women in the United States.