Journal of Traumatic Stress

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 69–75 | Cite as

Sexual Harassment and PTSD: Is Sexual Harassment Diagnosable Trauma?

  • Claudia Avina
  • William O'Donohue


Sexual harassment has become a major social, legal, and mental health problem because of its high prevalence and its negative consequences for victims. These consequences can include decreased productivity, loss of job, decreased income, and impaired psychological and physical well-being. Despite evidence from empirical studies that victims often exhibit posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, some have argued that sexual harassment does not constitute legitimate trauma. We argue that many forms of sexual harassment meet the diagnostic Criteria A1 and A2 of PTSD. Finally, the DSM-IV trauma criterion is explicated, and its relationship with sexual harassment and its effects are discussed.

sexual harassment PTSD trauma physical integrity 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed). Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
  2. Andrew, M. J., & Andrew, J. D. (1997). Sexual harassment: The law. Journal of Rehabilitation Administration, 21, 23–42.Google Scholar
  3. Dan, A. J., Pinsof, D. A., & Riggs, L. L. (1995). Sexual harassment as an occupational hazard in nursing. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 17, 563–580.Google Scholar
  4. Dansky, B. S., & Kilpatrick, D. G. (1997). Effects of sexual harassment. In W. O'Donohue (Ed.), Sexual harassment (pp. 152–174). Needham Heights, MA: Viacom.Google Scholar
  5. Ftizgerald, L. F., Drasgow, F., Hulin, C. L., Gelfand, M. J., & Magley, V. J. (1997). Antecendents and consequences of sexual harassment in organizations: A test of an integrated model. Journal of Applied Psychology, 82, 578–589.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Fitzgerald, L. F., Gelfand, M. J., & Drasgow, F. (1995). Measuring sexual harassment: Theoretical and psychometric advances. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 17, 425–445.Google Scholar
  7. Fitzgerald, L. F., Hulin, C. L., & Drasgow, F. (1995). The antecedents and consequences of sexual harassment in organizations: An integrated model. In G. P. Klein & J. J. Hurrell, Jr. (Eds.), Job stress in a changing workforce: Investigating gender, diversity, and family issues (pp. 53–73). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  8. Fitzgerald, L. F., & Shullman, S. L. (1993). Sexual harassment: A research analysis and agenda for the 1990s. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 42, 5–27.Google Scholar
  9. Fitzgerald, L. F., Shullman, S. L., Bailey, N., Richards, M., Swecker, J., Gold, Y., et al. (1988). The incidence and dimensions of sexual harassment in academia and the workplace. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 32, 152–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fitzgerald, L. F., Swan, S., & Fischer, K. (1995). Why didn't she just report him? The psychological and legal implications of women's strategies for responding to sexual harassment. Journal of Social Issues, 51, 117–138.Google Scholar
  11. Fitzgerald, L. F., Swan, S., & Magley, V. J. (1997). But was it really sexual harassment? Legal, behavioral, and psychological definitions of the workplace victimization of women. In W. O'Donohue (Ed.), Sexual harassment (pp. 5–28). Needham Heights, MA: Viacom.Google Scholar
  12. Frances, A., First, M. B., & Pincus, H. A. (1995). DSM-IV guidebook. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.Google Scholar
  13. Glomb, T. M., Munson, L. J., Hulin, C. L., Bergman, M. E., & Drasgow, F. (1999). Structural equation models of sexual harassment: Longitudinal explorations and cross-sectional generalizations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84, 14–28.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Gruber, J. E., & Bjorn, L. (1986). Women's responses to sexual harassment: An analysis of sociocultural, organization, and personal resource models. Social Science Quarterly, 67, 815–826.Google Scholar
  15. Gutek, B. A. (1985). Sex and the workplace: The impact of sexual behavior and harassment on women, men and organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  16. Gutek, B., & Koss, M. P. (1993). Changed women and changed organizations: Consequences of and coping with sexual harassment. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 42, 28–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hamilton, J. A., Alagna, S. W., King, L. S., & Lloyd, C. (1987). The emotional consequences of gender-based abuse in the workplace: New counseling programs for sex discrimination. Women and Therapy, 6, 155–182.Google Scholar
  18. Kilpatrick, D. G., Resnick, H. S., Freedy, J. R., Pelcovitz, D., Resick, P. A., Roth, S., et al. (1998). The posttraumatic stress disorder field trial: Evaluation of the PTSD Construct—Criteria A through E. In T. Widiger, A. Frances, H. Pincus, R. Ross, M. First, W. Davis, & M. Kline (Eds.), DSM-IV sourcebook (Vol. 4, pp. 803–844). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.Google Scholar
  19. Koss, M. P. (1990). Changed lives: The psychological impact of sexual harassment. In M. Paludi (Ed.), Ivory power: Sex and gender harassment in academia (pp. 73–92). Albany, NY: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  20. Leeser, J., & O'Donohue, W. (1997). Normative issues in defining sexual harassment. In W. O'Donohue (Ed.), Sexual harassment (pp. 29–49). Needham Heights, MA: Viacom.Google Scholar
  21. Livingston, J. A. (1982). Responses to sexual harassment on the job: Legal, organizational, and individual actions. Journal of Social Issues, 38, 5–22.Google Scholar
  22. Loy, P. H., & Stewart, L. P. (1984). The extent and effects of the sexual harassment of working women. Sociological Focus, 17, 31–43.Google Scholar
  23. Malmquist, C. P. (1996). The use and misuse of psychiatry in sexual harassment cases. Psychiatric Annals, 26, 149–156.Google Scholar
  24. Martindale, M. (1990). Sexual harassment in the military: 1988. Arlington, VA: Defense Manpower Data Center.Google Scholar
  25. Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 40 FEP Cases 439 (1986).Google Scholar
  26. Naylor, J. C., Pritchard, R. D., & Ilgen, D. R. (1980). A theory of behavior in organizations. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  27. O'Donohue, W. (1997). Introduction. In W. O'Donohue (Ed.), Sexual harassment (pp. 50–83). Needham Heights, MA: Viacom.Google Scholar
  28. O'Donohue, W., Penix, T. M., & Brunswig, K. (1999). Development and evaluation of a sexual harassment sensitivity and prevention training program: A cognitive approach. Manuscript submitted for publication.Google Scholar
  29. Piotrkowski, C. S. (1998). Gender harassment, job satisfaction, and distress among employed white and minority women. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 3, 33–43.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Pryor, J. B. (1995). The psychosocial impact of sexual harassment on women in the U.S. military. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 17, 581–603.Google Scholar
  31. Pryor, J. B., LaVite, C. M., & Stoller, L. M. (1993). A socialpsychological analysis of sexual harassment: The person/situation interaction. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 42, 68–83.Google Scholar
  32. Schneider, K. T., Swan, S., & Fitzgerald, L. F. (1997). Job-related psychological effects of sexual harassment in the workplace: Empirical evidence from two organizations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 82, 401–415.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Simon, R. I. (1996). The credible forensic psychiatric evaluation in sexual harassment litigation. Psychiatric Annals, 26(3), 139–148.Google Scholar
  34. Thacker, R. A., & Gohmann, S. F. (1996). Emotional and psychological consequences of sexual harassment: A descriptive study. Journal of Psychology, 130, 429–446.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et.seq.Google Scholar
  36. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (1980, April). Title 29-Labor, Chapter XIV-Part 1604-Guidelines on discriminating because of sex adoption of interim interpretive guideline. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  37. Vukovich, M. C. (1996). The prevalence of sexual harassment among female family practice residents in the United States. Violence and Victims, 11, 175–180.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Webster's New World College Dictionary (3rd ed.). (1997). New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  39. Williams v. Saxbe, 413 F. Supp. 654, 12 FEP Cases 1093 (D.D.C. 1976).Google Scholar
  40. Wolfe, J., Sharkansky, E. J., Read, J. P., Dawson, R., Martin, J. A., & Ouimette, P. C. (1998). Sexual harassment and assault as predictors of PTSD symptomology among U.S. female persian gulf war military personnel. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 13, 40–57.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Claudia Avina
    • 1
  • William O'Donohue
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of NevadaReno

Personalised recommendations