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No one talks about workplace sexual harassment in intimate care
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No one talks about workplace sexual harassment in intimate care

Sexual harassment at the workplace violates the dignity of an individual. Whether it is verbal or non-verbal, it can wreak havoc on the life of an individual and cause immense pain and trauma. Sociologist Amy Blackstone from the University of Maine, says that creating a “hostile work environment” is the commonest way to harass a person. This could include leaking malicious information about the person, spreading stories and asking other colleagues to maintain distance. It could also take the form of “quid pro quo” where the harasser could use implicit or explicit means to express his/her grudges. For example, if a female employee refused her manager a dinner date or solicitation for consensual sex, her promotion or leave can be put on hold. In Hollywood, there have been numerous instances where starlets were denied career-defining roles because they refused advances from a prominent personality.

Unfortunately, only the indiscretions of the rich and famous in media, Capitol Hill and Hollywood make the headlines. Other places of work where such practices are prevalent rarely make to the list.

A recent chart, released by the Center for American Progress, established that workers in the following industries are susceptible to sexual harassment. Needless to say that a vast majority of reports, 80 percent, came from women.

  • The accommodation and food services industry, accounted for 14.2 percent of sexual harassment charges. The industry includes, restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, etc.
  • Retail trade accounted for 13.4 percent of harassment claims.
  • Manufacturing industry stood third with 11.7 percent claims.
  • The health care and social assistance industry accounted for 11.4 percent of claims. Women and people of color dominate this industry.

All the charges were filed to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency responsible for enforcing laws against employment discrimination, in the period during 2005-2015.

Nature of sexual harassment by clients and customers

While sexual harassment in the workforce is quite common, most surveys and studies look into the role of the supervisor and immediate colleagues. However, in sectors where person-related work is frequent, such as intimate care, elderly care and customer service, the role of clients and customers in causing trauma or pain has not been examined in detail.

A recent study, published in BMC Public Health in September 2017, examined how employees were affected when clients or customers made sexual advances. The study also explored if the receivers’ mental condition was any different when the same was conducted by a colleague. For this purpose, researchers referred to the Work Environment and Health in Denmark cohort study (WEHD) and the Work Environment Activities in Danish Workplaces Study (WEADW) data collected in 2012. The study concluded that, “workplace sexual harassment from clients or customers was statistically significantly associated with a higher level of depressive symptoms compared to no exposure. Employees harassed by colleagues, supervisors or subordinates had a higher mean level of depressive symptoms compared to employees harassed by clients or customers.”

Person-related professions lack boundaries

In person-related professions, there are no clear lines of distinction between what is acceptable and what is not, and so caregivers and employees are often at a loss. In order to keep their job, they end up taking more than they should at the cost of their mental peace. Most customer-centric organizations place customers on a pedestal and their satisfaction is of paramount importance. This blurs the boundaries between what is right and wrong.

In intimate care or elder care, where duties involve bathing and grooming the patient, it is likely that the patient could be sexually aroused, while the attendant is carrying out the duties. Someone working with the patient or client at his home could find it more difficult to set the boundaries. Over time, the continued pressure of complying with clients’ needs leads to stress and trauma.

Road to recovery

Sovereign Health of Arizona understands the plight of a woman suffering from trauma after undergoing a sexual assault. Our trauma treatment centers for women in Phoenix offer customized programs for patients seeking relief from their long-standing problems. For more information about women’s trauma recovery program at Arizona, call our 24/7 helpline or chat with one of our online representatives.

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