Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment

Many allegations of sexual harassment prove to be clinically unsupportable for one or more of the following reasons:

Malingering

Here the employee fabricates “emotional damage” following an incident of no great moment, and presents with a host of symptoms which fail to withstand diagnostic scrutiny; she may claim that sexual banter obviously aimed at others was directed specifically at her, or she may fabricate instances of sexual impropriety. She may be

  • a sociopath who simply aspires to an undeserved higher standard of living;
  • a narcissist seeking revenge because she has been fired, been denied promotion, or had harbored unrequited romantic feelings;
  • or a borderline personality whose chronic anger with all men makes even the most destructive or false accusations entirely justifiable in her mind.

Paranoia

The employee suffers a sub-clinical paranoid condition, and finds intrusive, assaultive conduct in even the most benign of circumstances; those women dispose of their own disturbing erotic or hostile impulses by projecting them onto innocent others.

Subconscious displacement

The employee is actually a victim of an abusive childhood, with her original dysfunctional family pattern now continuing in her choice of marital partners. An inappropriate remark or other trivial boundary violation at work then elicits an overwhelming aversive, hostile response, perhaps commensurate with both the earlier and the contemporaneous transgressions repeatedly suffered by the employee at home, but hugely disproportionate to the modest offense at work. That is, causation of employee’s genuine emotional traumatization and rage is misattributed in its entirety to the hapless employer or co-worker whose provocations were in fact minimal. The alleged “precipitants” at work are less a cause of the employee’s symptoms than they are a “permissible” and less threatening focal point around which they might coalesce or seek discharge. The employee’s father may be long dead, the emotional bond between her and her abusive spouse toxic and inescapable, but the man or men at work are eminently available and expendable.

Victim-generated harassment (personality disorder)

As discussed, women with borderline or historic personality disorders are predisposed to invite or even inadvertently create the situations which will then give rise to the allegations. Borderline women, who quickly form intense though unstable feelings of intimacy with men, are then enraged when, inevitably, the relationship falls short of their idealized fantasies; or conversely, they may go through life repeatedly setting up short-lived relationships which are bound to leave them feeling abused and rejected. Hysterics are as oblivious to their degree of seductiveness and may repeatedly work their way into situations of victimization. Incest and other forms of sexual trumatization loom large in the childhoods of both groups of women.

Idiosyncratic response to sexual stimuli

Some women who have been reared in singularly repressive homes or, like other women described above, have been sexually traumatized in childhood, may be hypervigilant for the slightest sexual innuendo, have an intensely negative “take” on the subliminal attraction between the sexes, are hypersensitive to the slightest actual or potential boundary violation, and exhibit a severe emotional response to any transgression, real or imagined. As such, they stand a considerable distance form the “reasonable woman,” the standard against which a detrmination of sexual harassment is made in most jurisdictions. They report assualtive boundary violations in circumstances most women would perceive as ordinary, social give-and-take.

A psychiatric examination of the complaining employee can determine if anny of these dynamics are present, thereby forming the basis for a clinically sound defense (as distinguished from an ill advised, reflex, generic “it never happened,” or a “blame the victim” approach). As in all areas of life, however, an ounce of prevention carries greater weight with the courts than a pound of cure. All businesses, large and small, should publish clear guidelines which define sexual harassment, spell out explicitly what is permissible and what is not, and have an ombudsman in place to deal with the evitable problems as soon as they arise.