One thing I have learned in 22 years of practice is that when it comes to sexual assault in the workplace, where there is smoke, there is fire. In every sexual assault case I’ve handled, the perpetrator assaulted multiple victims. In one negligent hiring case, the perpetrator who sexually assaulted my client had a prior criminal record for sexual assault. In another sexual assault case, the COO and co-owner who sexually assaulted my client had engaged in sexual misconduct with another female co-worker. In another sexual assault case, the perpetrator had sexually assaulted a half dozen women at work, four of whom I represented. And in yet another sexual assault case, the perpetrator had a 20-year history of complaints by other women who had accused him of sexual assault and other forms of sexual misconduct at work.
So when I see multiple women accuse Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, I see compelling evidence that Kavanaugh did what they say. Even Kavanaugh’s friends say that he frequently drank excessively and became confrontational and aggressive when drunk. Whatever memories Kavanaugh may have of his alcohol-fueled youth would be clouded by his high state of intoxication, probably to the point where much of his own behavior he cannot recall. So between the several women who have charged Kavanaugh with sexual misconduct, his character as an aggressive drunk, and his inability to refute the allegations against him due to his impaired memory, it’s no wonder that the majority of Americans are asking how can this even be a close call. The man is not qualified to sit on any court let alone the highest court of the United States. The Republicans who are ramrodding him through the confirmation process are a disgrace.
Epidemiologist Rebecca Thurston has spent years studying women who have suffered sexual abuse and harassment. She finds that over time, sexual harassment works like a poison, stiffening women’s blood vessels, worsening blood flow and harming the inner lining of their hearts. More than a dozen other studies show that sexual harassment causes physical symptoms such as headaches, gastrointestinal problems and disrupted sleep. Sexual harassment lasts for longer than six months in more than a quarter of cases, according to surveys of harassment in the military, which are required by law and therefore among the most comprehensive. During that period, a woman’s body reacts strongly: the immune system suffers, inflammation increases, and the body begins secreting higher levels of cortisol, which contributes to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, weight gain, impaired memory function and depression. The negative effects can linger for years.
One of the most comprehensive studies tracked 1,654 employees at an unnamed Midwestern university over the course of six years. The 2005 study, published in the Journal of Business and Psychology, found that those who experienced sexual harassment were more prone to sickness, illness and accident, and not just around the time they experienced the harassment. When researchers surveyed the group again years later, the harassment continued to have an enduring effect on their rates of illness, injury and accident.
The mental strain of harassment also often leads to depression, anxiety and other disorders. In recent years, studies have shown sexual harassment makes women more likely to drink as a way of coping. Harassed women are also more likely to develop eating disorders. Researchers have shown the harmful effects even trickle down to co-workers who witness or hear of the harassment, a phenomenon analogous to secondhand smoke.
Among the most debilitating effects is post-traumatic stress disorder. A 2015 study found that 20 percent of female veterans of the Vietnam War suffered from PTSD – not because of the war itself but largely due to sexual harassment they suffered from their male counterparts.
ANY sexual contact without consent is sexual assault.
Speak out. Break the silence.