Clinical Aspects of Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination-Psychological Consequences and Treatment Interventions, Sharyn Ann Lenhart, M.D, Brunner-Routledge, 2004, Pp 233

Article excerpt

As someone who has undergone a fairly serious case of sexual harassment which has resulted in many losses and changes in my career, I found this book both revealing as well as disturbing. Revealing because there seems to be a fairly large body of work on sexual harassment and gender discrimination available. Disturbing because very few know about it or make use of it either to address their own concerns or to make the environment free from such forms of violence.

The author, Sharyn Ann Lenhart is Attending Psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School's McLean Hospital and Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. This book is academic in tone and is intended for clinicians such as physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, counselors and other associated professionals like attorneys, administrators and managers. It hopes to provide them with the tools to understand the scope and extent of sexual harassment and sex discrimination. Also, the complex ways in which these can cause very long lasting effects on the victims' psyche. It is interspersed with many case studies which help to clarify the theoretical discussions. In fact I found myself reading many of the case studies before reading the actual discussions which at times tend to get slightly tedious.

While sexual harassment exists in myriad forms, it is argued that " women who transcend traditional support roles in the workplace or otherwise challenge male authority are most likely to become conscious of sexual harassment and sex discrimination. "(p.12) Several models trying to explain gender discrimination and sexual harassment are listed. Clinically relevant aspects of the current legal environment are explored in order to provide the clinician and the victim sufficient information before proceeding to embark on a lengthy litigation. The author cautions against litigation as it can " polarize the workplace, isolate the person who was victimized, expose her to retaliatory behaviors, and create an adversarial win-lose environment. Litigation can also skew psychiatric treatment and psychiatric conditions in favor of establishing damages, as opposed to recovering psychologically." (p.72-73)

There are many similarities between persons victimized by domestic violence and sex discrimination. Some of these are a sense of humiliation, sense of betrayal of trust, tendency to conceal the event and fear of retaliation. There are also power differentials between the perpetrator and victim in both cases. An entire chapter in the book is devoted to discussing in detail the various strategies that victims have available to them--either self focus which attempts at healing their own selves to initiator focus which looks at the external situation and attempts to alter that. The individual can either cope alone or with the help of another party. However it did surprise me that Lenhart does not mention the crucial role that friends and family (not just the spouse) might play in this situation either by being supportive or by blaming the victim for bringing the problem upon herself. None of her case studies seem to discuss such situations. Not everyone is likely to look for a therapeutic solution preferring to discuss their problems with a friend or family. In fact in many cultures therapy is taboo and viewed suspiciously. However Lenhart does emphasize that "significant disruptions in the victimized individuals' work and personal relationships are common in discrimination or harassment situations, especially if the wronged person files a complaint or lawsuit. Often these disruptions are as traumatic for the victimized person as the discrimination itself was."(p.101) I couldn't agree more.

Valued mentors could be lost if they perpetrate harassment and discrimination. The institution can use "'token women' spokespersons who publicly deny discrimination and praise the organization, or it may promote other women to discredit the victimized woman's claims of discrimination. …