If you’re being harassed at work, and it is based on your gender or the harassment is sexual in nature, you may think that the other individual is simply attracted to you. They’re treating you like this because they’re objectifying you or they want to be in a relationship with you. Even if they know that an actual relationship is impossible, you still figure that physical attraction is the root cause of the situation.
It can be, in some cases. There are certainly situations in which two people in a work environment just have different views of their personal relationship – i.e., one person thinks it can be romantic and the other does not – or where one person refuses to take no for an answer when trying to seek a relationship.
But, in most cases, it’s not about attraction at all. It’s all about power.
A demonstration of power
In some senses, sexual harassment serves as a demonstration of one person’s power over another. This may be a boss who is demonstrating their power over their employees, a manager who is demonstrating their power over the workers who are under them or even a member of corporate, like a CEO or another executive, who simply believes that they are far above the other individuals at the company.
You can also find cases where a group of people are demonstrating power over others, perhaps because they are in the minority. For instance, a female worker who has dozens of male co-workers may feel that she is constantly being objectified, that the others are always making sexual jokes around her or that she just has to endure a hostile work environment. But, again, that may not be because her coworkers are actually attracted to her.
What this process does
Sexual harassment itself is a way to make someone feel small, frightened, scared and submissive. The perpetrator may not want a relationship at all. What they want is for you, the victim, to understand your position in the hierarchy – and how it relates to theirs.
That certainly isn’t right, and it’s a predatory tactic, but it’s important to know why it happens. If you see evidence that this has been occurring in your workplace, take the time to look into all of your legal options.