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Why Even Catcalling Causes Emotional Damage, Study Finds

By Shannan Rouss ; Updated February 01, 2018

When it comes to sexual harassment, of course it doesn’t matter whether perpetrators asked “permission” or didn’t (ahem, Louis C.K.) or whether the encounters were physical or not — all forms of sexual harassment take a toll on victims. And all of them need to be called out.

In case you had any doubts about the effects of unwanted sexual conduct, a new study confirms it: Norwegian researchers found that even nonphysical sexual harassment (things like derogatory sexual comments or unsolicited “dick pics”) can increase symptoms of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and negative body image, reports Time.

For the study, the researchers divided the types of harassment into two groups: nonphysical harassment and what they referred to as “physically coercive sexual behavior” (as in unwanted kissing, groping and touching).”

“As far as we know, this is the first study that has distinguished between these two forms and specifically looked at the effects of nonphysical sexual harassment,” said study author Mons Bendixen in a news release.

The study included close to 3,000 high school students, male and female, who were asked about their experiences with both types of sexual harassment and their subsequent mental health.

The results showed that for the teens, nonphysical sexual harassment had more of an impact on psychological well-being than even physical harassment. While both male and female students dealt with symptoms of depression, anxiety, negative body image and low self-esteem as a result of this nonphysical harassment, female students were more negatively affected.

“Teens who are harassed the most also struggle more in general,” noted study author Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair. “But girls generally struggle considerably more than boys, no matter the degree to which they’re being harassed in this way.”

So while it may be tempting to assume that sexual harassment in the form of something like a crass remark can be brushed off, don’t risk minimizing the effect it can have on you and on others.

Read more: How to Document Harassment in the Workplace

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