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December 12, 2017
by Patricia Tomasi

Are Sexual Harassers Mentally Ill?

December 12, 2017 08:00 by Patricia Tomasi  [About the Author]

Nary a day goes by without yet another celebrity, politician, or high ranking member of the media being accused of sexual harassment. The first domino to fall was Hollywood film producer magnate, Harvey Weinstein followed by Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer, U.S. Senator Al Franken and many others.

It’s a script we’re now all too familiar with: The accusers come forward and tell their stories, the public is shocked, the accused is shamed, fired or resigns, apologizes, and subsequently checks himself into rehab for treatment.

But treatment for what?

Sex addiction?

Do sexual harassers suffer from addiction in the same way that alcoholics and drug abusers do?

Studies have found that sex affects the same areas of the brain as drugs. In the 1980s, California, Minnesota, and Boston achieved success by tailoring the 12-step program to sex addicts normally used to treat alcoholics widely known as 'Alcoholics Anonymous'.

In a study published in the Journal of Contemporary Family Therapy, authors identified the common traits of sex addicts which can include: “a tendency to hold low opinions of themselves and to remind themselves constantly of their deficiencies; distorted or unrealistic beliefs about themselves, their behavior, other people, and the events that occur in the world around them; a desire to escape from or to suppress unpleasant emotions; difficulty coping with stress; at least one powerful memory of an intense ‘high’ experienced at a crucial time in their lives; and an uncanny ability to deny that they have a problem.”

According to studies in the Journal of Treatment and Prevention, sexually addicted men were found to have high anxiety levels. U.S. male sex addicts had a 28% prevalence rate of depression and treatment for sex addiction resulted in lower depression scores.

While not officially recognized in the bible of mental disorders, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, sex addiction almost made it in the latest edition, the DSM-V, under the categories of Internet addictive disorder and hypersexual disorder.

Despite the oversight, many therapists recognize sexual addiction as a mental health disorder and treat it by examining the multiple underlying layers which compulsive sexual behavior can incorporate. In fact, sex offenders are often treated using the sex addiction model which focuses on behavioral change and relapse prevention. 

While the jury is still out on whether sex addiction is actually a thing, there does seem to be a pattern emerging among the accused: They tend to be mostly males in positions of power and authority.

So while we can’t exactly say for certain whether those engaging in sexual harassment behaviors are addicted to sex or mentally ill, it’s fair to say that these men could also use a little therapy in attempting to understand why it is they seem to think it’s ok to harass women in positions subordinate to them.

Even though women comprise 50% of the U.S. workforce, they only occupy 30% of all salaried manager positions and about 5% of executive level positions. Up to a staggering 88% of women say they have been sexually harassed at work.

A study published in the Journal of Business Ethics divides sexual harassment in the workplace into three categories: overt discrimination, sexual harassment, and the glass ceiling and argues that putting women into higher level positions will go a long way towards reducing sexual harassment.

According to one recent study, however, it’s not only women in subordinate positions who become the victims of sexual harassment. In Sexual Harassment, Workplace Authority, and the Paradox of Power, written by Heather McLaughlin, Christopher Uggen, and Amy Blackstone, published in the American Sociological Review in 2012, women in supervisory positions “are more likely to report harassing behaviors and to define their experiences as sexual harassment” than women in non-supervisory positions.

Researchers of that study tell the tale of Holly, a woman in a management position in a manufacturing firm who was groped by a client at a company dinner.

“I didn’t know who this guy was, I had no idea,” explained Holly. “I’m just sittin’ next to him and I’m the only girl at the table. . . . And he’d put his arm around me and pull me towards him and, kind of uncomfortable, and I’d push away. And he kept saying . . . ‘Oh, I love her. She’s beautiful’… He just kept going on and touching me and put his hand on my leg very forcefully and then he was playing the game of trying to unhook the bra with two fingers, which he did after I tried to get up and get away.”

In another case they examined, a woman named Marie felt like she needed to tolerate sexual harassment because she worked in a male-dominated industry as a project manager on a construction site.

“If you wanted to leave, sure, you could file a claim or do whatever,” explains Marie, “but if you want to stay at the job…you kind of feel like you have to put up with it.”

The authors of the study argue that our view towards sexual harassment in the workplace must go beyond the “sleazy male boss and powerless female secretary” stereotype if any improvements are to be made as it’s clear from their study that women in positions of authority “take on a greater risk of sexual harassment.”

And what about the victims?

Don’t they need therapy too?


The treatment of victims of sexual harassment must begin at an early stage. In the Impact of Sexual Harassment on Depressive Symptoms During the Early Occupational Career, a study published in the Journal of Society and Mental Health, researchers found that women were more at risk for developing long-term depression if they experienced sexual harassment early on in their careers. According to Statistics Canada, young Canadians between the ages of 15 to 24 are 18 times more likely to experience sexual assault than those aged 55 or older. 

What was once formerly thought of as ‘junk science’ is now becoming clear to all of us: Therapy is an integral part of helping victims move beyond the negative mental health effects of sexual harassment as well helping rehabilitate sexual harassers.



Martin Plant, Moira Plant, (July 12, 2009), Taylor & Francis Online, Sex addiction: a comparison with dependence on psychoactive drugs,

Jennifer P. Schneider, (Aug 12, 2010), Taylor & Francis Online, Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity: Twenty Years of the Field, Ten Years of the Journal,

Ralph H. Earle, Gregory M. Crow, (April 1990), SpringerLink, Sexual addiction: Understanding and treating the phenomenon,

James L. Zapf, Jay Greiner, James Carroll, (May 9, 2008), Taylor & Francis Online, Attachment Styles and Male Sex Addiction,

Douglas Weiss, (Aug 12, 2010), Tayor & Francis Online, The Prevalence of Depression in Male Sex Addicts Residing in the United States,

Kenneth Paul Rosenberg, Patrick Carnes, Suzanne O’Connor, (Sept 10, 2012), Taylor & Francis Online, Evaluation and Treatment of Sex Addiction,

Paula Hall, (Oct 30, 2013), Taylor & Francis Online, Sex addiction – an extraordinarily contentious problem,

Timothy M. Tays, Ralph H. Earle, Ken Wells, Marilyn Murray, Brenda Garrett, (Nov 8 2007), Taylor & Francis Online, Treating sex offenders using the sex addiction model,

John B. Pryor, Lynnette M. Stoller, (April 1, 1994), Sexual Cognition Processes in Men High in the Likelihood to Sexually Harass,

Myrtle P. Bell, Mary E. McLaughlin, Jennifer M. Sequeira, (April 2002), SpringerLink, Discrimination, Harassment, and the Glass Ceiling: Women Executives as Change Agents,

Heather McLaughlin, Christopher Uggen, Amy Blackstone, (July 2, 2012), Sage Journals, Sexual Harassment, Workplace Authority, and the Paradox of Power,

Jason N. Houle, Jeremy Staff, Jeylan T. Mortimer, Christopher Uggen, Amy Blackstone, U.S. National Library of Medicine, The Impact of Sexual Harassment on Depressive Symptoms During the Early Occupational Career,

About the Author

Patricia Tomasi

Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog:

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