Drivers of Sexual Harassment and Assault of Women

What causes sexual harassment and sexual assault of women? This informal paper will identify a number of key drivers. The focus is primarily on the workplace, but relevant in other work-related and social settings as well.

This list is not necessarily absolutely comprehensive but should cover many if not most cases.

The focus here is simply on identifying drivers of the problematic behavior. Solutions and cures are beyond the scope of this paper.

This paper does not delve into the specific forms of behavior and expression which constitute sexual harassment or sexual assault. Those are important aspects to be considered, but are beyond the scope of this paper.

It is based on my own distillation of facts presented in media coverage over many years, plus a little of my own thinking about human nature and human behavior.

I don’t have any firsthand or even secondhand experiences to draw upon, and very little in the way of even third hand observations, which makes me less than a true practical authority — for which I am grateful. Nonetheless, I thought that this social problem deserved treatment by my analytical skills given the emotion, passion, reaction, distress, and even hysteria over the issues involved.

The drivers of sexual harassment and assault

First, the full list, with details where needed in subsequent sections, not in any particular order:

  1. Women as second class or even third class citizens (below even minority men.) A meta driver that enables other drivers.
  2. General gender inequality in society as a whole.
  3. Unchecked sexual desire.
  4. Inappropriate humor and flattery.
  5. Inappropriate play and fun.
  6. Perception that it is expected, socially, even a norm at least in some circles.
  7. Peer pressure.
  8. Copycat.
  9. Perceived fringe benefit — entitled.
  10. Insecurity.
  11. Ego.
  12. Power play.
  13. Conscious intent to dominate.
  14. Conquest.
  15. Intimidation.
  16. Bias.
  17. Discrimination.
  18. Misogyny.
  19. Poor judgment.
  20. Mental disorder.
  21. Alcohol and drugs. A meta driver which enables, facilitates, accelerates, and amplifies other drivers.
  22. Other drivers. This paper is unlikely to be absolutely comprehensive.

Subsequent sections will list some of the relevant issues for specific drivers, if needed.

Women as second class or even third class citizens

  1. This is more of a meta driver than an actual driver — it enables, facilitates, and reinforces many of the other drivers.
  2. This is the underlying cause for much discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and mistreatment of women in general.
  3. Even minority males will frequently be treated better than women in many cases, rendering women third class citizens in many situations.
  4. This lack of equal status can quickly enable many of the other drivers.

Unchecked sexual desire

  1. Partially unconscious drive.
  2. Partially conscious, willful intent.
  3. Lack of impulse control.
  4. Weak impulse control.
  5. Deeper, more profound complete lack of impulse control. Bordering on possible mental disorder.


  1. Management technique. Maintaining control.
  2. Social status.
  3. Ego.
  4. See also: discrimination.

Inappropriate humor and flattery

  1. Desire to show affection, but inappropriate in a work environment.
  2. Insecurity.

Inappropriate play and fun

  1. May be part of a male-oriented work culture, such as bro culture.

Peer pressure

  1. Challenged.
  2. Taunted.
  3. Desire to keep up.
  4. Desire to lead the pack, exceed the best/worst of others.


  1. Individual is simply copying bad behavior of others.
  2. Likely would not have engaged in the bad behavior if someone else had not gotten away with it first.


  1. Lack of social skills to appeal to women.
  2. Desire to prove self worthy and capable.


  1. Desire or need to be loved, wanted, and desired.
  2. To accomplish something, to attain a sense of accomplishment.

Power play

  1. Strategic move. Career advancement.
  2. Driven by will to achieve a strategic goal or to protect current power.
  3. Conscious, willful intent.
  4. Intent to demean and belittle to gain or maintain power and position.
  5. Desire to protect power from perceived threats.
  6. May be subliminal, unconscious, repressed.
  7. May be redirected anger.

Conscious intent to dominate

  1. Tactical move. Not necessarily motivated by career advancement.
  2. Deep psychic need.
  3. No conscious motive or practical objective per se.
  4. Distinct from power play.


  1. Desire to win and defeat. Social rather than work-oriented.
  2. Females may simply be easier targets if perceived as weaker.


  1. Intent to intimidate and bully to discourage ambition.
  2. Women not considered worthy of equality.
  3. Discrimination (inappropriately) considered appropriate.


Although discrimination is technically a distinct issue from harassment and assault — discrimination is a form of mistreatment in itself and may occur without harassment or assault, it can indeed be a driver that is causing harassment and assault.

Harassment or assault can be used as a way to intimidate women as a way to force them to abandon efforts to participate in some form of employment or some particular activity normally part of a job.


  1. General catchall.
  2. Term may be misused. Particular situation may or may not be a true hatred.
  3. May simply be bias or social belief that women are not equals.
  4. Usually makes sense to identify more specific drivers.

Poor judgment

  1. A catchall of sorts.
  2. May be due to immaturity.
  3. Some people simply have poor judgment. May be due to poor education, poor upbringing, weak values, poor socialization.

Mental disorder

  1. Unconscious.
  2. Deep drive.
  3. Talk therapy or counseling may be appropriate, but might not be effective in all cases.
  4. Diagnosis requires a qualified mental health professional.

Other drivers

This paper is unlikely to be absolutely comprehensive.

Additional drivers will be added as they become apparent.

Some drivers may not be so relevant to the workplace, such as:

  1. Domestic abuse.
  2. Personal disputes.
  3. Interpersonal dynamics.
  4. Family dynamics.
  5. Community dynamics.
  6. Cultural dynamics in society.

Harassment of men?

Sure, sexual harassment and sexual assault of men does occur, but it is virtually categorically distinct from harassment and assault of women.

Not that it doesn’t deserve treatment, but it may deserve a distinct treatment.

Maybe some or many of the drivers identified in this paper would apply equally to men, but that’s beyond the scope of this paper.

Specific forms of mistreatment

This paper does not delve into the specific forms of behavior and expression which constitute sexual harassment or sexual assault, or even discrimination or other forms of mistreatment of women. Those are important aspects to be considered, but are beyond the scope of this paper. The focus here is limited to drivers or causes of the problematic behavior or expression.

What’s to be done?

Solutions and cures are generally beyond the scope of this paper.

The focus here is to start by assuring that the problem to be solved is identified as clearly as possible.

Each of the drivers has its own unique underlying qualities, each of which may require a somewhat different solution.

That said, addressing the common underlying issue of women having second class or even third class status in society may go a long way towards reducing or eliminating the power of a number of other key drivers.


There are many drivers of mistreatment of women, whether in the workplace or in other social settings.

Each driver of sexual harassment and sexual assault has its own qualities, its own causes, and its own potential cures.

The problem is not one size fits all, so the cure is unlikely to be one size fits all, but addressing the core issue of women still being considered second class or even third class citizens would be a great place to start.

Freelance Consultant