Women in the Fire Service: Mental Health Correlates of Workplace Sexual Harassment



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Firefighters are chronically exposed to occupational stressors and represent a high-risk population for the development of mental health disorders. Women firefighters, a minority population in a predominantly male field, are greatly understudied and often experience additional stressors, such as sexual harassment or gender discrimination, that their male counterparts do not. The current study investigated the association between workplace sexual harassment and mental health among women firefighters. Data were collected through an online survey of stress and health behaviors among firefighters. Participants (N = 45) were recruited via an online survey emailed to career firefighters self-identifying as women across two fire departments in the southern U.S. A series of bivariate correlations and one-way analyses of covariance (ANCOVA) were conducted using SPSS 25.0. Covariates included age, years as a firefighter, and trauma load. Results demonstrated that PTSD avoidance symptoms (η2 = .130), anxiety symptom severity (η2 = .126), and chronic pain (η2 = .103) were significantly higher among women firefighters who reported workplace sexual harassment, as compared to those that did not report workplace sexual harassment. While effect sizes were small, these findings provide an important preliminary exploration into a severely understudied population. Future work should aim to utilize clinician administered measures, acquire larger, more nationally representative samples, and explore the possibility of longitudinal designs in order to better understand the effects of workplace sexual harassment on stress and health among women in the fire service.