, Volume 34, Issue 1-2, pp 35-42

Effects of gender and situation on the perception of sexual harassment

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Abstract

This study addressed three sources of variability in the perception of sexual harassment: the gender of the observer, the gender combination of the harasser and victim, and the role relationship between the harasser and victim. College students (N = 197), approximately 80% of whom were Caucasian, single, and in their early 20s, were randomly divided into two groups. In one group, the harasser was a man and the victim was a woman. In the other group, the harasser was a woman and the victim was a man. Participants rated the degree to which they thought sexual harassment occurred in 20 hypothetical interactions in each of three situations using a 7-point sexual harassment scale. Men and women rated the situations alike as long as the harasser was a man and the victim was a woman. When the perpetrator was a woman and the victim was a man, men gave significantly lower ratings than women. In contrast, women's ratings were the same regardless of the gender of the harasser. Harassment ratings also varied as a function of the power differential between the harasser and victim. The more egalitarian the relationship, the less likely participants were to perceive the behavior as sexually harassing.