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Stranger Harassment and PTSD Symptoms: Roles of Self-Blame, Shame, Fear, Feminine Norms, and Feminism

Abstract

Stranger harassment is a prevalent experience for many women but is often trivialized as a social problem (Kearl 2014; Vera-Gray 2016). As a result, there is a lack of knowledge related to understanding women’s lived experiences of stranger harassment. Our study attends to this gap in the literature by examining the relation between experiences of stranger/street harassment and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptom severity among 367 young adult U.S. women. We also examined novel explanatory (i.e., self-blame, shame, and fear of rape), risk (adherence to traditional feminine norms of sweet and nice and sexual fidelity), and resiliency (feminist identification) factors in predicting PTSD symptom severity via a moderated mediation model. We found that stranger harassment was both directly and indirectly related to PTSD symptom severity via more self-blame, greater shame, and more fear of rape along three dimensions—taking rape precautions, fear of men, and safety concerns. In addition, we found a significant conditional indirect effect, in which the indirect effect of stranger harassment on PTSD symptom severity via shame was stronger among women with higher levels of sexual fidelity. Furthermore, the conditional indirect effect of stranger harassment on PTSD symptom severity via self-blame was contingent on feminist identification such that these relations were stronger among women with lower levels of feminist identification. Our results underscore the potential negative impact of stranger harassment experiences on women’s mental health and the importance of targeting self-blame, shame, fear, gender-related norms, and feminist attitudes in intervention strategies.

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Acknowledgements

This research was completed as part of the first author’s thesis for M.A. in Psychology at the University of Tennessee.

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Correspondence to Rachel F. Carretta.

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Carretta, R.F., Szymanski, D.M. Stranger Harassment and PTSD Symptoms: Roles of Self-Blame, Shame, Fear, Feminine Norms, and Feminism. Sex Roles 82, 525–540 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-019-01073-5

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Keywords

  • Sexual harassment
  • Shame
  • Self-blame
  • PTSD
  • Feminism
  • Gender attitudes