Bystanders' Reactions to Sexual Harassment
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Sexual harassment is associated with negative consequences for victims and bystanders. Because 9 in 10 victims do not report harassment, understanding bystanders' reactions to sexual harassment is important. Thus, my dissertation?s purpose was to advance the literature by analyzing bystanders' responses to sexual harassment by means of three studies. In Study 1, I examined bystanders' preferred punishment as a function of the harassment type and organizational culture. Participants were undergraduates (N=107) enrolled in physical activity classes at a Southwestern United States university (males n=53, 50%, females n=53, 50%; largely Caucasian n=79, 74.5%; age M=21.61, SD=2.70). The results indicate that harassment type affected bystanders' punishment preferences (B=.55, p<0.01). While the workplace culture did not directly affect punishment preferences (B=-.06, p=0.49), it moderated the relationship between harassment type and preferred punishment (R2=.03, B=.31, p<0.05) such that quid-proquo harassment in proactive organizations resulted in the harshest punishment recommendations. In Study 2, I analyzed bystanders' reactions to different punishment levels delivered to the harasser. Participants were undergraduates (N=122) enrolled in activity classes at a Southwestern United States university (males n=68, 56.2%, females n=53, 43.8%; largely Caucasian n=94, 77.7%; age M=20.00, SD=2.00). The results revealed that congruity, or lack thereof, between their preferred punishment and the actual punishment affected their negative emotions (R2=0.04, B=-0.30, p<0.01), organizational justice perceptions (R2=0.11, B=0.47, p<0.01), and cultural consistency beliefs (R2=0.02, B=0.19, p<0.05). In Study 3, I investigated bystanders? responses to different harassment levels as influenced by the organizational culture. Participants were undergraduates (N=183) enrolled in activity classes at a Southwestern United States university (males n=113, 61.7%, females n=66, 36.1%; largely Caucasian n=132, 72.1%; age M=19.84, SD=1.37). The results indicated that the harassment severity was positively associated with bystanders' intentions to intervene (B=.32, p<0.001). The type of organizational culture did not affect willingness to act (B=-.07, p=0.32), possibly given the personal investment required by taking action. Alternatively, personal characteristics (i.e., political views) may supersede environmental influences. Collectively, these findings reiterate literature documenting harassment types? differential severity. Also, they outline additional advantages to promoting a proactive organizational culture. Finally, the influence of individual and environmental factors in decision making is highlighted.
Benavides Espinoza, Claudia (2009). Bystanders' Reactions to Sexual Harassment. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from