Sex Roles [sers] pp752-sers-460548 February 5, 2003 23:20 Style ﬁle version June 3rd, 2002
Sex Roles, Vol. 48, Nos. 3/4, February 2003 (
Effects of Type of Coping Response, Setting, and Social
Context on Reactions to Sexual Harassment
and Carrol S. Perrino
Male and female undergraduates from a multicultural university (MU) and an historically
Black University (HBU) read a scenario in which a student was sexually harassed either by
a professor or a workplace supervisor. The student victim’s coping response was also varied.
Participants rated the victim’s behavior as most effective and appropriate when she confronted
the harasser directly or reported the harasser’s behavior. HBU students judged the harasser
as not guilty signiﬁcantly more often than MU students, but believed that the harasser was less
trustworthy than multicultural students did. Women responded signiﬁcantly more negatively
to the blatant sexual harassment scenario than men did. Implications for prevention and
interventions are discussed.
KEY WORDS: sexual; harassment; coping; race.
Sexual harassment is a signiﬁcant problem
both in the workplace and in academic settings.
Researchers initially focused on theprevalence of sex-
ual harassment. Fitzgerald (1993) suggested that ap-
proximately half the population of American women
would be targets of sexual harassment in their life-
time, either in school or in the workplace. Classic
incidence studies such as the U.S. Merit Systems Pro-
tection Board (1981) report and the Gutek (1985)
study supported this assumption. Issues of labeling
of offensive behaviors as sexual harassment and mea-
surement of sexually harassing behaviors also were
examined, both in earlier and recent studies (e.g.,
Fitzgerald et al., 1988; Magley, Hulin, Fitzgerald, &
In the present study we investigated the effects
of type of victim’s coping response and type of set-
ting on students’ reactions to a sexual harassment sce-
nario. In addition, the present study offers a unique
Fairleigh Dickinson University, Teaneck, New Jersey.
Morgan State University, Baltimore Maryland.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Psychology De-
partment, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Teaneck, New Jersey
07666; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
perspective from which to examine the complex role
of racial factors on perceptions of sexual harassment.
Direct effects of race on reactions to the harassment
scenario were examined, but were augmented by a
consideration of the complicating effects of social con-
text. Social context was identiﬁed in terms of the racial
composition of the two universities that were sampled
in this study. Students from a multicultural campus of
a New York metropolitan area private university were
compared with respondents from an historically Black
public university in Maryland. Although the sexual
harassment literature has been criticized for focusing
primarily on European Americans to the exclusion of
various ethnicities (Murrell, 1996), the issue of racial
differences in reaction to harassment has been stated
in rather simplistic terms. In our study, we will em-
phasize the importance of the interaction of race and
social context in examining reactions to sexual harass-
ment victims’ coping responses.
Previous researchers have examined a variety
of coping styles that can be utilized by sexual ha-
rassment victims. Fitzgerald and Shullman (1993)
suggested that the external or internal nature of
2003 Plenum Publishing Corporation