Perceptions of Sexual Harassment by Evidence Quality, Perceiver Gender, Feminism, and Right Wing Authoritarianism: Debunking Popular Myths

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Abstract

This study examined the critique in public discourse that sexual harassment (SH) victim advocates, particularly women and feminists, ignore the quality of evidence in a SH claim and are reluctant to find evidence of a false accusation. To balance the inquiry, the study also examined whether right wing authoritarians (RWAs) also ignore evidence quality and presume such claims are false accusations. Participants were 961 U.S. adults (51% female) who completed an online experiment in which they read either a gender harassment (GH) or unwanted sexual attention (USA) scenario of hostile work environment SH and rated the scenario on severity, perceived guilt of the accused, belief that the accused should receive negative job consequences, and likelihood that the claimant was making a false accusation. Scenarios varied by the strength of the evidence in support of the SH claim. Participants completed measures of identification with and support for feminism, RWA, and demographic variables. Results found that contrary to expectations, evidence had a stronger effect on women’s, feminists’, and feminism supporters’ perceptions and to a lesser extent RWAs’ perceptions of the scenarios. When evidence was weak, women and feminists, compared to others, were less supportive of the prosecution, but when evidence was strong they were more supportive of the prosecution than were others. These findings address criticisms that advocates for gender equity and victim’s rights, particularly women and feminists, are unable to reach fair judgments of SH complaints.

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