Adolescents’ Beliefs About Harm, Wrongness, and School Policies as Predictors of Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment

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This study investigated the relationship among adolescents’ (n = 621) reports of perpetrating sexual and gender-based harassment and their beliefs about whether these behaviors cause harm, are wrong, or are prohibited by school policies. Results evidenced that beliefs about wrongness and harm were related to perpetration frequency; however, perceptions of harassment policies were largely unrelated to behaviors. Further, beliefs that these behaviors cause harm to victims mediated the relationship between judgments of wrongness and perpetration of several harassing behaviors. These findings support the need for harassment prevention strategies that align with adolescents’ social–cognitive development and emphasize how such behaviors cause harm, even when harm is not intended. This study demonstrates that adolescents’ beliefs about whether various forms of sexual and gender-based harassment are harmful and wrong significantly predicts less perpetration of those forms of harassment. Notably, adolescents’ beliefs about school policies prohibiting such harassment were largely unrelated to their harassment perpetration. These findings suggest that strategies aimed at reducing harassing behaviors may benefit from a focus on perpetrators’ moral reasoning and attributions of harm.

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