Sexual harassment affects men, women differently

Gender effect

Sexual harassment affects men, women differently

 The new study by Michigan State University researchers revealed that sexual harassment has become so commonplace for women that they do not find it so distressing anymore.

This effect, said lead investigator Isis Settles, may be similar to the way people build up immunity to infection following exposure to a virus. “When women view sexual harassment as bothersome, it doesn’t seem to be associated with distress,” Settles, associate professor of psychology, said.

“In some ways this suggests that sexual harassment is such a widespread problem that women have figured out ways to deal with it so it doesn’t interfere with their psychological well-being,” she said. The researchers examined surveys of more than 6,000 women and men serving in all five branches of the US military.

Sexual harassment was a problem for both sexes, the study found, with more than 50 per cent of women and nearly 20 per cent of men reporting at least one incident of sexual harassment during a 12-month period.

The study is one of the first to examine how both men and women view harassment —whether they saw it as bothersome or frightening—and how these perceptions relate to their psychological well-being.  “We were surprised by this finding. We thought women would be negatively impacted if they saw their harassment as frightening or bothersome,” Settles said.

Where men were concerned, sexual harassment was distressing when they saw it as either frightening or bothersome.

“People tend to underestimate the impact of sexual harassment on men,” Settles said. Men typically haven’t had a lifetime of experiences dealing with sexual harassment and may not know how to deal with it when it happens to them,” she added.

Settles said the study does not suggest sexual harassment is less distressing for women than men.

The MSU research team also includes psychology professors Zaje Harrell and NiCole Buchanan, and doctoral candidate Stevie Yap.

The study appears in the research journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

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