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October 4, 2023 9:29 am

Study shows why sexually harassed people may not come forward immediately

Washington [US], June 10

According to a new study, there is a gap between how individuals anticipate they would react if sexually harassed and how those who have experienced it respond.

The study by the University of Exeter, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and published in Psychology of Women Quarterly, discovered that seeking justice by coming forward is just one of the needs people who experience sexual harassment consider after the event, with other needs, including those for safety, instead rated as more important.

The research may explain why people who are sexually harassed often don’t report their experience formally, with the 2017 Crime Survey England and Wales finding that five out of six people who are targeted by sexual offenses do not report it to the police.

Researchers compared answers from a confidential online survey of people who have experienced sexual harassment to those who have not but were asked to imagine how they would react.

People who have experienced sexual harassment reported a range of needs and engaged in a variety of actions to meet these needs. Needs for safety, personal control, and social support were prioritized over formal actions, such as reporting to the police.

Those who had not encountered sexual harassment anticipated having stronger needs and taking more actions–especially formal ones.

Senior author, Professor Manuela Barreto, from the University of Exeter said, “We found there is a widely held belief that quick and formal reporting is the correct response to sexual harassment. It’s what’s generally meant by the phrase ‘coming forward’. Yet most people who are sexually harassed do not report it formally and those who do, often report the offense a significant time after it happened. There’s a focus on procedural barriers with police and other authorities as to why this is, but less attention paid to the actual needs of the person who has experienced sexual harassment.”

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