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Research reveals unexpected reactions to office sexual harassment

Most people think they know how they would react to a scenario involving victimization or injustice. We tell our children to stand up to bullies, and we know extrinsically that it is not ok for other people to violate our rights.

However, recent research suggests that the typical response to workplace sexual harassment is for victims to become passive and fail to hold the perpetrator accountable for his or her transgressions. To make matters worse, researchers say, passive sexual harassment victims are often harshly judged for their passivity by those who have never been in a similar situation.

According to the results of a collection of studies scheduled to appear in the journal Organization Science, this disconnect between our self-projected response and the typical actual response often results in double victimization of sexual harassment victims.

Even if you have never personally known a victim of sexual harassment, you can likely think of recent news stories involving decades-old allegations against political candidates and other public figures. Because victims didn't say anything when the alleged incidents took place, many people are skeptical of their claims when they do finally come forward.

This collection of studies may be particularly important for two reasons. First, it reminds us that we cannot necessarily judge someone in a difficult situation if we have never been in their shoes. The co-author of the studies noted that, "If we can increase the accuracy of our predictions and realize we won't stand up for ourselves as often as we would like to think, we will be less condemning of other victims."

Second, these studies provide yet more confirmation that it is important for victims to report sexual harassment even though it is difficult to do so. Hopefully, the empathetic support of friends and co-workers can allow victims to speak up and hold the alleged perpetrator accountable.

Source: Business News Daily, "Why Unreported Sexual Harassment Can Bring Ridicule," Chad Brooks, Nov. 6, 2012

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