An overview of the literature on sexual harassment: Perpetrator, theory, and
Afroditi Pina⁎, Theresa A. Gannon⁎, Benjamin Saunders
Psychology Department, Keynes College, University of Kent, Canterbury KENT CT2 7NP, United Kingdom
a b s t r a c t a r t i c l e i n f o
Received 17 November 2008
Received in revised form 17 December 2008
Accepted 7 January 2009
Available online 15 January 2009
Sexual harassment has been recognized as a serious problem in the literature over the past 30 years. In this
paper, we review the existing research surrounding the phenomenon of sexual harassment, paying particular
attention to factors of relevance for understanding perpetrators of sexual harassment. We also provide an
overview of the perplexing nature of sexual harassment and the various concerns that have surrounded the
topic leading to its recognition. The different theoretical perspectives and models of sexual harassment
(sociocultural, organizational, sex-role spillover, natural/biological, socio-cognitive, and four-factor) are also
considered and reviewed. Finally, lack of empirical evidence and focus on assessment and treatment for
harassers is recognized in this paper, and several suggestions are made for future research and treatment
avenues relating to the sexual harasser.
© 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
1.Definitions of sexual harassment. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
1.1.Academic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
1.2. Legal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
1.2.1. United States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
1.2.2.United Kingdom . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Epidemiology. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The characteristics of men who sexually harass. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.1. Socio demographic characteristics. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.2. Sexual harassment proclivity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.3. Personality characteristics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.4. Typological descriptions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Theories of sexual harassment. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.1. Single factor theories. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.1.1. Sociocultural theory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.1.2. Organizational theory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.2.Sex-role spillover theory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.2.1. Natural/biological theory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.3. Social-cognitive theories of sexual harassment. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.4. Multi factor theories of sexual harassment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.4.1. Four factor theory of sexual harassment. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sexual harassment intervention . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5.1. Prevention and recognition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5.2.Treatment for perpetrators of sexual harassment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Future research and conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
References. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Aggression and Violent Behavior 14 (2009) 126–138
⁎ Corresponding authors. Gannon is to be contacted at Tel.: +44 1227 824 827. Pina, Tel.: +44 1227 823 781.
E-mail addresses: email@example.com (A. Pina), firstname.lastname@example.org (T.A. Gannon).
1359-1789/$ – see front matter © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Aggression and Violent Behavior
Victimization of women bymen in almostall societieshasbeen the
focus of academic interest and research for many years (Brownmiller,
1975; Griffin,1979; Koss,1992; Watts & Zimmerman, 2002). The most
common and severe forms of violence against women include: rape,
intimate partner violence, sexual coercion, sexual abuse by non-
intimate partners, trafficking, forced prostitution, and exploitation of
labor (Crowell & Burgess,1996; Watts & Zimmerman, 2002). Potential
perpetrators are many and can include spouses and partners, parents,
other family members, colleagues, and men in positions of power or
influence. Violence is a sensitive subject for many, and this may be the
reason why it is almost universally under-reported (UNFPA, 2007;
Watts & Zimmerman, 2002). However, prevalence statistics suggest
that millions of women are experiencing violence or having to live
with its consequences on an everyday basis (AIUK, 2008; Watts &
Zimmerman, 2002; World Health Organization, 2008).
Antecedents and consequences of violence against women have
been documented in past research (Lapierre, Spector, & Leck, 2005;
Willness, Steel, & Lee, 2007). However, less research has focused on
thecharacteristics ofmenwhosexuallyharass.And, evenlessresearch
has examined male sexual harassers' similarities or differences with
other sexual aggressors, such as rapists. Research shows that sexual
harassment is related to rape behavior (Pryor,1987), suggesting some
significant overlap between sexual harassment and other forms of
more serious sexual coercion. Despite this, however, there has been
very little focus on the characteristics of male sexual harassers, or of
potential treatment methods for working with male sexual harassers
(O'Donohue, Downs, & Yeater, 1998). Being able to identify the
potential characteristics and treatment needs of these men is vital for
developing treatments designed to decrease prevalence of sexual
harassment and for reducing likelihood of these men engaging in
more serious sexual coercion. Thus, the main aim of the current
review paper is to provide an updated review of the sexual
harassment literature, paying particular attention to current knowl-
edge as to the individual characteristics of male sexual harassment
perpetrators. In particular, we will highlight key areas for future
research and treatment initiatives with these men. We focus our
review on perpetrators of sexualized behavior at work since these
men represent the best researched of all cases of sexual harassment
(European Commission, 1998; Stockdale, 1996; Pryor, 1987; USMSPB,
1981, 1988; 1995).
1. Definitions of sexual harassment
The term “sexual harassment” emerged from North America in the
mid1970s followingtheworkof variousresearchers whohelpedbring
the problem to light (Gutek,1985; Farley,1978; MacKinnon,1979). The
issue that has been problematic for researchers in this field, from the
very beginning, is defining what constitutes sexual harassment. As
with many terms, an all-inclusive definition of sexual harassment has
proved extremely difficult to achieve. Researchers, legal scholars, and
policy makers around the world have not, up to this point, agreed
upon a single universal definition.
One reason for this inherent difficulty is that a definition would
mean that boundaries would be set on this particular term which
would distinguish it from other expressions of sexual interest (Gutek,
1985). For example, sexual relationships at work are not always
mutually fulfilling, but they are, also, not always sexually harassing
and harmful (Williams, Giuffre, & Dellinger, 1999). Indeed, some
people argue that flirting, joking, and even sexual banter at work
could be enjoyable, as it might help to make the workplace feel less
austere (Gutek, 1985; Quinn, 1977; Williams et al., 1999).
Feminist approaches at highlighting and publicizing issues of
sexual harassment have been characterized, by some, as “coercive
instances of political correctness” (Thomas & Kitzinger, 1997, p.5) or
jeopardizing free speech and the principles of academic freedom
(Davies, 1994; Fekete, 1994; Thomas & Kitzinger, 1997). In the debate
about recognizing sexually harassing behaviors, feminist critics accept
the general need for legislation in order to prevent the most explicit
and worst abuses of power (e.g., explicit demands of sexual favors in
exchange for work/academic advancement; Roiphe, 1993). However,
other behaviors that feminist researchers and theorists have recog-
nized as serving female subordination, such as staring, whistling,
sexual joking, and sexual innuendoes (Wise & Stanley,1987) are often
characterized by critics as natural interaction between the two sexes
(Roiphe,1993). In other words, academic writers have often disagreed
upon the specific behaviors that constitute sexual harassment. Never-
theless, many contemporary researchers now appear to categorize
verbal comments, requests, and non verbal behaviors as sexually
harassing (Fitzgerald, 1996; Fitzgerald & Shullman, 1993; Gruber,
Smith, & Kauppinen-Toropainen, 1996; Timmerman & Bajema, 1998).
Another issue clearly present within academic debates over
definitional issues is whether negative effects are required just on
the part of the victims, or whether sexual harassment can negatively
affect bystanders and co-workers. Contemporary writers from various
perspectives appear to agree, however, that it is not necessary that
sexual harassment affect only the person it is directed towards, but
that it can create a hostile work environment that affects many others
(Applen & Kleiner, 2001; Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(EEOC), 1990; Rubin, 1995).
One potential issue associated with becoming too over-inclusive in
defining sexual harassment is that this will eventually have a
detrimental effect on women's equality (Cohen, 1999; Schultz, 1998).
For example, women may begin to be excluded from crucial employ-
ment opportunities like informal networking with male colleagues
and clients (Cohen,1999). Schultz (1998), on the other hand, proposes
that judicial emphasis on sexuality in the workplace is taking
attention away from other forms of gender harassment that are
more prevalent but do not involve sex. According to her, sexual
harassment focus should shift from sex back to sexism (Skaine,1996).
Thus, another issue crucial to definitional debates is whether sexism
represents one potential form of sexual harassment (O'Donohue et al.,
In summary, there appears to be contentious debate concerning
how sexual harassment should be defined within the academic
literature. Pivotal problems appear to revolve around three main
issues: (i) the specific behaviors indicative of sexual harassment (i.e.,
can nonverbal behaviors constitute sexual harassment?), (ii) whether
only the victim must experience negative effects, and (iii) whether
sexism represents one of the many methods of sexually harassing
behaviors. Clearly, each of these issues plays a fundamental role in
how research on sexual harassment is conceptualized, designed, and
implemented, and until a clear consensus is reached across research-
ers from different perspectives this will continue to affect the quality
and meaningfulness of our understandingof sexual harassment and of
the perpetrators who commit “sexual harassment.”
1.2.1. United States
In the US, sexual harassment is legally defined as a form of sex
discrimination that includes: “unwelcome sexual advances, requests
for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual
nature…” Furthermore, this conduct, “explicitlyor implicitlyaffects an
individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's
work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive
work environment.” (EEOC, March 2008).
According to the United States' Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (March, 2008), sexual harassment violates Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991 which
A. Pina et al. / Aggression and Violent Behavior 14 (2009) 126–138
discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origins”
(EEOC, March, 2008). Sexual harassment can occur in many different
circumstances, and can include but not be limited to the following
behaviors: a) the victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a
another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee, c) the victim does not
have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the
offensive conduct, d) unlawful sexual harassment may occur without
economic injurytoordischargeof thevictim,e)theharasser's conduct
behaviors takes place, then there is a case for sexual harassment
according to US legislations (EEOC, 2008). The U.S. Supreme Court, in
& Kleiner, 2001).
1.2.2. United Kingdom
In the UK, sexual harassment until the 1st of October 2005 was not
specifically dealt with under any legislation, although it was outlined
in some paragraphs of the Sex Discrimination Act (SDA, 1975) under
unlawful discrimination on the grounds of sex. The change in
European Equal Treatment Directive, 2002/73/EC, made on 23rd
September 2002, required Member States to specifically outlaw sexual
harassment. Therefore, the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act
1975 section 4A was designed to implement the directive, which
inserted a specific definition of sexual harassment into the 1976 Equal
Treatment Directive 76/207/EEC (British Employment Law, 2007).
The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (Amendment) Regulations (2008)
which came into force on the 6th of April, 2008, had the purpose to
“make it unlawful for an employer to fail to take reasonably
practicable steps to protect an employee from persistent third party
harassment where the employer has knowledge of such harassment”
(Explanatory Memorandum to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975
[Amendment] Regulations 2008, 2008 No. 656, 2.1, Office of Public
Sector Information, 2008). According to the SDA [4A; 1975 (relating to
acts committed on or after 1st October 2005)]:
“1) a person subjects a woman to harassment if,
(a) onthegroundof hersex, heengagesin unwanted conductthathas
thepurposeof effectof (i)violatingherdignityor(ii) ofcreating an
intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive envir-
onment for her,
(b) he engages in any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal, or
physical conduct of a sexual nature that has the purpose or effect
of (i) violating her dignity or (ii) creating an intimidating, hostile,
degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for her, or
(c) on the ground of her rejection of or submission to unwanted
conduct of a kind mentioned in paragraphs (a) or (b), he treats her
less favorably than he would treat her had she not rejected, or
submitted to, the conduct.
2) Conduct shall be regarded as having the effect mentioned in sub-
paragraph (i) or (ii) of subsection (1) (a) or (b) only if, havingregard
to all the circumstances, including in particular the perception of
the woman, it should reasonably be considered as having that
effect.” (Equality and Human Rights Commission, October, 2008).
Section 4A(5) also clarifies that the definition also applies, “with
such modifications as are required, to the harassment of men”
(Equality and Human Rights Commission, October, 2008).
Sexual harassment affects a wide spectrum of people, probably the
greatest proportion of the population than any other form of
discrimination (Bargh, Raymond, Pryor, & Strack, 1995). Spitzberg
(1999) reviewed 120 studies involving over 100,000 participants,
amassing statistical prevalence rates and found that, in actual fact,
sexually harassing and coercive behaviors are more prevalent than the
most physically violent forms of sexual aggression.
Althoughit isnotalways thecase,sexual harassmentis anact more
frequently perpetrated by men against women (Pryor, 1995). In the
United States, the most recent statistical survey was conducted by the
U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (USMSPB, 1995) surveying
employees in the federal government. This survey was a continuation
of the two preceding USMSPB surveys (1980, 1987). Their findings
show that almost all (93%) out of the 44% of women that reported
sexual harassment were harassed by men. However, 65% out of 19% of
men that reported sexual harassment were harassed by women.
Furthermore, awareness about the behaviors that constitute sexual
harassment appears to have risen in the period between 1980 and
1994, and in particular, the proportion of men that classified
unwanted sexual jokes, and remarks as sexual harassment rose from
42 to 64%. As noted in both previous surveys, the less severe forms of
sexually harassing behaviors, like sexual remarks/jokes (37%) and
sexual looks and gestures (29%) are the most prevalent, while the
most severe behaviors like assault and attempted rape still remain low
at 4% for females and 2% for male employees. Interestingly, co-workers
and other employees (77%), rather than people in higher or super-
visory positions (28%), continue to be the most prevalent source of
harassment for federal workers (USMSPB, 1995).
In the European Union, the largest statistical survey was the one
conducted in 1998 by the European Commission, which included two
main summaries of studies conducted between 1987 and 1997, one
focusing on eleven northern European countries (Timmerman &
Bajema,1998) and one on five southern European countries (Alemany,
1998). The summaryof the eleven north European studies reports that
“approximately one out of every two to three women, and one out of
every ten men has experienced some form of sexual harassment or
sexually unwanted behaviour” (European Commission, 1998, p.14).
However, there are variations in the incidence rates of sexual
harassment reported in these studies on the basis of definitions
used in the studies, the particular question type, the sample type and
size, and whether the study was carried out nationally or in specific
branches (Timmerman & Bajema, 1998).
With regard to incidence of particular types of sexual harassment,
statistics reveal that verbal forms of sexual harassment and specifically
“sexual jokes” are the most frequent experiences. In six of the national
of sexual jokes were on average around 60%. The next most frequently
encountered verbal type was “remarks about figure and sexual be-
haviour” and, although no precise statistical incidence rate is stated in
the studies, the authors report it to be as high as that of sexual jokes.
Non-verbal forms of harassment like staring and whistling are also
amongthemost frequentlyencountered forms of sexualharassment(at
approximately 50–85%). With regards to physical forms, the most
commonly experienced is “unsolicited physical contact and touching.”
However, rates of unsolicited physical contact differ between countries;
while the majority of national studies report a high incidence rate
between 60 and 90%, the UK and Finland report percentages signi-
ficantly lower at 20% and 7% respectively (Timmerman & Bajema,1998).
The most severe of the physical forms of sexual harassment, “sexual
quid-pro-quo harassment in “the threat for non-submission to ad-
vances” form is reported by 3–10% of women. In the “promise of
advancement for submission” form quid-pro quo harassment is
reported by 7–16% of females (Timmerman & Bajema, 1998). Thus,
statistics clearlyshow that the mostfrequently reported forms of sexual
harassment are the verbal and non verbal forms and the more severe
and easily recognizable forms are reported with significantly lesser
Although research examining prevalence of sexual harassment is
likely to be subject to underreporting biases, current figures suggest
A. Pina et al. / Aggression and Violent Behavior 14 (2009) 126–138
that sexual harassment is extremely prevalent in the Western world,
with some figures suggesting that the majority of women will ex-
perience some type of sexual harassment during their working lives
(European Commission,1998; USMSPB,1981,1988,1995). Therefore, it
is imperativethat researchers begin to understand the motives behind
these behaviors and the perpetrators that commit them.
3. The characteristics of men who sexually harass
The importance of the environment for sexual harassment to occur
is undisputable (Hesson-McInnis & Fitzgerald, 1997; Glomb, Munson,
Hulin, Bergman, & Drasgow, 1999; Willness et al., 2007). However,
what is of pressing concern and research interest is the reason why
some people, and not others, will go on to exploit that permissive
environment, and commit a sexually harassing act.
3.1. Socio demographic characteristics
Some demographic characteristics of perpetrators have been
identified. However, it should be noted that a limitation of this
research is that it is very sparse and usually dependent on small scale
surveys and court cases of sexual harassment (Lucero, Allen, &
Middleton, 2006; Lucero, Middleton, Finch, & Valentine, 2003). As
noted previously, the majority of studies indicate that the sexual
1983; Ménard, Hall, Phung, Ghebrial, & Martin, 2003; Perry,
Schmidtke, & Kulik, 1998; Pryor, 1995, USMSPB, 1981, 1988, 1995).
However, the research is less directive regarding issues relating to
marital status, age, and educational level. Some studies suggest that
perpetrators are likely to be married, older and more educated than
the victim, as well as being hierarchically superior to their victims
(Fitzgerald & Weitzman, 1990; Gutek, 1985; Komaromy, Bindman,
Haber, & Sande, 1993; Sev'er, 1999, Tangri, Burt, & Johnson, 1982).
Other researchers, however, dispute the hierarchical aspect of the
harasser, finding harassment even in subordinates and peers, with
peers being the most frequent type of harassers (Cleveland & Kerst,
1993; DeSouza & Fansler, 2003; Hartwell Hunnicutt,1998; LaFontaine
& Tredeau, 1986; USMSPD, 1995). Thus, these findings suggest that
harassers may target those of similar status (or even superior status)
and may well target those of a similar or superior educational level
(DeSouza & Fansler, 2003). Furthermore, the types of workforces
affected by sexual harassment are extremely diverse, covering both
white and blue collar workers (e.g., police officers, medics, bus and
taxi drivers and waitresses; Brown, 1998; European Commission,
1998; Gruber, 1992; LaFontaine & Tredeau, 1986; Niebuhr & Boyles,
1991). Given these research findings, it may be misleading to generate
a typical profile of the sexual harasser based upon sociodemographic
factors. Sexual harassers appear to permeate all social strata,
occupational levels, and age categories.
3.2. Sexual harassment proclivity
Although there have been many instruments developed in order to
measure experiences of sexual harassment (e.g., Inventory of Sexual
Harassment; Gruber, 1992, Sexual Experiences Questionnaire; Fitzger-
ald, Magley, Drasgow, & Waldo,1999; Fitzgerald, Shullman et al.,1988;
Fitzgerald, Weitzman, Gold, & Ormerod, 1988; Fitzgerald, Gelfand, &
Drasgow, 1995, and the Sexual Harassment Questionnaire; Barling,
Dekker, Loughlin, Fullagar, Kelloway, & Johnson, 1996), John B. Pryor
has developed the most influential and frequently used self report
method of measuring men's proclivity to sexually harass. The Likeli-
hood to Sexually Harass Scale (LSH; Pryor, 1987) is comprised of 10
hypothetical scenarios and a series of self-report measures that
requests respondents to indicate their likelihood to behave in a
sexually harassing manner if assured that their behavior would not
result in reprisals (Pryor, 1987; Driscoll, Kelly, & Henderson, 1998).
Although there have been slight, recent, modifications to the LSH
(namely, Dall'Ara & Maass,1999; Maass, Cadinu, Guarnieri, & Grasselli,
2003 [modified Italian version] and Siebler, Sabelus, & Bohner, 2008
[modified version]), as well as an attempt at developing the Sexual
Harassment Proclivity Scale by Bingham and Burleson (19961), the LSH
still remains the only reliable and widely-used measure to assess male
proclivity to sexually harass.
Research using this scale has shown that it holds excellent
psychometric properties (e.g., internal consistency of the LSH is
typically around .90; Pryor, Giedd, & Williams, 1995; Pryor & Meyers,
2000). Furthermore, in terms of validity, the LSH is related to rape,
rape-related attitudes, and adverse sexual attitudes (Begany &
Milburn, 2002; Lee, Gizzarone, & Ashton, 2003; Pryor, 1987; Pryor
et al., 1995; Pryor & Stoller, 1994). For example, the single best
predictor of LSH is Malamuth's (1981) Likelihood to Rape Scale, thus
indicating that men who are likely to harass are also more likely to
indicate a high potential to rape (Pryor, 1987). The LSH has also been
found to correlate with Burt's Adversarial Sexual Beliefs (r=.39) and
Rape Myth Acceptance Scale (r=.33; n=117; Burt, 1980). Several
researchers allude to or suggest a link between LSH and self-reported
acceptance of rape myths (e.g., Barak, Fisher, Belfry, & Lashambe,1999;
Malamuth & Dean, 1991; Ward, Hudson, Johnston, & Marshall 1997),
and others have demonstrated this (e.g., Begany & Milburn, 2002;
Pryor,1987). Most interestingly, however, Pryor, and other researchers
have been able to demonstrate that men high on the LSH Scale engage
behaviorally in harassment-type acts. For example, when provided
witha legitimate reasontotoucha female confederate (e.g.,in orderto
illustrate golfing technique; Pryor, 1987), men high in LSH engage in
more attempts of sexual touching relative to low LSH men (Driscoll
et al., 1998; Pryor, 1987; Pryor et al., 1995). Also, when participants
witnessa male experimenter makingsexualinnuendos about a female
confederate, high LSH men are more likely to attempt to touch that
female. However, when the experimenter treated the female
confederate professionally, sexual overtures from the male partici-
pants were significantly reduced (Pryor, LaVite, & Stoller, 1993).
Moreover, computerharassment paradigm research has also indicated
that the higher men score on LSH, the more likely they are to send
pornographic material (Maass et al., 2003) or to make sexist jokes
(Siebler et al., 2008) through the internet. These studies indicate a
clear person×situation interaction whereby a male high on the LSH
construct will engage in harassing behaviors when contextual factors
are favorable (c.f. Pryor et al., 1995).
3.3. Personality characteristics
characteristics and traits of sexual harassers. Lee, Gizzarone, and
Ashton (2003) found that the Honesty–Humility trait was more
other Big Five traits (John, Donahue, & Kentle, 1991) in both self and
peer reports. The Honesty–Humility Trait is a dimension that
represents individual differences in the reluctance or willingness to
exploit others (Ashton, Lee, & Son, 2000). Larrimer-Scherbaum and
Popovich (2001) found that Agreeableness and Openness to Experience,
as measured by the NEO-PI-R (Costa & McCrae, 1992), were the two
personality traits that were most strongly correlated with the LSH
measure (r=−.31 and −.21 respectively). Pryor and Meyers (2000)
attempted to predict LSH scores using the Big Five, as measured by
John, Donahue, and Kentle's Big Five Inventory (John et al., 1991). In
that study, the Big Five personality traits explained merely 9.6% of the
variance in LSH; only Conscientiousness contributed significantly (in a
negative direction) to the model. Another interesting aspect of the
study was the role of Openness to Experience in moderating the
1This scale has not yet been widely used or validated.
A. Pina et al. / Aggression and Violent Behavior 14 (2009) 126–138
relationship between LSH and Conscientiousness. According to Pryor
those men who were low on Openness to Experience. Finally, using
multiple regressions, Begany and Milburn (2002) found that author-
itarianism significantly predicted LSH (Driscoll et al., 1998), and that
rape-myths as well as hostile sexism mediated the relationship
between authoritarianism and LSH. Thus, Begany and Milburn
(2002) argue that sexual harassment “as non-physically violent sexual
aggression is a partof the same continuum as physically violent sexual
of sexual harassment have been found to lack social conscience and
engage in immature and irresponsible behaviors, or manipulative and
exploitative behaviors (Kosson, Kelly, & White, 1997; Rapaport &
Burkhart,1984). Rapaport and Burkhart, (1984) found that personality
measures of irresponsibility, lackof social conscience, and exoneration
related to the endorsement of sexually coercive behaviors. Research
has supported this link between LSH and the acceptance of
interpersonal violence towards women (Begany & Milburn, 2002;
Malamuth & Dean,1991; Pryor,1987). Kosson, Kelly, and White (1997)
used the Socialization Scale (Gough, 1960) and the Narcissistic
Personality Inventory (Raskin & Hall, 1979), and found that men high
on LSH (as measured by the Sexual Experiences Survey; Koss & Oros,
1982) were also likely to exploit intoxicated individuals and use
manipulative intoxication. Callous exploitation of others and lack of
empathy are both psychopathic traits commonly associated with
rapists and other sexual offenders (Gannon, Collie, Ward, & Thakker,
2008). Thus, the potential risk of sexual harassment escalating to
more serious sexual assaults, highlights the importance of future
3.4. Typological descriptions
There have been attempts to devise different typologies of
characteristics of the sexual harasser (Dziech & Wiener,1984; Gelfand,
Fitzgerald, & Drasgow, 1995; Gruber, 1992; Gruber, Smith, & Kaupin-
nen-Toropainen, 1996; Lengnick-Hall, 1995; Lucero et al., 2003; Zalk,
1990). Dziech and Wiener (1984) formulated a categorization scheme
for professors who demonstrated a proclivity to sexually harass. This
scheme illustrated the different behaviors and attitudes reported by
victims. The behaviors ranged from staring, ogling, leering, and
commenting on personal appearance, to physical contact out of
context, the endorsement of unfavorable attitudes towards women
and preoccupation with sexuality across contexts (Dziech & Wiener,
1984; Lucero et al., 2003). Harassers were categorized as either
“public” or “private” harassers. The “public” harasser is typically arti-
culate and approachable, and usually engages in overt, deliberate
behaviors intended to intimidate or control the victim. The “private”
harasser, on the other hand, behaves in a more conservative manner,
avoids notoriety, and uses power to covertlycontrol and gain access to
students for sexual contact (Dziech & Wiener, 1984; Lucero et al.,
Dziech and Wiener's (1984) categorization scheme was extended
into three distinct types according to dimensions of harassment
Zalk (1990) identified the first type as the “seducer/demander” versus
the “receptive non-initiator” according to the degree of actually
seeking sexual experiences with students. The second type is the
“untouchable” versus the “risk taker” according to the degree of
exposure and vulnerability in the behavior during the encounters. The
third type is the “sexual conqueror” versus the “infatuated” according
to the degree of affection felt towards the student (Zalk, 1990).
However, there are clear limitations in these two different attempts of
typologies, with respect to their generalizability, as they are evidently
dependent and limited to the academic context (Lucero et al., 2003).
Furthermore, Zalk (1990) herself admits that the profile sketches she
provides in her chapter, are preliminary, and her “…analysis is
somewhat surface” (p.105).
A more wide-ranging categorization scheme was introduced by
Lengnick-Hall (1995). In his overview of the research literature on
sexual harassment and methodological critique, he also suggested
between three types of perpetrators; “hard core”; “opportunist,” and
“insensitive.” “Hard core” harassers are individuals who seek out
refrain. “Opportunists” do not actively seek out situations that enable
actions on others. The two latter types are more likely to desist if
confronted. However, this scheme has not, to date, been empirically
Because some harassers appear totarget a small number of victims
persistently, whereas others target many more, when the opportunity
permits, a number of typologies have tended to focus on this dimen-
example, some men who display unrelenting harassment to few
victimshavebeen labeled“persistent pursuers”(Luceroet al.,2003)or
“hard-core harassers” (Lengnick-Hall, 1995), while others who show
inconsistent patterns of harassment, when the context permits have
been labeled “exploitive” (Lucero et al., 2003) or “opportunistic”
(Lengnick-Hall, 1995). Finally, some writers have identified “vulner-
able” (Lucero et al., 2003) or “insensitive” (Lengnick-Hall, 1995)
harassers who usually target fewer victims and whose harassment is
interwoven with the search for an affectionate relationship. This last
category of harassers appears to confirm some beliefs (Brewer, 1982)
that sexual harassment reflects social awkwardness or lack of social
skills in menwho develop romantic interests towards women at work.
Current typological descriptions of sexual harassers are based
of personality characteristics and sometimes not. Such simplistic
the sexual offending literature nearly three decades ago (Groth,1979;
Seghorn & Cohen,1980). Within the sexual offending literature, these
early typologies are generally recognized as being limited in their
clinical usefulness because of poor empirical validity and their
apparent inability to capture offender heterogeneity. Thus, sexual
offender researchers in recent years have developed theoretically
informed typologies of rape that not only attempt to capture offender
heterogeneity, but have also received substantial empirical attention
(Knight, 1999; Knight & Cerce, 1999; Knight & Guay, 2006). We view
this as being one potential avenue for researchers interested in
increasing the utility of sexual harassment typologies. At present
sexual harassment typologies are useful for providing professionals
with a broad, yet simplified overview of the characteristics of sexual
are rarely interviewed for typological descriptions. Consequently,
current typologies provide little information regarding the etiological
components of sexual harassment. Further, they provide little or no
guidance for professionals engaged in the task of attempting to reduce
sexual harassment either via organizational restructuring, preventa-
tive education, or individual perpetrator treatment.
4. Theories of sexual harassment
It is commonly accepted that there is no single cause of sexual
harassment nor is there a theoretical framework that best explains it
(Skaine, 1996). However, there have been five widely accepted
theories/models of sexual harassment that attempt to explain the
phenomenon from different angles and perspectives. These theories
A. Pina et al. / Aggression and Violent Behavior 14 (2009) 126–138
1990;Tangri& Hayes,1997),organizational (Gruber,1992; Tangrietal.,
natural–biological (Tangri et al., 1982), and the four-factor theory
(O'Hare & O'Donohue,1998).
According to Ward, Polaschek, and Beech (2006), the terms
“theories” and “models” are used interchangeably, and that is
certainly the case with sexual harassment. In short, models may be
viewed as “metaphors” which help researchers to view the structure
of the phenomena under explanation (Ward et al., 2006). However,
when these models provide detail about the mechanism and
interactions underlying the various factors outlined in the model;
then the beginnings of a theory emerge (Ward et al., 2006). To avoid
overcomplicating this review, we will use the term “theory” to
describe each of the explanations of sexual harassment that we will
review. Furthermore, in order to aid our relative appraisals, we will
refer to the theory appraisal criteria outlined by Hooker (1987) and
Newton-Smith (2002). These writers argue that the following criteria
are useful for aiding researchers in the difficult task of evaluating
competing theories: empirical adequacy and scope (i.e., is the theory
supported by existing empirical evidence?), internal coherence (i.e., is
the theory logical and consistent?), external consistency (i.e., is the
theory consistent with other background theories that are currently
accepted?), unifying power (i.e., does the theory bring together
previously isolated research findings or theoretical perspectives?),
fertility (i.e., does the theory provide new hypotheses, arenas for
research, or clinical interventions?), simplicity (i.e., a theory that
makes the fewest assumptions) and explanatory depth (i.e., does the
theory refer to intricate and detailed operations when describing the
intended phenomena?). Thus, we will evaluate each theoretical
explanation of sexual harassment along each of these appraisal
dimensions in an attempt to evaluate the relative usefulness of each
perspective. Before doing this, it is helpful to differentiate between
different levels of theory (Ward & Hudson, 1998). Single factor
theories generally focus upon one single factor hypothesized to
contribute to the phenomena in question (e.g., biology, or social
cultural factors). Multifactorial descriptions, on the other hand, are
overarching theories that attempt to incorporate a number of single
factors into a comprehensive etiological explanation of the phenom-
ena in question (in this case, sexual harassment). Generally, more
mature, and well developed spheres of research (e.g., rape, child
molestation) will contain a variety well established single factor and
4.1. Single factor theories
4.1.1. Sociocultural theory
Sociocultural theories–largely feminist in orientation–examine the
wider social and political context in which sexual harassment is
created and occurs. According tothese theories,sexualharassment is a
logical consequence of the gender inequality and sexism that already
exists in society (Gutek,1985; Thomas & Kitzinger,1997). According to
the feminist perspective, sexual harassment, regardless of its form, is
linked to the sexist male ideology of male dominance and male
superiority (Matchen & DeSouza, 2000; Stockdale, 1993). Sexual
harassment exists because of the views of women as the inferior sex,
but also sexual harassment serves to maintain the already existing
gender stratification by emphasizing sex role expectations (Gutek,
1985; Malovich & Stake,1990; Pryor; 1987; Schacht & Atchison,1993;
Tangri & Hayes, 1997). MacKinnon (1979) maintained that women's
inferior position in the workplace and society in general, is not only a
consequence, but also a cause of sexual harassment. Tangri, Burt, and
Johnson (1982) posit that sexual harassment serves to manage the
male–female interactions according to accepted sex status norms, and
therefore, serves to maintain male dominance occupationally, by
intimidating, and discouraging women from work.
Extension of male dominance in society includes organizations,
where the phenomenon is thriving (Farley, 1978; MacKinnon, 1979).
Members/Workers of these organizations would therefore carry over
their already existing gender roles, beliefs, and stereotypes into the
workplace. Men and women are therefore socialized in such a manner
that stereotyped interactions occur and are expected to occur; men
are expected to be aggressive and dominant, and females are expected
to be passive and accepting (Gruber & Bjorn, 1986). Therefore,
according to feminist theory, men believe that their behaviors are
justified whereas women blame themselves for being victimized
(Vaux, 1993). Sexual harassment, hence, is viewed as an inevitable
consequence of cultural experiences (Whaley & Tucker, 1998), there-
fore, it would apply to many differentsettingsincludingtheworkplace
(Barak, Pitterman, & Yitzhaki., 1995).
A main strength of feminist sociocultural theory has been the
logical synthesis of gender issues, patriarchy, and dominance towards
an explanation of sexual harassment (i.e., there is some evidence of
unifying power). Furthermore, feminists' focus on gender inequality
in the workplace has often been credited with bringing the issue of
sexual harassment to light (Thomas & Kitzinger, 1997); thus opening
up newavenues of enquiry for researchers (some evidence of research
fertility). Furthermore, there does appear to be some supporting
evidence for feminist sociocultural explanations of sexual harassment.
For example, as noted earlier, prevalence studies show that the
majority of perpetrators is male (apparent empirical adequacy), and
some studies show that harassment is more predominant in male-
dominated work forces (Brown, 1998; European Commission, 1998;
Gruber,1992; LaFontaine & Tredeau,1986; Tangri et al.,1982; Niebuhr
& Boyles,1991). The approach of feminist sociocultural explanations of
sexual harassment however, appears to be over inclusive and
simplistic (i.e., there is a lack of explanatory depth). Gender role
socialization has evolved and expanded over time, to include more
behaviors than the stereotyped expected gender behaviors, thus
permitting more infusions of different behaviors to be accepted as
normal for each gender (Bem, 1983). This, however, has not been
accompanied by any measurable decrease in the phenomenon of
sexual harassment (i.e., a lack of empirical adequacy). In addition, even
though sexual harassment is a frequent phenomenon in society, it is
not a normative behavior for men. Most men do not sexually harass,
and the over arching nature of the feminist sociocultural theory does
not provide a sufficient explanation as to why this is the case (lack of
internal coherence and empirical adequacy).
4.1.2. Organizational theory
According to organizational theory (Gruber, 1992; Tangri et al.,
1982), sexual harassment may be explained by a wide variety of
organizational-related issues including power and status inequalities
within the organization, which increase the likelihood of sexual
harassment occurring. So, similarly to socio-cultural explanations, the
organizational theory acknowledges that power differentials within
the workplace do affect the likelihood of sexual harassment taking
place (apparent external consistency).
Proponents of this theory broadly accept that one of the central
concepts that help to explain sexual harassment is power (Cleveland &
Kerst,1993). The norms that define western societies suggest that there
be defined by hierarchy, and consequently the exercise of power within
that hierarchy should be expected and accepted (Lips, 1991). Further-
power thanwomen andthestereotypes prevailing between genders are
that men are goal-oriented, powerful and aggressive, whereas women
are passive–receptive and family-oriented (Allgeier & McCormick,1983;
Eagly,1983; Eagly & Mladinic,1989; Eagly & Wood,1982).
However, organizational theory does not focus upon these power
differentials as being gender specific. Thus, it could be predicted from
the organizational theory, that although sexual harassment may be
A. Pina et al. / Aggression and Violent Behavior 14 (2009) 126–138
more frequently perpetrated by males (due to workplace gender
inequality), it may also be perpetrated by females who occupy posi-
tions of power (signs of unifying power). Furthermore, some re-
searchers whose research could be affiliated with organizational
theory suggest that sexual harassment by peers or subordinates can
be seen as an attempt to gain power or equalize the power dif-
ferences between the harasser and the victim within the organization
(Cleveland & Kerst,1993). So, in this sense, organizational theory may
be able to explain sexual harassment perpetrated by subordinates
since it presumes such individuals harass to reassert or equalize
The organizational theory deals primarily with the immediate
context of the harassment. Thus, according to the organizational theory
sexually abusive behavior. Other factors such as permissiveness of the
norms and policies affect the likelihood of sexual harassment occurring
(Dekker & Barling,1998; Fitzgerald, Drasgow, Hulin, Gelfand, & Magley,
1997; Gutek,1985; Gutek & Morasch,1982; O'Hare & O'Donohue,1998;
Whaley & Tucker, 1998; Willness et al., 2007). For example, in
workplaces that are more tolerant of sexual harassment (e.g., no clear
anti-sexual harassment policy, or complaints procedure), the organiza-
tional theory would predict that sexual harassment would be more
prevalent. How permissive the organizational climate is, will determine
the perceived risk of the potential victims to complain, the possibility
and the availability of sanctions for harassers and the reception of
one's complaints by the organization and colleagues with regards to
A key strength of the organizational theory is that it attempts to
unify a number of organizational factors in its explanation of sexual
harassment (i.e., there is some evidence of unifying power). A further
strength of the organizational theory is that many of its principal
hypotheses have been both tested and identified as playing an
important role in occurrence of sexual harassment (i.e., strong empi-
rical adequacy and research fertility). For example, meta-analytical
harassment) and the gendered nature of an organization (i.e.,
proportion of women in a workgroup) play an important part in the
occurrence of sexual harassment (Willness et al., 2007). In fact, the
organizational climate is currently considered the strongest empirical
predictor of sexual harassment (Fitzgerald et al., 1995; Pryor, 1995;
Welsh,1999; Williams, Fitzgerald, & Drasgow,1999).
Weaknesses of the organizational theory revolve around its lack of
attention to people's individual differences (actor variability) and how
their everyday behavior, stereotypes, and expectations can influence
the occurrence of the phenomenon (i.e., a lack of internal coherence
and explanatory depth). Nevertheless, organizational theory has
played a prominent role in directing professionals' focus towards the
need for effective strategies to combat sexual harassment within the
organization and its structural properties (Willness et al., 2007).
4.2. Sex-role spillover theory
The sex-role spillover theory(Gutek 1985; Gutek & Morasch,1982),
attempts to integrate both contextual or situational characteristics
expectations of the harasser. This theory is sometimes considered as a
extension of organizational theories of sexual harassment (Tangri &
A fundamental premise of this theory is that men and women
for behavior in the workplace, even though these expectations may
not be applicable in the working environment (e.g., that women
should not be employed in powerful positions). Thus, according to this
theory, the sexual harassers' beliefs about gender override beliefs
about worker equality (Sbraga & O'Donohue, 2000). As a result of this,
conflicts are likely to arise in situations in which the sex-role
stereotypes held by the harasser are different from the work roles of
the particular genders. Women may, therefore, experience sexual
harassment in nontraditional work situations, such as being a taxi-
driver, a police officer, or even a high ranking CEO (Brown, 1998;
European Commission, 1998; Gruber, 1992; LaFontaine & Tredeau,
1986; Niebuhr & Boyles, 1991).
According to Gutek and Morasch (1982) the sex-role spillover
than any of the previous three theories alone, making it a more
comprehensive tool in better understanding sexual harassment (i.e.,
this theory displays relative strengths of unifying power and explana-
tory depth). However, its limitation is that it minimizes perpetrator
may surface (O'Hare & O'Donohue, 1998; some weakness of explana-
tory depth or internal coherence). In terms of empirical adequacy, some
of the predictions of this theory have been tested and supported,
especially as it applies to women: e.g. women in male-dominated
workplaces actually perceive differential treatment from male collea-
gues, whereas women that work in integrated settings are least likely
to report sexual harassment at work, even sexual harassment of the
most severe kind (i.e. sexual coercion: cf. Burgess & Borgida, 1997;
Gutek & Morasch, 1982; Fain & Anderton, 1987; Sheffey & Tindale,
1992; Tangri & Hayes, 1997). However, according to Gutek and Done
(2001) sex-spillover theory fails to make parallel arguments for both
men and women, due to the fundamental differences between female
affects men as there are fewer men in non-traditional job environ-
ments (Gutek, 1985). Despite the supportive results for sex-role
analysis and refinement of the theory and more thorough empirical
testing (evidence of research fertility).
4.2.1. Natural/biological theory
The third theory is the natural/biological perspective on sexual
harassment (Barak et al., 1995; Browne, 1997; Tangri & Hayes, 1997;
Studd & Gattiker, 1991). These perspectives posit that sexual harass-
ment is a natural extension of mate selection evolutionary theory. In
other words, sexual harassment represents an expression of sexual
attraction, a natural element in mate seeking. According to these
researchers, men have a stronger inner drive to be sexuallyaggressive,
and to find a mate. Therefore, such sexual behavior is not meant as
harassment (Barak et al.,1995). This higher sex drive of men creates a
mismatch between the sexual desires of men and women and
consequently leads to sexually aggressive behavior at work (Tangri &
Hayes, 1997). According to some other researchers, due to the dif-
ferences in the evolution of women and men, there are different
reproductive strategies that may create a conflict of interest that spills
over at the workplace (Studd & Gattiker, 1991), because men simply
to more females by behaving in a sexually harassing manner.
Therefore, men use power instrumentally in these cases, according
to the evolutionary perspective, in order to obtain sex (Browne,1997).
Presumably, such attempts to gain sexual access could result in more
coercive sexual behaviors such as rape (Ward et al., 2006, for a review
of evolutionary theory applied to rape). However, to our knowledge,
there is no existing biological theory which unites sexual harassment
and rape in a meaningful manner.
A key strength of the natural/biological perspective is that it
acknowledges the innate human instincts potentially driving sexually
aggressive behavior. In other words it unifies evolutionary perspec-
tives to explain sexual harassment (i.e., some evidence of unifying
power). However, there is a number of weaknesses with this
perspective that we would argue undermine its ability to effectively
explain sexual harassment. First, it appears to treat sexual harassment
A. Pina et al. / Aggression and Violent Behavior 14 (2009) 126–138
in a very simplistic way, disregarding all societal and personal factors,
as well as serving to trivialize sexual harassment as part of a normal
reproductive ritual, orat least the resultof a fewskewed proclivities in
some men (Tangri et al.,1982; i.e., a lack of explanatory depth). Second,
this theorylacks fertilitysince itis extremelydifficult to design studies
that test the theory's core assumptions, and the theory does not
provide any core strategies for sexual harassment prevention. Finally,
there is very little empirical literature supporting the natural/
biological theory of sexual harassment. For example, Tangri, Burt,
and Johnson (1982) conducted a study testing the three aforemen-
tioned theories of sexual harassment based on the survey data of the
first USMSPB (1981) and found no support for the natural/biological
theory. Furthermore, the natural/biological theory would predict that
women would be the sole victims of sexual harassment. However, as
noted earlier, this is not what the research shows (USMSPB, 1995;
European Commission, 1998). Thus, the theory's key weakness re-
volves around a lack of empirical adequacy.
4.3. Social-cognitive theories of sexual harassment
Although we recognize that the sexual harassment literature does
not currently feature a mature social-cognitive theory of sexual
harassment, an examination of the research literature shows that
social-cognitive methods have been used to both understand and
explain sexual harassment (Pryor, 1987; Pryor et al., 1993; Pryor &
Stoller, 1994). Furthermore, given the hypothesized relationship
between rape and sexual harassment, it is notable that social-cognitive
1999; Gannon et al., 2008; Ward et al.,1997). Thus, we propose that the
same social-cognitive explanations of rape may be used to understand
sexual harassment. Generally, the fundamental components underlying
memory content and structure (i.e., belief content and their schematic
organization), (2) social-cognitive processing (i.e., the cognitive
mechanisms–attention, retrieval–used to process social information),
and (3) cognitive products (i.e., end stage beliefs, thoughts, and
attributions) that result from content, organization, and processing of
social information; Hollon & Kriss, 1984). So, what does the research
components representing social cognition?
John Pryor and his colleagues have demonstrated that mental
concepts of sex and power are found to be associated in men who are
high on likelihood to sexually harass (LSH; Pryor, 1987; Pryor et al.,
1993; Pryor & Stoller, 1994). For example, Pryor and Stoller (1994)
asked participants (high and low on LSH) to view and memorize
various word pairings of neutral, sexual, and power-related words.
Interestingly, men high on LSH remembered more sex–power pairings
Stoller (1994) showed that men high on LSH perceived a frequent but
otherwise illusory correlation between sex and power related words.
Bargh et al. (1995) have found similar results. In summary, these
findings could be viewed as evidence for the existence of a sex schema
in memory that associates power and sex in men with a high LSH
(Bargh et al.,1995; i.e., evidence of long term memory and structure).
The results of such studies may also be interpreted as providing some
evidence regarding social cognitive processing, since, somewhere in
the process, men high on LSH must have overly attended to the sex
power word pairings, in order to have overperceived theirexistence in
the memorization task.
Fitzgerald (1993) observed that the majority of men that engage in
doing so. This hypothesis would fit wellwith Pryorand Stoller's (1994)
their behavior may be explained by the automaticity and unconscious
nature of the power–sex association. In other words, the concepts of
power and sex may be so stronglylinked for menwith a high LSH, that
they cause the concept of sexuality to be activated automatically
whenever the concept of power is evident.
Research by Bargh et al. (1995)) was conducted in order to test the
hypothesized power–sex automaticity further. In one of their studies,
Bos_). The control condition was to complete words that were not
related tothe powerconcept.Barghet al.(1995)were interested in how
the priming procedure would affect men's appraisal of a female
confederate. If men high on LSH hold an inextricable link between
power and sexual concepts, then they should rate themselves as being
that, although men low on LSH showed no difference in their sexual
attraction towards the female confederate, men high on LSH, who had
been primed by the power words reported (1) that they found the
female confederated more attractive and, (2) if given the opportunity,
they would like to become more familiar with her. Interestingly,
however, menhighon LSHdid notappeartobeawareof theunderlying
reason for theirattractiveness tothe femaleconfederate, insteadstating
that the female's attractiveness was the underlying cause or that the
female confederate was more their “type.” These results appear to
suggest that placing menwho hold certain structural schemas between
their sexual behavior towards women without them even being
conscious of such harassment (Bargh et al., 1995; Polaschek & Ward,
2002). These findings may explain why some men who sexually harass
appear to have difficulty perspective taking (Driscoll et al.,1998), since,
from their frame of reference; no sexual harassment has ever taken
place. Bargh et al. (1995) also distinguished between sexual aggressors
and sexual harassers; Men who engage in sexual coercion as measured
by the LSH do not demonstrate the same effect of power on sexual
attraction as the men who engage in sexual aggression as measured by
the Attractiveness to Sexual Aggression scale (ASA; Malamuth 1989a,b).
More specifically, high LSH participants showed a bidirectional power–
sex connection, whereas high ASA demonstrated a unidirectional
power-then-sex association. The latter indicate that it is the power-
then-sex association that is the critical factor for men who sexually
aggress against females (Bargh et al.,1995).
In terms of self-report data, research has found that harassers are
more likely to endorse rape myths, thereby blaming the victims for
their own sexual assault or harassment and justifying their sexual
aggression by exonerating themselves in situations (Burt,1980; Reilly,
Lott, Caldwell, & De Luca, 1992). Other research also confirms that
perpetrators are likely to blame their victims when confronted about
their act (DeJudicibus & McCabe, 2001; Schneider, 1991). It appears
from the aforementioned research that harassers have problems
identifying the unfairness of their act, thus blaming the victims rather
than themselves. Thus, research on sexual harassers' self reported
cognitive products appears to support the social cognitive view that
these men hold harassment-supportive cognitive content which
biases their cognitive processing leading to automatic, and uncon-
scious, harassment-type behaviors.
In summary, although the sexual harassment literature has not
specifically adopted a clear social-cognitive explanation for sexual
harassment, the research literature indicates some substantial empiri-
cal support for adapting such a theory for the explanation of sexual
harassment. The central tenets of social-cognitive theory are that men
who engage in antisocial behaviors hold behavior-supporting belief
content and schemas in long term memory that bias their social
information processing in an antisocial manner (Ward & Keenan,
1999). Thus, we believe that there is significant scope for such a theory
hypothesize that sexual harassers would hold schemas that overlap
somewhat with those documented in rapists (Polaschek & Gannon,
2004). In short then, we believe that there is strong empirical support
and fertility for a social-cognitive perspective of sexual harassment.
A. Pina et al. / Aggression and Violent Behavior 14 (2009) 126–138
Such a perspective would open up numerous avenues of empirical
enquiry which may well help to elucidate the main similarities and
differences between sexual harassers and rapists. A particularly
interesting line of inquiry might be to explore whether sexual
harassers, like rapists, misinterpret the heterosocial cues of women?
If social-cognitive theory was to be implemented successfully to the
explanation and study of sexual harassment, we would anticipate that
this perspective would add significant explanatory depth and unifying
power to current theorizing regarding sexual harassment. Never-
theless, we do recognize that, by itself, social-cognitive theory would
not represent a comprehensive understanding of sexual harassment
(i.e., it would hold poor explanatory depth if it were not synthesized
with other factors).
4.4. Multi factor theories of sexual harassment
4.4.1. Four factor theory of sexual harassment
The four factor theory (O'Hare & O'Donohue, 1998) of sexual
harassment is a multifactorial theory that incorporates key compo-
nents of many of the previous single factor theories. In their paper,
O'Hare and O'Donohue (1998) reviewed existing single factor theories
of sexual harassment, and then borrowed aspects of Finkelhor's four
factor theory of child sexual abuse to develop the only multifactor
theory of sexual harassment to date. O'Hare and O'Donohue (1998)
hypothesized that, in order for sexual harassment to take place, four
basic conditions must be present: (1) the individual must be motivated
to harass (e.g., they must be driven by any combination of power,
control, or sexual attraction), (2) the individual must overcome internal
inhibitions not to harass (e.g., moral restraints), (3) the individual must
overcome external inhibitions to harassment (e.g., specific organi-
zational workplace barriers such as professionalism), and (4) the in-
dividual must overcome victim's resistance (e.g., assertiveness or the
victim's relative status within the workplace).
Interestingly, O'Hare and O'Donohue (1998) tested the predictive
validity of their theory using self-report data from female faculty, staff
and students. In brief, O'Hare and O'Donohue (1998) hypothesized
that women who self reported themselves as more physically
attractive would report more instances of sexual harassment (testing
factor 1 of the theory). Furthermore, it was hypothesized that women
who had more workspace privacy, knowledge of complaints proce-
dures, and who worked in an environment characterized by sex
equality, professionalism, and more equal sex-ratios would report less
harassment (testing factor 3 of the theory). Finally, O'Hare and
O'Donohue (1998) hypothesized that womenwho rated themselves as
more feminine (measured via Bem's Sex-Role Inventory, 1974), and
who occupied lower positions within their organization would be
more susceptible to harassment (testing factor 4 of the theory).
Using regression analyses, O'Hare and O'Donohue (1998) found
that the four factor theory provided a better explanation of the data
than any single factor theory (organizational, sexrole spillover, or
sociocultural). Furthermore, it was found that the factors most pre-
dictive of harassment were poor knowledge about complaint
procedures, unprofessional workplace, and sexist attitudes (all related
to factor 3; organizational factors). From these results, O'Hare and
O'Donohue (1998) conclude that harassment intervention should
proceed at the organizational level, since this is where the pre-
dominant risk of sexual harassment occurs.
A primarystrengthof the four factortheoryof sexual harassment is
that it synthesizes previously isolated individual, sociocultural, and
organizational factors into one multifactorial theory (evidence of
unifying power and apparent explanatory depth and external consis-
tency). Furthermore, the theory shows relatively strong empirical
adequacy relative to previous single factor theories of sexual harass-
ment. Clearly, this is a great step forward for a field that has been
primarily dominated by relatively impoverished single factor expla-
nations of sexual harassment.
There are, however, some limitations to this theory that limit its
usefulness as a resource for sexual harassment professionals. First of
all, only the organizational and victim-relevant factors of the theory
have been adequately empirically tested. In other words, the authors
motivation tooffend)concentratingonly upon sexual attraction rather
than the power and control elements which may underlie perpetrator
motivators. Furthermore, there was no empirical testof factor 2 which
relates to the perpetrators' own moral restraints to sexual harassment.
This clearly leaves a very large explanatory and empirical gap in our
understanding of sexual harassment since the very best theory (and
research) we hold is currently loaded in favor of organizational and
victim factors (poor explanatory depth, internal coherence, and empiri-
cal adequacy). Furthermore, O'Hare and O'Donohue (1998) argue that
sexual harassers may be motivated by sexual attraction, need for
control, and need for power. However, no clear typology of men is
provided and this is something that clearly warrants further attention
(perhaps through recruiting male harassers rather than only their
victims).Nevertheless,thetheorydoesshowsome promiseof research
and clinical fertility since it opens up new avenues of inquiry and may,
in time, lead to effective interventions both at the organizational and
5. Sexual harassment intervention
5.1. Prevention and recognition
There are currently many training programs offered in the United
States, Canada, and the United Kingdom that target recognition and
prevention of sexual harassment in organizations (Hotchkiss, 1994;
Sbraga & O'Donohue, 2000). There have been numerous high-profile
lawsuits and settlements, as well as the cost of these settlements to
organizations that have spurred a proactive stance to recognize and
prevent sexual harassment (Sbraga & O'Donohue, 2000). These
training programs are usually offered by private management and
training companies employing independent consultants, and involve
retaliation prevention strategies, educating employers and employees
on how to deal with complaints, offer support to victims, and provide
information to alleged harassers. Most academic institutions in the
United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom have clear policies on
sexual harassment and in the US and Canada academic institutions
offer particular training programs to staff on prevention and recogni-
tion of sexual harassment. In Canada, in particular, there are
educational programs that even target sexual harassment in schools
(e.g., promoting awareness of appropriate sex relationships, recogni-
tion of gender and sexual harassment, and the provision of prevention
strategies for teachers; Quebec Ministry of Education, 2003).
Although these preventive moves offer the necessary coverage to
organizations in the event of sexual harassment cases, and offer a
wider recognition of sexual harassment as a current problem in
whether they succeed in changing either the organizational or
individual elements that may be involved in sexual harassment.
There is no empirical evidence of a universal evaluation of the
effectiveness of any of the aforementioned programs and this is an
important question that even today remains unanswered. The
necessity of program evaluation studies is now evident in order to
having educational programs and training on sexual harassment helps
both employers and employees to recognize and educate themselves
on sexual harassment, these programs do not address the essential
issues that surround the occurrence of the phenomenon, such as
environments, and individual perpetrator characteristics. There
need to be alterations and monitoring of those important individual
A. Pina et al. / Aggression and Violent Behavior 14 (2009) 126–138
differences and structural elements of the organization in order to
more effectively target and eliminate sexual harassment.
5.2. Treatment for perpetrators of sexual harassment
Although the known problems and consequences of sexual
harassment to its victims are now well documented, there still is
very little research or materials that have focused on the character-
istics of men who sexually harass. Perpetrators of sexual harassment
are often ordered by courts to receive sexual harassment treatment
before they are allowed to reenter the workplace (Sbraga &
O'Donohue, 2000). However, although this treatment is prescribed,
there is, in fact, no known treatment for sexual harassers at present,
and, given the paucity of information and theory regarding sexual
harasser characteristics, such a task would be very difficult. Given that
sexual harassment is often viewed along a continuum of behaviors
that could result in sexual violence, it could be helpful to draw
information from the treatment provided for serious offenders (e.g.,
rapists). There have, in fact, been attempts to devise treatment
programs from treatments devised for sex offenders (Brunswig &
O'Donohue, 1998; Sbraga & O'Donohue, 2000). However, little has
been documented about the outcome of such programs.
From our review, it would seem that there are some significant
other sexual offenders which could warrant significant intervention.
Sexual harassers appear to hold problematic schematic fusions
between power and sex, unfavorable attitudes towards women, poor
empathy, and are likely to blame their own victims for their
harassment (Pryor & Stoller, 1994; Reilly et al., 1992; DeJudicibus &
McCabe, 2001). In addition to this, some research appears to suggest
that men who sexually harass may be lonely individuals who have
problems establishing and maintaining intimacy in more appropriate
ways (Brewer,1982). Thus, some adaptations of modules that are used
in sex-offender treatment (e.g., offence-supportive attitudes, victim
tomenwhosexuallyharass, althoughthese moduleswouldneed tobe
adapted carefully. However, no known treatment program or in fact
any outcome results of any attempt has been published to our
knowledge. This leaves a very important gap in the literature that
needs to be filled. Research with sexual offenders indicates that they
exhibit problems with emotional regulation, and coping with negative
life events (Cortoni & Marshall, 2001; Marshall, Marshall, Serran, &
Fernandez, 2006). Furthermore, sexual offenders appear to engage in
sex-focused coping mechanisms which appear to increase their risk of
interesting questions for researchers interested in sexual harassment.
Do sexual harassers share these deficits? If so: to what extent? Such
for sexual harassers that will prevent relapse and meet harassers'
Lack of effective treatment programs means that many harassers
would receive normal counseling or psychotherapy by an unaware (of
the particular sexual harassment issues) professional and then be
allowed to reenter the workplace. Clearly, a lack of effective treatment
for sexual harassers exerts a damagingeffecton theworkplace andthe
victims of sexual harassment; a situation that could be much
improved were researchers to examine the characteristics of sexual
harassers more thoroughly.
6. Future research and conclusions
It is clear that sexual harassment, as a concept, has been gaining
some positive and helpful research attention over the past few
decades. The majority of studies and theories has examined the sexual
harassment situation either from an organizational or socio-cultural
standpoint, or a victim-based perspective. While we believe that such
the tendency to focus predominantly upon these perspectives has
resulted in some important knowledge gaps that require attention.
Thus, in this final section, we highlight the main gaps and limitations
evident in the field and make some suggestions for future research
Although there has been one main valuable effort to develop an
(LSH; Pryor, 1987), this has perhaps been the only popularized and
concerted effort on the part of researchers to study the underlying
reticent to examine the characteristics of the individual perpetrator. It
may be thatothercore issues suchas socio-cultural andorganizational
factors have received more attention precisely because such explana-
tions played a key role in placing sexual harassment on the map in
however, that the time has now come to make the next necessary step
forward in the fight against sexual harassment: the integration of
on the individual characteristics of sexual harassers.
that can be viewed along a continuum of behaviors that could result in
sexual violence (Lucero et al., 2006). Harassers may switch behaviors
from either gender harassment to unwanted sexual attention
individually, or a switch and escalation to both behaviors. Thus, a
clear gap exists in the research literature concerning our knowledge of
sexual harassers andhowthese individuals comparewithother sexual
aggressors. One convincing, yet labor intensive method of filling this
gap, would be to design longitudinal studies that follow young sexual
harassers for lengthy periods, and examine their individual character-
istics, to ascertain who goes on to commit more serious sexual
aggression and who does not. Being able toidentify the types of sexual
harassers who may go on to perpetrate other forms of sexual
aggression would increase professionals' ability to devise effective
preventative treatment programs for use with first time sexual
harassers. As noted earlier, this is clearly essential for the reduction
of sexual harassment,and possibly more severesexual crimes.Thereis
an imminentnecessityforlongitudinal studies of harassers, in orderto
that it is often recognized to be a part of.
A related area of research that requires some significant work is
our understanding of the basic typologies of menwho sexually harass.
Current research is very much victim-focused, and rarely interviews
sexual harassers themselves toobtaininformationastothekeyfactors
facilitating sexual harassment. In fact, in comparison to other fields of
related research (e.g., rape), current typologies describing sexual
harassers are very simplistic, and offer no useful guidance regarding
the key characteristics of harassers. Thus, one possible future avenue
of research would be for researchers to develop more sophisticated
typologies that may be tested empirically using self-report data from
sexual harassers and/or victims.
A further area within the sexual harassment field which requires
some significant regeneration is that of theory development. At
present, there is only one multifactorial theory of sexual harassment
which has been adapted from an aging theory of child molestation
developed over two decades ago. While this four factor theory of
sexual harassment represents a positive step forward for the sexual
harassment literature, it still has the impact of minimizing the role of
the sexual harasser since this part of the theory is poorly explicated
and tested. Future research must develop more sophisticated multi-
factorial theories which integrate individual, sociocultural, biological,
and organizational factors convincingly, if this field is to grow
meaningfully. Before this can occur, researchers may need to develop
more convincing single factor theories that focus exclusively on the
sexual harassers' characteristics. In other fields examining sexual
aggression, for example, there are well established theories describing
A. Pina et al. / Aggression and Violent Behavior 14 (2009) 126–138
the cognitions of sexual offenders (socio-cognitive theories), their
empathy deficits, and also their intimacy problems and attachment
styles (Ward et al., 2006). We have highlighted one potential single
factor theory of cognition for sexual harassers in this review (socio-
cognitive theory of sexual harassment), but clearly there is more work
to do before this literature may be integrated into a fully fledged
Sexual harassment claims more victims than any other sexual
crime. It affects a significant proportion of working women and it
affects their personal lives and professional functioning, thus
preventing them from advancing in the workplace, and affecting
one of their fundamental humanrights; the right towork withdignity.
It is nowadays recognized that both employers and employees need to
know what the acceptable behavior at the workplace is, how sexual
harassment starts, what it is, how it functions, what the personal and
organizational consequences are, and how to effectively deal with
The global recognition of the problem that research over the past
30 years on this topic has offered has, indeed, put sexual harassment
on the map and has made people aware that it is an everyday problem
that could affect anyone. Understanding sexual harassment is the first
step in dealing with it, and the ongoing research needs to now focus
on how to effectively deal with and treat the sexual harasser. Such
research is urgently required in order to prevent and regulate
unwanted sexualized behavior at work and, therefore, improve the
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