Sexual harassment in the workplace and educational institutions is a growing problem that concerns many women, men, and employers. Approximately 46 percent of the workforce is comprised of women and is projected to be 48 percent by 2008 (U.S. Dept of Labor, 2000). Several self-report surveys have suggested that approximately one in three women believe they have been the victims of sexual harassment and approximately 15% of men report having experienced sexual harassment (Charney & Russell, 1994; Fitzgerald, 1993: U.S. Merit System Protection Board, 1988).
To understand sexual harassment, an agreed upon definition of sexual harassment needs to be established and disseminated. In 1980 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) legally defined sexual harassment, stipulating two types of harassment: Quid pro quo and hostile work environment harassment. Quid pro quo harassment literally means "this for that": in most situations this type of harassment is clearly defined and recognized as sexual harassment. Frazier, Cochran, and Olson (1995) in their review of social science research on lay definitions of sexual harassment suggest that quid pro quo forms of harassment such as sexual bribery, explicit sexual propositions, and sexual touching are clearly defined by respondents as sexual harassment. However, respondents do not collectively agree that staring, flirting, and the use of coarse language constitute sexual harassment. Hostile work environment harassment is often subjectively defined: therefore, a "reasonable person" standard has been offered to determine if behavior is sufficiently severe to be considered sexual harassment. However, a "reasonable person" standard is still subject to individual interpretation.
Sexual harassment is a pervasive problem affecting all organizations, including educational institutions. Legal policies also have been developed for institutions of higher education. One such policy is the Illinois Human Rights Act, which defines sexual harassment and states under what circumstances it may occur. Although this policy offers more specific circumstances under which sexual harassment can occur, it does not describe specific behaviors that are considered as sexual harassment. Therefore, as with the EEOC guidelines, the Illinois Human Rights Act is subject to individual interpretation.
With the increasing incidence and severity of sexual harassment claims, it is clear that organizations need to clarify policies and develop more effective educational strategies that clearly specify the severity and seriousness of all forms of sexual harassment. Previous research suggests that sexual harassment is more effectively avoided when organizations make clear, consistent, and visible efforts to deal with the problem (Gruber, 1998; Pryor, LaVite, & Stoller, 1993).
The literature suggests that 30% of undergraduate women are victims of sexual harassment while only 5-10% of these women report the harassment with only the most severe instances of harassment being reported. Under reporting may be attributable to unclear policies regarding sexual harassment, a lack of education regarding sexual harassment policies, or a fear of negative consequences (Cortina, Swan, Fitzgerald, & Waldo, 1998; Dziech and Weiner, 1984; Fitzgerald, Shullman, Bailey, Richards, Swocker, Gold, Ormerod, & Weitzman, 1988; Hulin, Fitzgerald, & Drasgrow, 1996; Jones & Remland, 1992).
Students are in need of policy education to diminish the pervasiveness of sexual harassment on campus. Initiation of prevention education before a student reaches the workforce may also help to diminish the incidence of sexual harassment in the workplace. Therefore, learning how different types of education affect perceptions can lead to a model of education in the university, in the workplace, and for future research.
Several studies have examined the subjective classification of sexual harassment with conflicting results. Studies have found that women perceive a greater range of behaviors as more sexually harassing than do men (Baird, Bensko, Bell, Viney, & Woody, 1995; Blakely, Blakely, and Moorman, 1995; Bonate & Jessell, 1996; Burian, Yanico, & Martinez, 1998; Foulis & McCabe, 1997; Loredo, Reid, & Deaux, 1995; Popovich, Gehlauf, Jolton, Somers, & Godinho (1992). Also, participants who had been a target of sexual harassment in the past viewed ambiguous situations as more harassing than participants who had no previous victimization history (Blakely, et.al, 1995).
The question remains, however, what is the most effective educational approach? Paludi and Barickman (1991) suggest several methods of education such as workshops with audience interaction, reading scenarios and discussing the issues of harassment present in the scenarios, asking participants to identify sexual harassment policies in their organizations, asking participants to help develop possible sexual harassment policies, asking participants to prepare a workshop on sexual harassment, setting up a mock court room to try a sexual harassment case, and assigning books and materials on sexual harassment. Paludi and Barickman suggest that more focused training like the strategies suggested above results in greater effectiveness in identifying situations as sexual harassment.
Measurement of perceptions typically involves the use of self-report vignette surveys. Typically an instrument includes several scenarios depicting sexually harassing scenarios; however, the same scenarios are not used across studies. Also, most research relies on the use of one instrument, which does not provide a check of consistency of response. These limitations lead to a lack of instrument validation and reliability, thus weakening the strength of the study.
This study incorporated several of the suggestions proposed above. First, there is an emphasis on the effects of educating participants about sexual harassment. Second, perceptions of sexual harassment are studied using scenarios that include male and female victims as well as male and female harassers to acknowledge possible homosexual harassment as well as the possibility of women harassers. Third, factors such as previous experience with sexual harassment and sex of the participant are accounted for in the data analysis since past research has …