Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Preliminary Exploration of Bystander Intention to Stand Up for a Female-Peertargeted in Sexual Harassment in Greek Academia

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Preliminary Exploration of Bystander Intention to Stand Up for a Female-Peertargeted in Sexual Harassment in Greek Academia

Article excerpt


University students' intentions to stand up for a female-peer victimized in a sexual harassment incident by peer and/or professor as perpetrator were explored using the planned behavior theory. The participants were 296 Greek male and female undergraduate students. Using a standard planned behavior theory questionnaire, hypothetical scenarios of sexual harassment conveyed through (a) unwanted verbal comments of sexual content, (b) unwanted physical contact, and (c) gender based taunting, were presented to participants. In all scenarios, bystander intention to stand up was predicted. Specifically, we found that it is more likely for a student-bystander to intervene when perceiving a strong social pressure as significant others would also stand up for a victim; his/her self-control beliefs are strong over the behavior to stand up; and when his/her attitude is negative and unfavorable toward the witnessed conduct. In both peer- and professors-as-perpetrator scenarios, female students, more than males, held significantly more negative attitudes towards sexual harassment and stronger intentions to intervene. Considering female students' well-being, findings are related to the characteristics of the Greek society and the lack of protective laws and policies against sexual harassment in Greek academia.

Keywords: sexual harassment, bystander, planned behavior theory, higher education, Greece.


Sexual harassment (SH) is a prevailing form of sexual victimization among women (Pina, Gannon, & Saunders, 2009; United Nations, 2003). Studies on the prevalence and negative impact of SH have been carried out since the 1970s and efforts to prevent and control the phenomenon through laws, conduct policies, and procedures have been made worldwide. Today, although significant progress has been made, harassers continue to harass. SH occurs in higher education institutions worldwide (e.g., American Association of University Women, 2001; Barak, 1997; Borufka, 2010; Cortina, Swan, Fitzgerald, & Waldo, 1998; Dziech & Weiner, 1984; Huerta, Cortina, Pang, Torges, & Magley, 2006; Reilly, Lott, & Gallogly, 1986) and its experience may cause psychological distress (anxiety and depression) in female university students, which was found to relate with lower academic satisfaction, greater physical illness, and greater disordered eating, whereas greater disengagement from the academic environment was reported to be the cumulative effect, associating to performance decline (Huerta et al., 2006).

While SH is a form of behavioral misconduct recognized by law in EU member states, in Greece the newly introduced laws condemn solely SH at the workplace environment (Laws 3488/2006 and 3896/2010), leaving education on the outside. Moreover SH continues to be a societal taboo (Artinopoulou & Papatheodorou, 2004) and has never been part of the public agenda for education. Hence, even if it happens we know little about; nothing is done for preventing or controlling the phenomenon and research on the topic is sparse. Few researchers in Greece have collected research data within educational institutions (Fasting, Chroni, & Knorre, in press; Mitsopoulou, Hatzimanoli, Triantafillou, & Giotakos, 2005; Pendaraki, Eseroglou, Kalaetzi, & Stavropoulou, 2009). As neither prevention nor control exists in Greek academia we deemed appropriate to explore an alternative approach for confronting the taboo phenomenon of SH, that of bystanders' intentions to take some action against unfolding SH.

The manuscript presents a preliminary exploration of student-bystanders' intentions to stand up for a female peer who is targeted for sexual harassment, using Azjen's theory of planned behavior. The present study is one of few that have approached aspects of the SH phenomenon through the behavioral model of planned behavior (Goldberg, 2007; Li, Frieze, & Tang, 2010; O;Leary-Kelly, Paetzold, & Griffin, 2000), which has been shown to have predictive utility in determining if a person will take action in diverse array of domains. …

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