Cross-Cultural Differences in Perceiving Sexual Harassment: Demographic Incidence Rates of Sexual Harassment/sexual Aggression in Latin America

By Merkin, Rebecca S. | North American Journal of Psychology, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Cross-Cultural Differences in Perceiving Sexual Harassment: Demographic Incidence Rates of Sexual Harassment/sexual Aggression in Latin America


Merkin, Rebecca S., North American Journal of Psychology


This descriptive study reports on perceptions of sexual harassment and sexual aggression incidences in Latin America using data from the People's Security Surveys (PSS) conducted with 8108 employees (approximately 48% male and 52% female) from three Latin American countries--Argentina, Brazil, and Chile--who were chosen by the International Labour Organization to answer questions using the same methodology on both a quota sample and questionnaire data. Significant chi-square results show that (1) Latin American sexual harassment incidences vary by country in that (2) employees are most likely to be harassed in Chile (8.7%), followed by Brazil (4.8%), followed by Argentina (3.5%); that (3) Latin American sexual aggression incidences vary by country in that (4) of those employees who reported experiencing sexual aggression, 57.7% were from Brazil, followed by 32.1% from Argentina, followed by 10.3% in Chile. In addition, marital status, age and education impact on sexual harassment and aggression in that (5) those who are not married are more likely to be sexually harassed than those who are married (65.7%:34.3%) but (6) those who are married are slightly more likely to experience sexual aggression than those who are not married (51.5:48.5) (7) Those between 16-34 are most likely to experience both sexual harassment (64.9%) and sexual aggression (73.6%). Finally, those with more education are more likely to be targets of sexual harassment than those with less education (56.2%: 43.5%).

Researchers have shown a lot of interest in studying sexual harassment in the workplace (Cortina, Swan, Fitzgerald, & Waldo, 1998; Cortina & Wasti, 2005; Dansky & Kilpatrick, 1997; Gutek, 1985; Huerta, Cortina, Pang, Torges, & Magley, 2006). This is due in part to the massive number of negative outcomes found to result from sexual harassment. For example, findings show that workplace sexual harassment is responsible for psychological conditions such as stress, depression, and anxiety that result in declines in organizational performance and productivity (Adams, 1988; Baba, Jamal, & Tourigny, 1998; Williams, Giuffre, & Dellinger 1999). Studies also show that employees' well-being are diminished when they are working in an organizational context perceived as hostile toward women, even in the absence of personal hostility experiences (Miner-Rubino & Cortina, 2004).

What is more, incidences of sexual harassment have steadily climbed throughout the global marketplace, partly due to different cultural values and perceptions (DeSouza & Hutz, 1996; DeSouza, Pryor, & Hutz, 1998; Pryor, Desouza, Fitness, Hutz, Kumpf, Lubbert, et al., 1997; Sigal, Gibbs, Goodrich, Rashid, Anjum, Hsu, et al., 2005). Given that sexual harassment incidents in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile are, for the most part, previously unexplored, it is the purpose of this study to report on demographic status groupings and associated incidences of sexual harassment and sexual aggression in Latin American countries and to compare these results to extant findings in the US.

Sexual harassment is defined as behavior that is unwelcome and of a sexual nature (Welsh, Carr, Maquarrie, & Huntley, 2006). Perceptions of sexual harassment, however, can vary. Cultural perceptions, for example, vary because people differ in how they encode and decode messages (Hofstede, 2001). There are a number of studies that discuss how general perceptions and judgments are related to sexual harassment (Gutek & Done, 2001). In fact, numerous studies address harassment from the US point of view (e.g., Fitzgerald, Drasgow, Hulin, Gelfand, & Magley, 1997; Rospenda, Richman, Ehmke, & Zlatoper, 2005). Unfortunately, the number of cross-cultural studies on sexual harassment is limited (Matsui, Kakuyama, Onglatco, & Ogutu, 1995). Therefore, calls have been made for studies on sexual harassment as culturally rooted (Cortina & Wasti, 2005; DeSouza, Solberg, & Elder, 2007). …

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