Predictors of responses to unwanted sexual attention

Caroline C. Cochran, Patricia A. Frazier, Andrea M. Olson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


Data were collected from 4,011 male and female university students, faculty, and staff regarding responses to unwanted sexual attention. Women and undergraduate students reported the highest incidence of unwanted sexual attention; most harassers were peers. Ignoring the behavior was the most common response, followed by avoiding the harasser and talking to others about the harassment. Harassment severity was the strongest predictor of responses, with more direct responses being made to more severe harassment. Bivariate correlational analyses suggested that unwanted sexual attention was rated as more distressing by women than by men, by faculty/staff than by students, by individuals with less tolerant attitudes toward harassment, and when the harasser was in a position of authority or when the harassment was of longer duration. In path analyses, only the relations between attitudes and responses were mediated by differences in perceived severity. The gender and status (i.e., student vs. faculty/staff) of the harassee, the duration of the harassment, and whether the harasser was in a position of authority had direct effects on responses not attributable to perceived severity. Implications for policy and future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)207-226
Number of pages20
JournalPsychology of Women Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1997

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The first two authors contributed equally to this research. The authors would like to thank Rex Blake, Robert Cudeck, Karin Dahl, Scott Hershberger, Kimberly Kissell, Annette Perot, Laurie Rudman, Anne Truax, and two anonymous reviewers for their assistance with various aspects of this research. This research was supported in part by a grant from the University of Minnesota Graduate School to the second author. Portions of this article were presented at the 1995 meeting of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Inc. in Orlando, FL.


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