Coping and Sexual Harassment

Scarduzio, J. A., Sheff, S. E., & Smith, M. (2017). Coping and sexual harassment: How victims cope across multiple settings. Archives of Sexual Behavior. (Advanced online version)

Scarduzio, Sheff, and Smith (2017) conducted in-depth interviews with 24 women and 2 men who had experienced sexual harassment to identify common coping strategies. These authors note that 43% of college students have experienced online sexual harassment and that this can lead to serious emotional and health problems. Their work was based on Lazarus and Folkman’s model of problem-focused coping (aimed at changing the stressful situation) and emotion-focused coping (aimed at managing feelings that result from those situations). Participants reported using three types of coping strategies: (1) problem-focused (e.g., reducing their online presence, setting a higher bar for friending someone online, blocking or unfriending the harasser, reporting the incident, confronting the harasser, and asking friends or family to help stop the harasser’s behavior), (2) active emotion-focused (e.g., seeking support, expressing emotions such as discomfort, anxiety or fear, using humor to “laugh off” the harassment, blaming other victims of harassment, and saving face for the harasser by “not causing a scene”), and (3) passive emotion-focused (e.g., downplaying the harassment, normalizing the harassment as a common occurrence, denying that the behavior constituted harassment, ignoring the harassment, expressing powerlessness in terms of ability to stop the harassment, and self-blame). Scarduzio, Sheff, and Smith suggest that interventions that raise awareness about sexual harassment may increase the use of problem-focused coping strategies that can reduce the likelihood of future harassment.

Making Connections

Emotion-focused coping
Problem-focused coping

Media Supplement

This NPR podcast explores the complexity of defining sexual harassment. (3 min 53 sec)

This NPR podcast explores possible generational differences in perspectives on sexual harassment. (4 min 32 sec)