Date of Conferral







Donna M. Heretick


Female graduate students are targets of coercive sexual harassment (SH) three times more than female undergraduates; 67.8% of their harassers were university faculty. While SH victims expected peer support, peers often socially rejected female victims of coercive SH. Gray and Wegner’s theory of dyadic morality and Bowes-Sperry and O’Leary-Kelly’s bystander response model guided this quantitative study to examine the effect of victim response on helping intentions by peers. After reading the same vignette that described coercive SH, 207 student participants read one of four randomly assigned victim’s responses: victim did nothing, directly confronted the professor during the incident, sought peer emotional support after the incident, or filed an official complaint after the incident. Survey items evaluated the effect of the victim’s responses on their intentions to intervene during and after the event. Kruskal-Wallis analyses indicated lack of statistically significant between-group differences in observers’ moral perceptions of the victim and the harasser. During the encounter, bystanders were most likely to interrupt and to remove the victim when she was directly confrontational to the perpetrator but not help the victim afterward whereas observers were willing to help the victim when she decided to file an official complaint, sought support, or did nothing. Bystanders were willing to assist with making a formal complaint, informing her of psychological services, and gathering evidence against the harasser. Thus, victim’s actions appeared to guide types and timing of intended peer support. Results may inform developers of campus training programs that seek to promote peer recognition and aid to victims of sexual harassment in academia leading to positive social change.