Severity of Coercive Sexual Harassment in Professor–Student Interaction and Peer Bystander Responses
The risk for female students in academia of sexual harassment by male faculty and staff remains a national crisis. This study examined effects of severity of coercive sexual harassment (CSH) by a male professor of a female student on peer bystander intervention responses. A total of 180 undergraduate and graduate college students who volunteered for an online survey were randomly assigned to one of three vignette conditions that varied severity of CSH. Following Bowes-Sperry’s ethical model of bystander behaviors, it was predicted that severity of CSH would affect cognitive appraisals and emotional reactions, which would further predict intentions for intervention behaviors. Predictions generally were supported. Logistic regression analyses indicated that severity of CSH, fears of consequences, and negative emotions toward the professor were significant predictors of direct confrontation of the professor by the student observer, whereas only severity and negative emotions toward the professor were predictors of the indirect intervention (finding an excuse to remove the victim) or delegation (going to get help) while the incident was occurring. Fears of personal consequences suppressed direct intervention in the moderate condition. Findings suggest ongoing need within academia for clarification of behaviors that constitute CSH, as well as safety for bystanders who intervene.