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Understanding peer sexual harassment among older male adolescents White, Aaron Lee

Abstract

The problem of peer sexual harassment among students in schools and universities has increasingly become the focus of research efforts. Surveys indicate that large numbers of students experience peer harassment. A majority of students at the secondary level report both being sexually harassed by peers and sexually harassing peers. Most research has been directed at documenting the prevalence of the problem, and as yet, very little is known as to why students harass their peers. The present study used survey methods and a correlational research design to investigate peer sexual harassment perpetration among students in late adolescence. Participants were recruited from a medium-sized university to participate in a study on "harassment." The final sample consisted of 199 males ages 18 to 21. Peer sexual harassment perpetration was assessed with a self-report instrument developed for this study. This instrument samples broadly from all peer sexual harassment domains experienced by students, including gender harassment, a domain often overlooked or under-sampled in previous research. Results revealed that almost all participants reported committing sexual harassment against peers and receiving gender harassment from peers in the current school year. Results of a series of multiple regression analyses indicated that 48% of the variance in the sexual harassment of female peers could be accounted for by a set of variables suggested by previous sexual harassment and sexual assault research. The most important of these factors was selfreported sexual harassment victimization, which was operationalized as gender harassment received from other students. Being a target of gender harassment from peers was the most significant predictor across sexual harassment domains for harassment directed at both females and males. Other important predictors included adherence to beliefs about traditional masculinity, having peers with a hypersexual orientation, and tolerant attitudes toward sexual harassment. The results of the study were interpreted as supporting a feminist explanation of sexual harassment. Implications for harassment prevention and intervention programs were made that center around the intertwined roles that gender harassment and masculinity ideology play in the sexual harassment dynamic. Recommendations for research focus on the inclusion of gender harassment and other variables in future investigations of peer sexual harassment.

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