India Reidt – Sexual Harassment: Are Claims from Heterosexual and Lesbian Women Evaluated Equivalently?

Report #1:
For my NTC grant research project, I sought to understand whether a sexual harassment claimant’s sexual orientation influenced how others perceived the legitimacy of their claim. Prototype discrimination theory proposes that people will be more likely to recognize discrimination when it is consistent with their mental representation of discrimination. Because heterosexual women may be more consistent than lesbian women with mental representations of typical sexual harassment victims (see also Quinn, 2002), I sought to measure how legitimate people found claims made by lesbian women compared to heterosexual women. I hypothesized that claims made by lesbian women would be viewed as less legitimate than claims made by heterosexual women. I also predicted that the legitimacy of the claim would be related to whether the victim is blamed and whether the perpetrator is held accountable.

To begin, I conducted a literature review of previous studies involving sexual harassment. I found that, although there were studies about sexual harassment, they focused on either reasons why someone may harass another person, whether participants had experienced sexual harassment themselves, or how people defined sexual harassment. This means that I did not find much information about how legitimate people viewed claims by lesbian and heterosexual women, and specifically how their sexual orientation changed the legitimacy of the claim.

From there I began developing study materials – mock sexual harassment forms, HR interviews with the claimant and the perpetrator (one version where the claimant mentions she’s a lesbian and lives with her girlfriend, and the other that mentions that she lives with her boyfriend), and manipulation checks so I would know whether the participant taking the survey is paying attention to information presented. During this time, I also began writing up materials for IRB submission. I then added questions assessing claimant blame, perpetrator blame and how legitimate the claims made by the woman appeared to be.

Through this process I learned that sometimes initial estimates of how long it may take for a participant to complete a survey are wrong. When I initially had created the study materials, I estimated that participants should take approximately 10-15 minutes to complete the survey. However, after beta testing of the completed study, I realized that the survey would take closer to 20 minutes to complete. This meant that, in order to offer participants an ethical pay for participating in my study, I would need to increase participant payments from $1 to $2. With the increase in participant payment, came a decrease in the amount of money I had to recruit participants and therefore a decrease in the number of participants I could recruit. The money we received from this grant this summer was used solely for subject recruitment. In this way, the funding was instrumental in our project. This also meant that with the increase in participant payment, our study was forced to halt participant recruitment after approximately 150 participants, or half of our sample size required based on the power analysis we conducted for our first grant. While it was unfortunate that I did not have enough funds to complete my study this summer, I learned a very valuable lesson about the importance of planning in research.

After recognizing that I would inevitably not have enough funds to collect all of the participants required to complete my study, I proceeded to collect my first round of data (150 out of the 300 I needed). My study begins by randomly assigning participants to either a lesbian or heterosexual condition. Participants read a sexual harassment complaint form, followed by an interview with the claimant, where the participant was told either that the claimant was a lesbian or a heterosexual. Finally, participants were asked to read an interview with the alleged harasser. After, I then asked participants to complete measures related to legitimacy, victim blame, and harasser blame. As I was only able to recruit half of the necessary sample size, I did not compute inferential statistical tests of my hypotheses. However, the descriptive statistical results are all trending in the predicted direction, which indicates that the hypotheses may be supported once data collection is complete.

Preliminary data suggests that participants viewed the claim of sexual harassment as less legitimate in the lesbian condition (M =2.73, SD =.87) compared to the heterosexual condition (M =3.05, SD =.91). This means that when the exact same claim is presented by a lesbian woman, it is viewed as less legitimate and therefore is less likely to be taken seriously as compared to when it is presented by a heterosexual woman. Data also suggests that victim blame is higher in the lesbian condition (M =2.13, SD =.75) compared to the heterosexual condition (M =1.88, SD =.82). In contrast, participants were less likely to blame the harasser when the claimant was a lesbian woman (M =3.62, SD =.99) as compared to when she was a heterosexual woman (M =3.83, SD =1.04). This means that given the same scenario, lesbian women may be blamed more for harassment they endure, and the perpetrator will be held less accountable for their actions as compared to when a heterosexual woman makes these claims. Again, data collection is not complete, yet these results suggest that a victim’s sexual orientation may impact how people perceive her sexual harassment claims.

Although I only have preliminary results so far, this did not interfere with my initial goal of submitting my preliminary results to the Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference in February. The Undergraduate poster submissions are due September 19th, but SPSP allows for submission of preliminary results as long as the research will be done by the conference in the spring. Throughout the course of this project’s process, I have gained experience in many ways that often are not available to undergraduates. I have improved my abilities to conduct the initial stages of research through creating study materials and understanding University IRB application processes. I have also learned how to design and format a study on Qualtrics, and how to create and submit an undergraduate poster for a large and very important social psychology conference. Finally, I have learned how to adjust to unforeseen roadblock researchers face and have patience when projects take longer than expected.

This study, and experience I have gained through it, gives me a more competitive edge in the job market and graduate school. Many my age do not have the opportunity to experience this kind of research and presentation of results, which is why I have applied for a second grant for this project. Not only is it crucial that I collect the other half of the data, it is also important that I am able to travel to SPSP, which will be in Portland this February. Presenting the study at this conference will allow us to inform others of what we have learned, and possibly inspire new studies. This will also show other researchers, and schools, that Tulane supports undergraduate research, and will allow me to network with other psychologists in the field. Through supporting this project, Tulane demonstrates its awareness of sexual harassment and its interest in how sexual minority groups, specifically, are affected.

Report #2:
My research study for which I received my Newcomb-Tulane College grant was about perceived legitimacy of sexual harassment claims made by lesbian women compared to heterosexual women. My study used prototype discrimination theory as its theoretical background, which suggests that people are more likely to recognize discrimination that is consistent with their mental representation of discrimination. In this study, I tested the hypothesis that the ‘prototype’ of sexual harassment is a straight woman, which can cause barriers for men and sexual minorities who come forward with claims of sexual harassment. If only one of three cases of sexual harassment are reported (RAINN, 2018), and only 5.8% of cases filed with the EEOC were deemed as having a “reasonable cause” (EEOC, 2017), then the percentage of cases involving sexual minorities that are deemed as having a “reasonable cause” may be even lower.

After receiving two grants of $360 ($720 total) from Newcomb-Tulane College, I was able to collect data for my study designed to examine legitimacy of harassment claims, as well as perpetrator and victim blame. There were two conditions: one where the female victim mentioned that she was living with her boyfriend (heterosexual condition), and one where the female victim mentioned that she was living with her girlfriend (lesbian condition). I predicted that claims made by lesbian women would be viewed as less legitimate than claims made by heterosexual women. I also predicted that a man sexually harassing a lesbian woman would be blamed less for the harassment than a man sexually harassing a heterosexual woman. My third prediction was that participants would blame the woman more for the sexual harassment when she was lesbian compared to heterosexual.

Participants were given a sexual harassment form, a photo of the claimant (Jessica) and HR interview transcripts of both Jessica and Peter (the perpetrator). Other than this manipulation, all other aspects of the study were the same. Participants rated the questions about the legitimacy of Jessica’s claim on a scale from 1 (not very legitimate) to 5 (very legitimate). The data I collected supported my first hypothesis, that lesbian women’s claims of sexual harassment would be viewed as less legitimate compared to heterosexual women’s claims of harassment (F(1, 269) =10.021, p < .002). Specifically, participants in the lesbian condition rated Jessica’s claim as less legitimate (M=2.74, SD=.853, range 1-5), compared to participants in the heterosexual condition (M=3.04, SD=.919, range 1-5). This means that participants had a harder time labeling the interactions between Peter and Jessica as sexual harassment when Jessica was a lesbian woman, compared to when she was a heterosexual woman. Perpetrator blame (F(1, 269) = 1.610, p = .206) and victim blame (F(1, 269) =1.265, p = .262) were not found to be significant.

Without the help of Newcomb Tulane College, I would not have been able to fund this study. With very little research out there on the effects of sexual orientation on factors that affect perceptions of the legitimacy of claims about sexual harassment, this research is very important. By supporting this study, Tulane demonstrates its interest in sexual harassment and its understanding that sexual minorities are affected at disproportionate rates. Due to the funding provided to me through Newcomb Tulane College, I was able to run this study and am able to present the results at one of the most important social psychology conferences–the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) conference. This study has allowed me to become more prepared for graduate school, taught me about conducting online research, increased my data cleaning and analysis skills, and has given me my own set of data on which I learned how to conduct statistical analyses. As a student interested in going into Quantitative Psychology, this has greatly benefited me and my future in psychology.

Written by India Reidt, Dean’s Grant recipient, 2017-2018 and 2018-2019