Date of Award

Spring 1999

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Director

Glynn D. Coates

Committee Member

Debra A. Major

Committee Member

Janis Sanchez-Hucles

Committee Member

Margaret Curry-Williams


This research utilized policy capturing techniques to analyze the different factors individuals use when determining sexual harassment. The importance of level of power, verbal behavior, and invasiveness of touch were examined. Additionally, role theory was applied to the sexual harassment paradigm in order to understand how context factors within an organization affect the perception of sexual harassment. Profile analysis was used to determine how the perception of what constitutes harassing behavior is mitigated by one's role in the organization.

Participants were one hundred and five males and one hundred and fifteen females who were either currently employed or employed within the last six months. Participants were asked to complete take-home packets that contained a series of questionnaires that were designed to measure the perception of and response to sexual harassment. Thirty-two sexual harassment scenarios that were a full manipulation of three levels of power, verbal behavior, and touch were also included in the packet. Participants were asked to read each scenario and indicate how appropriate they felt the described behavior was in the workplace, how likely they were to respond to the situation, and to choose the response type that best described how they would react to the situation. In order to establish the level of realism of these scenarios, participants were asked to indicate how easy it was for them to imagine the situation and to assess how likely the behavior was to occur in the workplace. Additionally, in order to assess the context within which the participants worked, a series of questionnaires that contained measures of organizational factors, attributes of the person, and interpersonal factors were included.

The findings revealed that the perception of and response to sexual harassment were affected by the level of invasiveness of touch, the level of verbal behavior, and the relative power of the perpetrator. Different organizational factors, personal attributes, and interpersonal factors were found to affect the perception of sexually harassing role expectations and anticipated role behaviors. Role perceptions and behaviors were influenced by the gender-ratio of one's occupation; the organization's policies and culture regarding its tolerance for sexual harassment; the rater's gender, age, race, and relationship status; one's tolerance for sexual harassment; and one's previous experience with certain types of interpersonal harassment. Although all a priori hypotheses regarding the context factors were not confirmed, it is still believed that role theory provides a viable model for understanding the perception of sexual harassment.